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CX Toolkit: The Difference Between Personas and Empathy Mapping and How to Combine Them

Personas and empathy mapping are CX tools which share the common goal of helping you to better understand your customers. As the importance of highly personalised and even predictive experiences rises across channels, the ability to leverage these tools is becoming critically important.

However, as they both aim to generate customer insights and expose pain points, the two are sometimes confused. In this article, we’ll look at what they are, how to create them and how they might be combined to help you gain actionable insights and adopt and customer-centric approach to business.

Personas – Who are my customers?

A persona is an imaginary customer created to represent a larger customer group. These representations are typically derived from a combination of both quantitative data such as demographics and qualitative data like interviews and focus groups.

Once you have collected the data and divided your customers into their main segments, it is time to develop the personas. Obviously, one may not be enough, you may be targeting several customer groups and depending on the size and type of business, you may find great value in several personas. A good starting point is between 3 to 8 and is generally considered adequate as the goal is to focus on the major needs of the most important groups rather than every single customer.

So what would a typical persona include? According to the Customer Experience experts at Fifth Quadrant who routinely deliver workshops for persona and journey map development list the following as some of the key elements:

  • Fictional name and a bio picture
  • Job title/persona group/ major responsibilities
  • Demographics
  • The persona’s interests and personality type
  • The persona’s goals and motivations
  • A defining quote from that persona

Below are a couple of examples, courtesy of the Fifth Quadrant CX team. 

Insurance-Persona

Uni-Persona

Personas help you “keep the customer in the room” and design customer-centric CX by giving you a clearer picture of your main customers. These provide great and often actionable insights, but we can go further with them if we explore each persona a little more deeply. This is where our next tool, empathy mapping, comes in handy.

Empathy mapping – How do my customers think and feel?

An empathy map is a visual representation of how a customer feels and behaves. Traditionally, empathy maps have used a simple design in which a square is divided into four quadrants with a fictional ‘user’ in the middle. Unlike personas, which rely on a mix of quantitative and qualitative data, empathy maps are usually completely built on qualitative information gleaned from interviews.

Fifth Quadrant provides a classic example of what the traditional empathy map looks like:

Blank Empathy Map Template

One of the great things about empathy mapping is the simplicity. Although the results will be much stronger if the answers are research-based (for example you might fill in “says” with a direct quote from a customer interview), it is possible to brainstorm an empathy map without using such data.

The same goes for the other quadrants. Clearly, you will get more accurate results if the map is data-based, but there is nothing to say that you have to build it based on your current knowledge of a typical customer.

The content of each quadrant is pretty much self-explanatory: you are trying to get a snapshot of what your customer says, does, thinks, and feels about a specific or range of stages in the journey to getting your product or engaging in a service you provide.

Once you have done this, you'll better understand what your customers’ needs are and specifically how to target and eliminate pain points they are experiencing.

Here is what that map looks like once it is filled in:

Empathy Map Sample

As with any tool, it is important to recognise the limitations of empathy mapping. Creating one will not magically transform your company into a customer-centric one if those beliefs are not already in place. What it will do is elevate the position of the customer in your decision-making process, and if it can achieve this, it has in part succeeded.

Combining the two - persona empathy mapping

Although personas and empathy maps should not be considered replacements for each other, they can be combined to provide a more complete view of your customers.

Fifth Quadrant has developed a series of activities and workshops, which provide ways to improve the health of a company’s customer experience strategy.

One component of the workshop involves creating empathy maps based on personas in order to “reinforce persona-based design through an intimate understanding of your target customer”.

Fifth Quadrant suggests drawing on interviews with actual customers to get the best results. Here is an example of a persona empathy map the Fifth Quadrant CX Consulting Team created for ‘Claire’, a persona that is young, social and organised:

Empathy Map Focus on Persona

Put simply, personas tell you who your customers are and empathy maps tell you what those customers’ attitudes and behaviours are towards your brand. While they are both important parts of the CX toolkit and can be used separately, they can also be combined to provide a 360-degree view of your customer and actionable insights.

Using tools such as personas and empathy maps, Fifth Quadrant helps Australian organisations to improve their CX. To learn more about how we can assist you, contact us today.

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Brad Arsenault

Written by Brad Arsenault

Brad is the Head of Marketing at Fifth Quadrant. For over 16 years he's worked across digital marketing and content production. He actively publishes content on LinkedIn and Medium.

Topics: Customer experience customer centric journey map Voice of Customer customer journey maps CX Articles & Insights customer journey

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