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Personas method

Enhancing your understanding of customers’ needs

03/2016 - My products: who uses them, and how? It's obvious that customers should take centre stage during service development and augmentation. But how can you tell what their specific needs are? Serving as personality models, this is where so-called personas come in.

Long an essential tool at advertising agencies, personas have now found their way into Deutsche Bahn’s innovation and software development activities. Instead of designing offerings with an abstract user in mind, understanding customers’ needs becomes more straightforward when you create imaginary personalities, or personas, because it is easier to get a handle on their emotion-driven requirements.

In the field of passenger transport, it is particularly important to have clear insights into customer groups, their characteristics and their user behaviour in order to cater to them properly. With this in mind, seven personas have so far been developed as part of the project “passenger information” (VXR) that started in spring 2014.

Solutions for Holger Pfandenburg and Elvira Brandner

“Holger Pfandenburg” is one of these personas. He’s a senior manager at a major IT consultancy. 42 years old, he travels almost every week and uses his time on trains for work. He knows how to stay informed and uses his devices to source news about connections or possible delays.

Then there’s “Elvira Brandner”. She’s a retired primary school teacher and only makes occasional use of her second class BahnCard, e.g. when going on holiday. If confronted with an unfamiliar situation, she can get flustered easily, so she relies on service staff at stations. Each persona comes with its own fictional biography that describes how the person lives their life and what technological aids they use.

Using these personas, specific applications have been developed that look at situations from different customer viewpoints. For example, Elvira receives a travel planner on paper. It features a QR code for scanners. She can use this printout to ask other passengers or a passenger transport customer support agent for help. They can see her journey details simply by scanning the code on her travel planner, and they can then quickly provide Elvira with alternative suggestions for her trip.

Holger Pfandenburg enjoys the self-service check-in for trains. Just like flying, he can take care of his own check-in and start working straight away, without even having a customer support agent ask about his ticket.

Sharing maximises benefit

When developing similarly customised service offerings (be they services or ticket types) for every group of travellers, personas help generate a precise image of each specific group’s needs. This customer-focused approach lets developers get inside the heads of prospective users when designing services and solutions, thereby seeing how the public might use the products.

Personas can be reused over and over again, and it is possible to equip them with additional characteristics. It is not necessary for every unit at the Group to develop its own personas: instead, it makes sense to share the existing characters with staff at other departments.

DB Systel has come up with a quick-and-easy solution for enhancing the value of the existing personas: they have all been added to the ICT wiki, which everyone at the Group can access via the intranet. At present, the collection of available personas includes the passenger transport characters named here, IT users from the Group’s ICT strategy team, and DB Systel’s customer models. Staff at Group subsidiaries can use the collective platform to develop and share additional personas, e.g. for freight forwarders or rail infrastructure companies.

Easy maintenance

Employees on project teams can adapt and update personas. They are sorted according to different criteria that can be searched, and there is a “map” function that helps with allocation according to the relevant user profile.

Ronald Bieber manages the project and is delighted that staff throughout the Group have cooperated so closely on it. “It makes a lot of sense for a developer working with end customers in mind to study the personas for a specific customer and not just restrict themselves to following the requirements listed by the commissioning party,” he says. This lets developers make constructive suggestions and generate added value by offering their own advice.

Bieber hopes that the successful use of personas will inspire employees at other divisions to take advantage of these models or develop new ones to suit other application areas.

Reiterating this, Steffen Hoffmeister from the ICT strategy team says, “For people working in digitalisation, the gap between technology and user friendliness represents a challenge but also plays a vital role in determining success. Using personas lets you move quickly between the technician’s viewpoint and the user’s viewpoint, between analytical thinking and empathetic understanding. The solutions developed this way reveal their usefulness where it counts: when Heiko the wagon inspector is doing his job on the tracks, or when Daniel the maintenance specialist is at the vehicle workshop, to mention just two of the 16 IT-using personas at DB.”

However, coming up with new personas is not a trivial matter. Depending on the character depth required, it can be necessary to hold several customer interviews, and more detailed market research or workshops with customer groups can serve to develop a sharper analysis. What is important is to convey an authentic image of the user and take possible moods into account.

Do you want to use personas?
If you would like initial information about the general methodology, how to use personas and steps for adding new personas to the collection, get in touch with Roland Bieber (DB Systel). He can also involve the user experience team.

If your end device has intranet access, click here to see the portfolio of personas (content in German only).