3 Steps to Understand Your Customer

Anyone who seeks to develop a successful product has to start by understanding the customer and his needs first. Marketeers do that with the help of "personas," fictive model customers created on the basis of interview data. A new case study by Bersin by Deloitte, focused on Deutsche Telekom, shows how personas have useful applications for human resources, too.

It all started with Kathy. Back in 1983, Alan Cooper, an American programmer, was once tasked with developing project management software that would precisely meet foreseen users' requirements. To learn about those requirements, Cooper interviewed a dozen potential customers. One of them was Kathy, a project manager, working in an advertising agency, whose task was to ensure that projects were properly staffed. And she described to Cooper, in detail, all the challenges that her task entailed, day in and day out. For Cooper, Kathy turned out to be the role-model basis for his software – with her, Cooper pioneered the use of personas in software development.

Today, 35 years later, marketing departments routinely use personas as tools for describing and understanding key target groups. In the process, they strive to define their personas in as much detail as possible, because the more specifically a persona's imagined characteristics, preferences and daily routines can be described, the more useful it becomes as a tool for product development and marketing. Deutsche Telekom's marketing areas have developed personas for every product group they deal with, such as the areas of cloud services, IoT, Smart Home or conventional telecommunications products. However, in the company's HR areas the person approach has been uncharted territory up until recently.

Digitalization starts with the user

Back in the day, when the boss said, "we need to understand what our customers want," five people or so would find a quiet place, put their heads together, think about things from customers' perspectives and try to discuss the expectations they would have if they were customers. Today, many projects fail at the task of seeing things from the customer's point of view. And yet companies today – in a connected, "real-time" age, when markets and customer habits change at dizzying speed – need to focus completely on their customers. And they need to do so constantly, with a fresh, unbiased perspective.

Our credo at Deutsche Telekom's “HR Digital & Innovation” department, is also to focus intensively on our own customers – the Group’s employees. Acting as an HR "innovation laboratory," my team and I design enabling and learning formats for employees, including both managers and non-managers; we develop and test process-simplifying digital tools and technologies such as chatbots and study concepts for agile working and for a future office workplace attuned to optimal productivity and team spirit. We, too, know that:


Only those who know their employees and work environments can offer work-saving solutions. Often, our job is to understand employees' requirements before they themselves do.  

This is precisely where the proven persona concept comes into play.

Personas@Telekom: New territory for HR

Like all useful tools, personas are effective and yield quick results. Developing them from the scratch, however, takes a great deal of effort and often is accompanied by a steep learning curve. In connection with Personas@Telekom, 500 employees were asked to take an active role; 200 interviews were conducted; and a broad range of data were evaluated, covering demographics, hobbies, personal values and – of course – the way digital tools are routinely used. That work, in combination with over 50 reality checks and several co-creation workshops with employees from different departments, yielded a total of 22 employee personas. They range from 35-year-old Eva, a critical thinker and free spirit who likes to hold her meetings the regular way – in person – to 46-year-old Christian, an avid mountain-biker who manages an international team and who prefers to rely on tele-conferencing. The personas provide a representative cross-section of Deutsche Telekom's workforce, and they are already being used to make HR and IT products more user-centered.

Our case study with Bersin

In an interview with Bersin, Deloitte's HR consulting arm, we explained how we approached the project and what we learned from it. The results are presented in the case study "Deutsche Telekom Accelerates Digital Disruption with an Innovative Practice" (available for free download until September 7th, 2018, and thereafter available to all persons who contact me).

If you are curious on how to develop personas in 3 steps, please have a look at the "how to" guide that project lead Tina Riester from my team has prepared: Personas@Telekom: How to get started


Are you already using personas? Please share your experiences and thoughts with me via LINKEDIN.


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