Building data-driven personas

Interview with Bret Scofield, Interaction Designer at Sumo Logic — an EnjoyHQ Case Study.

Paul Connor
Dec 22, 2016 · 6 min read

In this Interview, Bret from Sumo Logic shares her process for understanding customer needs through building data-driven personas, and her advice to help teams put customers at the center of every decision.

Bret, tell us a bit about Sumo Logic, and what you do there.

Bret: Sumo Logic is a ‘machine data’ platform. Whenever a user takes any sort of action on a website or application, there’s a log file that’s generated. A good example of explaining a log file is this — every time someone clicks on the “Buy” button in Amazon, it generates a log file for them. If Amazon sees that people are having a problem completing their purchases, they would be able to go back into the log files of the entire purchase journey and figure out the specific step that’s failing and where people are getting stuck. We store and manage a ton of log files for our users, and allow them to run many types of searches on them to get the answers they’re looking for.

Sumo Logic has thousands of customers, and there’s over two hundred and fifty employees in the company. There’s six designers here in our design team, and I run our User Research program. Before we release any new features or additions to the product, we run some pretty intense sessions with many of our customers and design partners. We show them a live prototype or something that’s a little bit more low-fidelity, and I’ll walk them through tasks that they need to complete, and get their overall feel of the feature. We do this sort of activity around every two weeks, and it’s allowed us to get extremely good validation of ideas as well as buy-in from our customers. We build some great relationships with our user research, it’s also showing that we’re listening to our customers and improving the product for them.

What were you trying to achieve when you first came across EnjoyHQ?

Bret: It was when we decided to build out our user personas that we started using EnjoyHQ, and quite heavily. We’d been collecting tons and tons of data, through Intercom, and general emails that have been going back and forth with our customer success managers and customers. We had absolutely tons of data and needed a way to actually filter through it and discover how our customers are experiencing our product. We had a general sense of what people were having a bit of difficulty with, but EnjoyHQ really allowed us to quantify all of it.

We initially built two User Personas, and worked out the biggest differentiating factors between them. Then we were able to go into EnjoyHQ and tag the specific action our persona “Melinda” would likely take. From there, we’d be able go in and look at everything tagged with “Melinda” and see a number of data-points to help us make the persona really strong, such as; Melinda’s sentiment score around collaboration, or Melinda’s learning curve with a specific feature.

We were able to see that the two personas had very different feelings about Sumo Logic. It also allowed us to come up with a list and quite accurately we were able to pinpoint what Melinda’s biggest problems were. We removed what used to be a general feeling we had about customer issues, and were able to put exact numbers on how often a user struggles with a problem, and how big of a problem it was for them. That was huge for us and was really why we got into EnjoyHQ.

Was that process led by you throughout, or were different teams involved?

Bret: We’ve had a lot of people on the design team involved. At Sumo Logic, we do what we call ‘UX Paloozas’ which is a “big design swarm”. Every month as a team, we block out our schedules for three days, no meetings, no interruptions, and work on a really hard problem. Personas was one of these problems we were working on. It was a group effort, and we eventually had other facets of the business involved. Customer Success managers are very interested in being able to narrow the data down to see the feedback they need quickly.

Bret, what is your advice for people who want to deeply understand their customers and build quality User Personas with data?

Bret: Spend as much time with your actual customers as you can. Before we started crunching all the data with EnjoyHQ, we had a few sessions onsite with many of our customers, then with this research program for our personas we were talking to customers all the time. By doing this you develop that sense of “Oh, this a problem that I keep hearing about.”

But, you can only spend so much time with your customers. Using something like EnjoyHQ can allow you to see thousands of hours of conversations with customers. So first, get a sense of what you think your problems are, then work out how exactly you can quantify these problems.

How do you start building a culture internally that means a business can put the customer at the center of every decision?

Bret: We’re not perfect at this yet by any means, one of the biggest struggles that we’ve had along this journey of being customer-centered has been backing everything with data. It’s also been hard to illuminate everyone in the company to what our customers really look like, because I think in a lot of places there is a separation between the designer making the product and the actual customer. There’s often not enough time spent with that customer actually getting to know them. At Sumo Logic, all of our user-testing sessions are recorded and our product development team are invited to come in and sit in on them. Once we got enough traction with this, more people started to think “Oh hey, this is kind of cool. I want to sit in on it too” and then more people in the company became bought-in.

You should do internal testing as well. Invite development teams and others to test and hear their feedback on feature ideas. We found that they were really excited to take part and interested in learning about our processes. Making these processes visible to everyone, means that they are more empathetic with the customer problem because they’ve been able to experience it themselves. They buy into it so much more when they have the right background of why we’re addressing the problem.

It’s a combination of making customers and their feedback incredibly visible and accessible to everyone, but then also having the hard data available to back it up. When you’re working with engineers, it helps to have numbers supporting things. Being able to quickly point people to a visualisation of customer comments has really helped us with internal buy-in, and on our journey of working more customer-centered.

About Sumo Logic: Sumo Logic is industry’s leading, secure, cloud-based service for logs & metrics management for modern apps, providing real-time analytics and insights.

About Bret Scofield: Bret Scofield is an interaction designer at Sumo Logic, you can find more about her here.

If you found this post helpful, please share it with your team and recommend it. 💚

Learn more about EnjoyHQ at

Hungry for Insight

A community for product people leading change

Paul Connor

Written by

North-West to North-West London. Product Marketing Manager @GoCardless. Normally rewatching The Sopranos.

Hungry for Insight

A community for product people leading change

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade