When the push to be completely digital backfired.
In my last article (Read Part I: What’s Service Design? And Why Does it Matter?), I explained why Service Design matters to UX professionals. I hope that in this case study, you will learn of one simple (yes, it’s uber simple) but concrete example of why keeping in mind the entire ecosystem of actions, instead of just the digital solution, is a much more impactful and meaningful way to design for the user.
One of my first jobs as a UX Designer was at a small environmental nonprofit in Washington, DC named Groundswell. Our mission was to help communities in the mid-Atlantic region switch the source of their energy suppliers from coal power plants to greener wind or solar power suppliers. Through community organizing and outreach, we gathered large groups of people together for a discounted bulk purchase of clean power.
As a small nonprofit, we were constantly faced with a shortage of capacity and resources. We were always scrambling to make phone calls, get out to community events, create marketing campaigns, negotiate with energy suppliers, and provide customer support. Additionally, we needed to scale up our operations in a way that was sustainable.
From this constant scramble, an idea was born: Let’s move everything to the digital space.
Everyone was doing it (which, by the way, is a terrible reason to base major decisions off of), with their beautiful new websites and automated marketing email campaigns. Here was our hypothesis:
If we put everything online…
- People could read the FAQs on our websites and stop calling our customer support line so much, which would free up more staff time
- People could receive a robust email marketing campaign that would walk them through the steps to sign up for clean energy, so they would stop calling our customer support line
- We could reach people beyond the mid-Atlantic region, and they could sign up without calling our customer support line
- We could send materials to other community leaders so that they could do the community organizing without calling our customer support line
See a trend? It seemed like a win/win. Everything would be up online, in an easy-to-understand format, delivered both on our webpages or in the users’ email inboxes. AND it would free up the time spent doing customer support for other program building and implementation tasks.
And so, I set out to design a new, digital user pipeline.
I conducted stakeholder interviews, surveys, and user interviews. I created personas. I followed all the checklist items for a UX and user-focused process. And from all of that, I designed, implemented, and tested new landing pages and digital marketing email workflows for our users.
I had confidence that I had solved many of our digital design challenges. I had A/B tested our landing pages with the new content. I felt that the FAQ page was thorough, easily navigable, and searchable. I had reworked and revised the email workflow so that at any point, users could find the resources they needed in order to answer the questions they had.
And my team and I sat back to watch the magic happened.
** Spoiler alert: There was no magic. In fact, a lot of our digital design solutions completely backfired on us.**
So what happened? Now looking in hindsight, it seems so crystal clear. But at the time, with our sole focus on driving towards being digital, we ignored one of the most important insights about our users:
Many of our participants did not want to blindly sign up on a website. They strongly preferred talking through the ins-and-out of their energy bill and enrolling in the program by phone, not by online portal.
To many people, energy and utility bills not only seem boring or uninteresting, but can also seem complex, complicated, and difficult to comprehend.
For that reason, many folks simply did not want to have to dig through our website/FAQs or sift through every email themselves. They wanted to be able to talk to an expert, learn the information that was specifically pertinent to them, and then make a decision as to whether or not they wanted to join.
And this could really only happen over the phone.
Aka the one thing that I was trying to get rid of the entire time.
A lot of times, it is easy to ignore pain points or user needs that fall outside the scope of our project. I was tasked with redesigning our digital experience through the website and email marketing campaign, so thinking about beefing up our phone customer support was not on my to-do list. In fact, I was convinced that if I did my job right, the need for customer support would be completely eliminated.
By failing to understand the entire ecosystem of actions that a user took in order to understand our product, we also failed to really address the problem. Instead, we poured our resources into a new, shiny website — a digital ‘band-aid’ that didn’t help address the problem.
Redesign of the Redesign: Customer Support Pipeline
Things we did the second time around:
- I redesigned the email workflow so that users could at any time call our number or sign up for a time for Groundswell to call them back.
- I redesigned the web pages so our phone number would be prominent and easy to see.
- I redesigned our customer support pipeline and ticket tracking workflow so that every person would either have their phone call answered immediately or be called back within 24 hours. Additionally, we implemented a new software that would not only help track tickets, but also provide analytics on the speed, efficiency, and quality of our customer service. Before, we only had a Google Voice mailbox. Keeping track of all tickets and phone calls was patchy at best.
- We refocused our resources on continuing to build face-to-face relationships with different community organizations and faith institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region.
- And most importantly, phone calls and customer support became one of our most important work streams. Additionally, I created ways for other team members to own parts of the customer support workload so that no user would fall through the cracks.
Yes, building in these analog solutions was more time intensive than letting everything simply live passively online, but it proved to be a far more effective method of helping users sign up for clean power.
So again, why Service Design?
This simple example demonstrates why Service Design is so incredibly important. It has the power to truly address what YOUR users want and need, not just what you think might work. Again, it’s important to think beyond the digital vacuum and consider what other activities and tasks your users might be doing to reach their goals.
Without the consideration of the entire system and of all the touchpoints involved, you lose a lot of important pieces of the big picture. Like I said before: without Service Design, you cannot deliver a holistic solution. While great UX can take you far, it cannot fix the fundamental problems.