Katie Stakland
Published in

Katie Stakland

Designing for Unhappy Paths: A Case Study on Collection Emails

Designers don’t always get to craft delightful, happy user experiences. There are situations users fall into that can be difficult and uncomfortable. This is something I encountered recently as I redesigned Progressive Leasing’s collection emails. Many individuals and institutions have to send a collection email at some point. While these may not be fun to create or receive, a well designed email with a balance of the end user and business needs in mind can ease stress on both ends.

The opportunity

For a user, receiving a collection email is going to be a negative experience. However, receiving repeated phone calls to pay a debt is worse. We hypothesized that informing users about problems, then giving them the tools to solve them, would decrease the need for collection calls. As a result, users would have a better experience and the business would see cost savings.


I had very little experience with collection emails when I started this project. At first, I was unsure how to research them. I typically start my research process with audits, but how could I audit collection emails without destroying my credit? I had to readjust. Instead of my typical audits, I turned to articles about crafting collection emails, here are some I found helpful:

· Here Are 11 Email Templates That Will Make Collecting Late Payments From Clients Easier by Juntoo on Medium

· How to Word Your Past Due Letter by Funding Gates Blog

I was able to find some samples of payment failure emails from a few blogs as well. These weren’t exactly what I was designing, but they did help me learn more about layout and design.

Payment failure email audits

Current state

In addition to learning about other businesses, I needed to audit our current collection emails. This gave me a clearer picture of the details I needed to include and areas I needed to improve upon.

Current state

Craft content

I extracted the details a user needed to know in a collection email. These were:

· What the exact problem is

· How they can fix it themselves

· How they can reach us to resolve it for them, if preferred

· A way to prevent it from happening again

I then wrote the copy of the email in the manner the research I had done suggested. I then edited it to fit the correct tone for our brand. I also made sure to adjust the tone depending on the severity of the problem.

Email titles and subtitles written to match brand and severity

Review with stakeholders

I reviewed what I had designed with project stakeholders. Some of them felt concerned that I had omitted the term “charge-off” in the most severe email. I had made the decision to leave it out of the email because I hypothesized our users didn’t know what it meant, resulting in a confusing message. I decided to test my theory on Alpha.

Results of the Alpha test

The test confirmed my theory, and we decided to leave the copy as I had written it.

Final results

At this time, the new collection emails are designed and ready to launch. They will go out to customers beginning in a few months.

Final designs

Lessons learned

· Designing for unhappy paths is difficult, but it’s worth your time to do it. Investing time in this side of the flow shows respect for users.

· Empathy is crucial in these situations. Seek understanding and relay that to stakeholders.

· Testing these scenarios is complicated. I chose to pull out specific copy to test instead of testing the whole experience to prevent inaccurate data.



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