Episode 130 : Customer Experience Design – Understanding the Behavioural Persona of Your Customer

Robert Wallace is VP of Growth at Tallwave which works with companies like PayPal, Banner Health, and Lumin Digital on their products and customer experiences. Robert has 20+ years of experience in branding, marketing and communications programs to help drive the company’s growth.


  • Could you share with us a little bit about your journey, even though we did read a very short description of where you are now and what you’re doing? We always like to ask our guests if they could share with us a little bit about their journey in their own words, and how they got to where they are today.
  • Your current organization is a customer experience design company and we are going through a global pandemic, how have you been able to navigate in this space as an organization? And have you found it difficult to get the strategy or the design across to your clients, or even to your own employees to relate to your clients, especially during this environment that we’re operating?
  • Customer experience design from a product based perspective versus service based perspective, what are maybe one or two things that you think organizations really need to consider to really be above the rest as it relates to customer experience design.
  • Could you share with us what’s the one app, tool or website that you absolutely cannot live without in your business?
  • Could you share with us what is the one thing that’s going on in your life right now – something that you’re really excited about, it could be something that you’re working on to develop yourself or your people.
  • Could you also share with us maybe one or two books that you have read, that have had the biggest impact on you, it could be a book that you read a very long time ago, or maybe even one that you read recently, but it really has just stayed with you.
  • Where can listeners find you online?
  • Do you have a quote or saying that during times of adversity or challenge, you tend to revert to this quote, it kind of helps to get you back on track and get you refocused. Do you have one of those?


Robert’s Journey

Robert shared that at the moment, he’s based in Scottsdale, Arizona, where his company Tallwave is located. But he’s from Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh and that is where he spent a lot of his formative years before he went to college and graduate school.

And after that, he started his professional career, jumped right into a fast growth company called Airwalk. Airwalk was a head to toe action sports manufacturer, they did everything from skateboarding shoes to head to toe snowboarding equipment, to BMX shoes, etc. And that’s where he really got his first taste of what magic it is when a customer base and a brand really merge together and make that emotional bond because Airwalk had that bond at that time and they had seen some pretty meteoric growth as a consequence of that. And when he was there, he ran retail marketing.

So anything that happened at the point of sale, at the retail point of sale, and then he also put his toe in the water, he’s dating himself now but he opened up the Airwalk’s online store, which at the time was not an easy feat and was a very controversial endeavour as well, because this is back in later 90s when eCommerce wasn’t as ubiquitous and there was a lot of worry about cannibalization and those type of things. But he ran all of the operations of the online business for Airwalk. And that’s really how he sort of backed into to the technology world.

From there, he moved out to Boston and work for a couple startups. One was a very large eCommerce site called FarmandCountry.com where he really started his product and product meant side of his background.

And so, he ran the product there at FarmandCountry.com. And then he took that experience to a startup coming out of MIT called Afanova. They were, how would I call it, they used evolutionary algorithms that came out of MIT and they use that evolutionary algorithms to do high throughput consumer testing for brand packaging, logos, product designs, those type of things.

So think of it as an incredibly efficient, a marketing research and feedback tool. He was there early on and helped commercialize the product and the technology itself, taking it and pointing it at different markets, but the one that was particularly worthwhile at that point was the consumer packaging goods industry. So they sold into Procter and Gamble, Coca Cola, Johnson and Johnson, Conagra, you name it, Nestle, the big CPG companies.

And from there he moved to Arizona and that’s when he was early on in Tallwave – they’re a customer experience design company. And he was brought on early on to stand up the services side of the business, which has now grown, that was about 10 years ago. So it has grown to a much larger company where now and like as you mentioned, they work with companies as big as Amex and JP Morgan Chase all the way to well-funded startups and great up and coming companies like Lumin Digital, let’s see, Emailage, Algolia, those type of startups that you may have heard of.

What he would say is the common thread in his career, he has done footwear, he has done farm equipment, he has done tech, and he has done crazy technology out of MIT and now he’s in a business that works with all sorts of companies.

But he would say the one common thread is a great brand doesn’t really care about what industry you’re in, it’s about making that kind of emotional connection between the customer and the company itself.

Robert Wallace

And you do that by having an amazing experience from the beginning, you have a need as a customer all the way through, you bought product, use the product, maybe had to get some customer service from that company, all the way through being a repeat customer.

So thinking about all the touch points in there is a huge part of what excites him about brand experience and customer experience, which he’ll tip his hand in his bias, he thinks those two things are very close to the same thing, if not the same thing. But understanding the customer experience and what its impact can be is what he would say the common thread is through his marketing, branding and product management career so far.

Navigating Through the Customer Experience Design Space

Me: A very fullsome journey that has taken you to different industries and different touch points so you have a very diverse approach as it relates to these different industries. So, you span quite a few industries as you indicated in explaining your journey. I know you said your current organization is a customer experience design company and we are going through a global pandemic, how have you been able to navigate in this space as an organization? And have you found it difficult to get the strategy or the design across to your clients, or even to your own employees to relate to your clients, especially during this environment that we’re operating?

Robert shared that they’ve been very fortunate, and the nature of their work, which is creative designers, marketers, consultants, those type of people, it wasn’t a huge stretch for them to work remotely, so they were very fortunate in that regard.

And they were also very fortunate because they had a broad variety of clients and some were impacted more fundamentally than others during the pandemic, so that helped them as well. But they definitely have faced the customer experience situation both from their own standpoint, but also their clients. And if you think about, if you think customer experience broadly, they’ve almost become more acutely aware of the customer’s experience and the individuals customers experience more acutely than they ever have before because of the pandemic. So, companies have had no choice but to take a long, hard look at how they service and provide value to their customer base. And depending on the industry, of course, you’ve had to adjust accordingly. But he believes it hits all industries.

So they’ve seen what has happened in retail, for example, that everything that probably was on the customer experience roadmap so to speak, curb side pickup, buy online, pick up in store, touch less flooring, all of those things were probably on the roadmap already but the pandemic pushed it all forward by 5 years or so.

So, he thinks that’s an easy one and a pretty straightforward one. But anytime you’ve had to think about how your customers are interacting with you, he thinks every company, and almost every person in that company has had to rethink how we do that effectively and how we provide value and where the value actually lies, versus necessarily just in person interactions.

Robert stated that Yanique had mentioned how do they actually deliver some of their work, like he said, it lends itself pretty well to a virtual world. They’re able to shift a lot of their workshops online and there are some pretty cool tools that they’ve been using in order to do that. But he will say that that everybody’s itching to have a little bit more human interaction.

Customer Experience Design From a Product Based Perspective Versus Service Based Perspective  

Me: So tell us a little bit about customer experience design from a product based perspective versus service based perspective, could you share with us maybe one or two things that as a company, whether you’re a big organization like let’s say, a PayPal an Amazon versus a small company, because we do have quite a range of listeners that listen to this podcast, some of them hold very big positions in these large organizations and some of them who run their own business so they wear the hat on product development, marketing, social media, all of the different things. So if we were to look on it from that perspective, what are maybe one or two things that you think they really need to consider to really be above the rest as it relates to customer experience design.

Robert stated that the one thing that he would recommend regardless of whether you’re a product company or a service company, and regardless of how big or small your company is, he thinks he would highly recommend that all companies look at and be very diligent and honest about what the actual customer journey is.

That is from the point that the customer realizes they have a need, and every step all the way through purchase, use, service, and repurchase, hopefully. So, every single touch point and then making sure that you understand who those user personas are that would be going through that journey.

And that’s actually not demographic, per se at all, it’s more behavioural when he says persona. So who are the types of people that are using your products or services, once you have really a good deal of empathy for who those personas are, and what they go through in terms of every step of the process around their customer journey, which may or may not have to do with your company specifically, but what is actually their journey as a customer.

He thinks from there, you’re in a great position to see where the opportunities are, the opportunities might be, “Wow, there’s a gap in the market in terms of how they are accessing our product and using it.” And in that case, you can do a lot of user experience exploration and redesign and see if you can remap how that looks in order to make the product part of that experience more seamless, easier to use, and generally more delightful for the customer.

Or if you’re a services-based business, you may have a look at it and say, “Okay, how are we going to actually support all these interactions with our customers.” And knowing how they interact and the pains they’re feeling, you can start to tailor what services you might provide to them, how you might provide to them, etc. So, speaking for Tallwave even so, he would say that the customer journey is the core component, the starting point he would say for any kind of company product or service.

App, Website or Tool that Robert Absolutely Can’t Live Without in His Business

When asked about an online resource that he cannot live without in his business, Robert shared that there are a few that their company uses. But he’ll mention two and he would say that they’re less do or die for him personally, but certainly for customer experience type work and the kind of work that their team does so well.

The first one is InVision, which is a design tool to make high fidelity mock ups and present them and interact with them with their clients. So they do a tonne of work in software and mobile app development and then they also do some web work as well and laying those out in InVision and then being able to show something that’s high fidelity and in some cases even clickable to their clients and to even perhaps some validation work really helps them understand if they’re on the right track and making sure that they’re building a product that meets the market need.

The other one that he would say has really become pretty invaluable this year is a company called Miro. And that company, their tool allows them to do a whole plethora of interactive activities, from whiteboarding sessions to mind mapping to post it note work, where they put up business model canvases and interact. But it allows everybody to interact in the tool simultaneously as if they were in the room together doing that with physical post it notes and whiteboards like they used to pre pandemic.

So, every time he uses Miro, he’s very impressed with how well they’ve taken into consideration the users of that tool and the people that use whiteboards and workshopping and those types of things so often, like a lot of agency folks, design folks, consulting folks, that’s a great example of a company that has really listened to who the personas are, what behaviour do they take place in, and then what is the journey that we go through to implement that, and they’ve built that into the product. So, he thinks they’re actually a good example of what he was describing before.

What Robert is Really Excited About Now!

Robert shared that on a personal level, the more and more of the world keeps getting vaccinated, and he’s halfway home, meaning he got one of the two shots, so he’ll soon be fully vaccinated and that is a relief, he’s sure to everybody that gets it for themselves and their loved one. So the things that come with that are more time and more quality time with family and friends. And so, that’s probably his number one personal item.

On a professional level, he thinks it is when we all go through times like this, and the pandemic was unlike any other. He thinks when we come out of the other side, we’ve all transformed a little bit and he’s excited by what that transformation, as painful as it might have been, that transformation has opened up a lot of opportunities for all of us, especially in the business world.

Books That Have Had the Greatest Impact on Robert

When asked about books that have had the biggest impact, Robert shared that one he has read about 4 years ago, 5 years ago maybe, it’s called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. And he found it to be very useful and worthwhile for both his personal and professional life and it’s really about identifying what really is adding value to the time that you’re spending on something and when to say no, and why and being very deliberate about that. And in very simple terms, because he thinks most of us, at least at some point struggle with saying no, and being a little overburdened, but what really is important now is something that Essentialism definitely has taught him. So that’s sort of a both a professional book.

And then he’s also reading a book that he’s finding fascinating, it’s called Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts by Annie Duke as in gambling bets, and it’s written by a former professional poker player. And it’s not at all about poker, it is about decision making, processes and using the mind-set that a professional poker player or gambler that they use and the processes they use in order to evaluate what they’re doing. There’s a lot of them that are very cool ways to think about the decision making we have to do in our professional lives day to day.

Where Can We Find Robert Online

Website – www.tallwave.com

LinkedIn – wallacera

Twitter – @Tallwave

Instagram – @tallwave

LinkedIn – Tallwave

Quote or Saying that During Times of Adversity Robert Uses

When asked about a quote or saying that he tends to revert to, Robert shared that it’s a little long can I read it. It’s called The Man in the Arena by Teddy Roosevelt, one of their former Presidents. “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

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