Joe Smalley, an associate of mine, runs his own small business. It functions primarily online but serves clients in various cities across the country. We have already written about the importance of customer user experience for SME’s. This article is a real-life account that continues to prove how user experience enhances customer services.
Joe recently realized that his customer service was limited by 3 different bottlenecks:
- The number of calls he could take
- The amount of emails he could answer
- The quantity of social media accounts he could interact with
He needed a way to consolidate all of his customer service platforms while still keeping UX as a huge priority.
This is where he brought me in, as I have experience in business ownership and have dealt with my own customer service issues in the past.
Gathering Requirements & Reasoning
Joe determined that he needed software code written that would organize his emails, voicemails and social media accounts into one system. This system would generate automated responses under certain conditions and organize others into a simple to-do list that he could work through at his leisure.
Joe’s thinking was that if he could maximize his efficiency beyond his and his team’s natural capability, he would make up in revenue what it normally cost in time and effort. If he could simply build a one-stop shop for his customer management needs, then he would find himself retaining customers at a greater number.
Implementing a Solution: Our Mistake
So, a couple of months go by after Joe and I outline his ideal integrated customer service plan based on journalist Jodi Parker’s essay on new customer service trends and social media integration to deliver seamless service, and a fairly basic prototype was put into action.
The basic idea of the software was that it would be comprised of a visual voicemail section, an email section, and an individual section for each social media account, a series of automatic responses to common queries, such as “Thanks [Name]” to “I love this post!”, or “Shipping times are usually between 1-2 weeks” for that and similar such FAQs.
There were a few problems immediately apparent with the user interface. This was meant to be a program to simplify the workload for Joe and his employees, but it was difficult to even navigate the finer customization options we’d requested be built into the software, and we even knew what we were looking for. An untrained employee might waste hours due to ignorance of certain time saving features, such as automation, or sorting filters.
Learning From Our Mistake And Moving On
Rather than forge ahead and hope for the best, Joe and I sat down with a fine toothed comb to map out the entire software, create a list of changes and fixes we needed and to prioritize the individual features to make the UX more intuitive.
For example, we knew that certain email responses would be more common than others, so we ranked them ourselves to improve the default sort order rather than have people hunting through a list for things they would use regularly.
Additionally, the raw design left a lot to be desired in terms of accessibility and therefore usability. After some initial in-house testing, we realized that the font size, button size, and button placement was too uniform across the program. This made it difficult for the employees we tested to differentiate features and menus across varying situational needs.
For example, it was hard for them to find the sorting functionality due to its placement near the auto-reply feature. The short-term result was an actual decrease in efficiency due to the increased propensity for user error stemming from our own flawed software design. We had actually succeeded in increasing our obstacles in the way of our desired solution.
The visual voicemail section was our least problematic, as it mainly consisted of simply routing a desired set of voicemail recordings into a filter that would provide a rough transcript of the contents. The transcript wasn’t terribly accurate, but we hadn’t expected it to be stellar. It was meant to be a guide to save the hassle of listening to each individual recording. The text transcript also made the voicemail content searchable for easy reference.
The only real issue we had was in the display of the call-back number. The caller ID had a bug that caused every number to be displayed as Joe’s company number instead of the person calling.
Fortunately, most of the major issues in this proprietary software experiment were isolated in the initial round of testing. We identified the issues that we felt were most immediately problematic, and then we created a suggestion/support protocol for the employees to add their own ideas into the bag since we were aware that other issues would likely appear down the road.
Over the next few months, we were able to integrate many of the most common suggestions into the program, fine tuning it to suit the actual user’s needs instead of the mythical “anticipated user’s” needs.
Thanks to our efforts, Joe Smalley and company were not only able to double their customer volume within a couple of months, but he was even able to bring on more staff without a negative impact on his bottom line. All due to a simple software solution with specific attention paid to the UX.
(Lead image source: This Dog Jumps Design)