Virgin Media Business — Pen Portraits

What are they?

Pen portraits are summary profiles of different customer types. They are evidence-based, drawing on insights from primary research. They provide the context and background to who, why and how a customer may look to interact digitally with Virgin Media Business as a result.

What are they not?

Full personas that would include more detailed content on information, needs and behaviours.

What is their role?

Pen portraits sit at a pivotal step within the user-centred design process. They provide the valuable link between the wealth of insight gathered through primary research, translating insights into profiles of users.

This allows the user experience and visual design teams to work objectively with Virgin Media Business project teams and internal stakeholders.

Getting to know your customer types

After interviews with customers of all cross sections of businesses, findings were refined into six typical profiles.

Between them, they reflect the full range of customer characteristics that Virgin Media Business is most likely to encounter.

1. The potential partner

“I want to know how good their back end system is, it has to connect to ours”

Fig 1 — medium size business director

He is co-founder and Director of a small-medium sized (c.30 employees) provider of internet and cloud services for a variety of organisations. His company sells primarily in East Midlands and upper home counties.

They don’t currently work with Virgin Media Business, however following the installation of cables in his company’s core geographic area, he sees exciting opportunities to grow his client base.

Key challenges

  • Uses the website initially to get a sense of the products and services offered (and where the provider ‘sits in the marketplace’. E.g. price-led, technology leader, etc.)
  • Understand service levels (how quickly are problems solved?), lead time for installation and how easy it is to connect to their servers. This determines whether the provider can meet his company’s own service schedules and expectations with his clients.

User needs

  • Get a sense of Virgin’s openness to becoming a partner and what the next steps might be (he’s keen to talk to a technically-minded representative who can ‘talk shop’ with him)
  • Likes to have a ‘go-to’ person (accessible by phone and email) who can act as his main point of contact if his company does become a partner.


  • He wants to understand what Virgin Media Business can offer and whether they would be interested in potentially partnering with his organisation.
  • He also wants to get a sense of whether Virgin Media Business is a company they could do future business with. As a Director and co-founder the quality providers he discusses with his peers is also a reflection of his own personal credibility.

2. The ‘non tech savvy’ Services Manager

“I don’t understand all aspects. I want to take a look online and then speak to someone”

Fig 2— services manager (charity)

Works as a Services Manager for a mid-sized charity providing mentoring and support for young people with behavioural issues. The charity has three offices spread across a number of inner-city London Boroughs.

Her role is multi-functional, spanning office management to selecting providers of telephony, internet services. Good telephony is key as they provide face to face and telephone mentoring. As a charity, price does matter, but service comes first.

Key challenges

  • Get a sense of what the providers are like and how they describe themselves and their services.
  • Read and watch case studies and listen to other people who may have similar levels of knowledge and broadly similar needs. ‘It’s like getting a real picture of the provider’.

User needs

  • Be able to get a general idea of the services offered and what they cost.
  • See if Virgin operates in her area and if there’s a basis for having a further conversation with someone there.


Recognises she doesn’t have a strong technical understanding and often feels bamboozled by the high levels of technical jargon providers throw around. Wants to have a conversation she can understand and get a true sense of confidence that her provider is helping her get the best solution for her charity. Her part-time IT consultant has advised her that VoiP phones would be worth looking into.

3. The new small business owner

“I expect better customer service from a business provider”

Fig 3 — co-founder (marketing)

She recently co-founded a marketing and design company with two friends having studied Creative Art. As the ‘most technically minded of the three’ she’s in charge of ‘IT services’. This includes finding a broadband and telephone provider for their new, non-serviced, office. They previously worked from a friend’s converted garage using a residential service contract.

Key challenges

  • She doesn’t like to be on the phone on hold. She can also ‘smell a sales pitch at 80 paces’.
  • She’s happy to purchase online, but she wants to make sure everything is right to avoid surprises.

User needs

  • Uses provider sites to seek out contract length, hidden costs and any ‘lock-in’ clauses.
  • Whilst the business is less than two years old, she’s hoping it can grow and therefore getting some evidence that there’s scope for her provider to ‘grow with her company’ is also useful to her.


  • Not looking for anything complicated, just a reliable and fast internet connection with good uploads and download speeds, as a key part of the operation is sending and downloading image and video files. This includes working with partners of organisations in different time-zones, which means working unsociable hours.
  • Expects better customer service from a business provider. As a small business income can fluctuate. Price is a factor but reliability is absolutely key. Has friends who’ve gone with cheaper providers who tell of lost clients as a result of unstable internet and telephony service provision. She ‘doesn’t want to let her friends and clients down’.

4. The ‘technically minded’ SME Manager

“I know what we need, I want to see if they can provide it”

Fig 4— technical director (start-up)

Is a Technical Director for a start-up that recently launched the beta version of their e-commerce app.

His company has received private venture capital funding and is expected to grow considerably in the next year.

Key challenges

  • Likes to ‘test’ out a potential provider by making an initial online enquiry. This allows him to get a sense of the real customer service experience and how responsive a provider might be.

User needs

  • Get technical specifications on products (often what’s not mentioned is what stands out more to him).
  • Looks for contact details of someone with whom he can have an ‘intelligent technical conversation’.


  • Concerned about reliability and security (handling customers’ personal data). Coming from a technical background, dislikes the sales pitch.
  • He’s looking for a reliable and secure cloud hosting solution and one which can grow and flex with his business.
  • Reliability isn’t just about service uptimes and performance it’s also about getting certainty that if things do go wrong they will be dealt with in a structured and clearly defined timeframe.

5. The dedicated IT Manager

“I don’t want the process of changing providers to be disruptive”

Fig 5 — education training provider

Works for an adult education and training provider (300 full and part-time staff) offering distance and class-based learning programmes. He manages the IT infrastructure and service provision for the Manchester headquarters and a range of centres the organisation has across the UK.

This includes IT and network supplier management and procurement as well as working with internal stakeholders to capture organisational requirements.

Key challenges

  • Get technical specifications on products
  • View a supplier’s accreditation credentials
  • Find contact details of someone with whom he can have an ‘intelligent technical conversation’.

User needs

  • Establish service levels (how quickly are problems solved?) and lead time for installation. ‘Can they meet our service requirements and expectations?’
  • Know ‘what might be coming down the pipe’. This allows him to influence and inform the company’s future planning agendas and supports the proactive identification of new training service provision opportunities.


  • He’s looking for a reliable and secure hosting solution. Without it, the company simply can’t function. Seeing accreditation from leading industry sources reassures him of a supplier’s credibility and expertise.
  • Having to cancel courses or programmes is embarrassing and impacts on the credibility of the company and loss of potential customers. Making a switch to another provider is a massive deal, he’s particularly concerned with transition periods and minimising disruption to service during this period.

6. The ‘hidden’ persuader

“I need to see the technical specs”

Fig 6 — external IT consultant

Works as an external IT consultant providing technical advice and support to a range of commercial organisations. Deals mostly with servers and workstations, software updates and security protection.

Whilst not working for a seller of internet or telecommunications services, clients often ask her for advice on best services and suppliers.

Key challenges

  • Check technical specifications and details relating to services offered as she talks to stakeholders with vastly differing technical knowledge.
  • Get a sense of what providers are working on and what ‘the next big thing’ might be. This allows her to be ahead of the curve and other consultants.

User needs

  • Identify any changes / updates to existing services to avoid giving erroneous information to her clients.
  • Reads tech blogs to keep updated with peer views and opinions around the globe.


  • Likes to get accurate and current information from suppliers. This allows her to build her knowledge, expertise and wider credibility with her own client base.
  • She also recognises that having the latest and accurate information improves the quality of advice she’s able to provide her clients and their perception of her.



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