The Dangers of Defining a Specific Scenario-Mapping Customer

Creating a Composite Customer Yields Best Results

September 18, 2003

When defining the customer for a scenario mapping session, create a composite customer who embodies the common traits and needs of a key customer segment. Avoid the temptation to map a “real” customer, with very unique personality traits and demands as this can limit creativity.


In our last report on Customer Scenario® Mapping Best Practices,  we described the five elements to capture before beginning a mapping exercise:
•    The scenario
•    The customer
•    The desired outcome
•    The conditions of satisfaction
•    The customer context

This Report drills down into defining the customer, identifying a common pitfall—over-personalizing the customer—and offering some tips on how to avoid it.


We have now been using our Customer Scenario® Mapping methodology, in its various incarnations, for over a dozen years. The method has consistently been useful in identifying and capturing how customers want to do business with organizations, as well as instrumental in prioritizing the new offerings and IT projects required to support these customer scenarios. It is also being used to great advantage to “fix” internal processes that are broken, especially when these processes ultimately impact the end-customers.

Although Customer Scenario Mapping is most commonly used for capturing the needs of external customers, it is also very helpful in examining the needs of internal customers—say, for example, what the customer support team needs from IT, or what line-of-business managers want from the finance department.

However, in a number of our recent mapping sessions, both in our training workshops  and in mapping engagements with clients and their customers,  we have realized that there is a giant pitfall that needs to be avoided when addressing the needs of (especially) internal customers: personality!

But wait, you say. From what we’ve read about Customer Scenario Mapping, an important element is creating a single, named customer whose journey to fulfillment (e.g., having a refrigerator up and running, selecting and securing the right mobile phone equipment and plan for the field sales force, etc.) is dependent on what this individual wants to do. Isn’t the “personality” of the customer (e.g., busy, impa-tient executive who doesn’t like using the Web) vital to this process? Definitely!

A COMPOSITE CUSTOMER. But this named customer is a fictional character, a composite of common characteristics of members of a key cus-tomer segment, as invented by a group of customers, themselves (ideally), or described by customer-facing employees who have a good history of interaction with the target segment. The composite nature of the Scenario customer is very important. You can build in key constraints (“Hank” doesn’t have spending authority over $5,000) and preferences (“Hank” prefers to talk on the phone rather than instant message). By following the single customer, “Hank,” through the scenario, you eliminate the tendency to go down tangents (“what about customers who would rather IM than talk?”) or to try to be every-thing to everyone. (Although the temptation to map out all possibilities is always there, the other key elements, especially customer context, help you stay focused. You can always create a different composite customer who wants to do things very differently than Hank and then do another scenario map.)

More a Problem with Internal Customer Mapping. In most cases, the mapping team has little trouble creating a pretty spot-on representative of a key target customer segment, especially when customers are actually in the room. Typically, these customers spend the first half-hour or so venting about their experiences (much like a focus group), but then you can almost hear the gears switch as they work together to create a mythical composite customer that represents all their major concerns.

However, when addressing the needs of an internal customer, too often, the personality of the actual customer drives the map. In a number of mapping sessions, we have found that the scenario sponsor—the person defining the cus-tomer, his or her goals, and the context of the problem—is hung up on the specific whims and personality traits of the real customer. Statements like, “Oh, he doesn’t care if he gets duplicate information—he’s used to it,” or, “She has really long finger nails, so she gets mad when she has to type very much,” or, “He works the night shift, so the deadlines are pushed back eight hours,” are so unique to the individual that they don’t illuminate the problem. And they definitely don’t open the creative channels to any sort of innovation.

This is not to say that the same problem doesn’t pop up when mapping external custom-ers. Indeed, on occasion, especially if there is a very vocal customer in the room, the customer whose scenario is being mapped takes on all the personality quirks and demands of the real customer. However, just as a smart business doesn’t put all its product development efforts into specific—and non-reusable—modifications for a single client, opting, instead, to prioritize those product enhancements that will appeal to a larger set of customers, mapping teams seem to understand the value of capturing the needs of a representative external customer.

It is easier to conceptualize external customers. Even if you have that one demanding customer that you know (all too) well, and you would like to capture her scenarios, she is not the only customer in that segment. Expanding the vision and creating a context that will support innovation is not hard. After all, she is only one input into the composite picture.

But when you try to fix an internal process, there is often one person you are fixing it for (and, frequently, that is your boss). It is easier to get caught in the personality trap and just make incremental changes that have already been requested than it is to start fresh and come up with something that will really serve the customer.

EXPANDING THE VISION. And this is the real problem: limited vision. Customer Scenario Map-ping—indeed, any valuable reengineering methodology—is based on innovation. It is not mired in current reality. It is designed to “blue sky” the problem. In a world where anything is possible, what is important?

When you know your “customer” too well—or, rather, when you think you know him that well—you limit the vision of what’s possible to what he has said in the past. We also have found that...


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