A desktop is not a tablet: and other lessons from a transformation project

Disclaimer: This post is not about UX. It’s about customer expectations and a few lessons I learned from transformation initiatives.

UX transformation or UX uplift are very common phrases these days. If you are a digital professional, chances are that you have heard either of these tossed around to refer to one project or another. The fact that many companies have taken on digital transformation projects which include redesigning and uplifting user interfaces has a lot to do with the common occurrence of these phrases in corporate hallways.

UX transformation is a bit more complicated that uplifting the UI, we are living in a mobile first world and UX interfaces have evolved to consider a mobile first approach. Customers have grown accustomed to the new world and now expect UX to be best suited to the device that they use the most and carry with them all the time.

A common user has multiple devices and expects the option of consuming your service on all of them. It’s in the service provider’s interest to make the experience uniform across all platforms. Owing to the ubiquity of mobile and tablet devices and the user being familiar to the mobile look and feel, many organisations are transforming their desktop experiences to closely resemble the mobile / tablet look and feel. This approach has many merits including giving the customer what they are used to and maintaining a consistency across all platforms etc. However, some things are lost in translation. Keeping the transformation watertight on every platform, and consistent at the same time is a difficult task.

I was part of a digital transformation project with a client in the financial industry which involved updating the look and feel of their digital services suite. The teams tasked with this initiative were full of brilliant and capable people with the right skill set including designers, product owners, journey experts and architects. The teams worked in a very collaborative fashion and successfully delivered on the task. The project was a success and received great customer feedback bumping the NPS a couple of points. There was one exception though, one function that received some negative customer feedback. The updated UX looked amazing and felt pleasant, new age, and had modern clean lines, except one part of it wasn’t working for the customers. No points for guessing, this function was about displaying a lot of historical customer activity information on a single page. So the team engaged these customers. Got their grievances on the record, and discovered that the new UX was getting in the way of maximising information being displayed on that single page. They immediately tweaked a few knobs and deployed a quick fix. Happy days.

So, what went wrong in the first place in that one little part of an otherwise brilliant success? Well, little things to be honest. Read on for the answer and while you do, please note that these are my own personal opinions:

A desktop is not a tablet: Mobile and tablet interfaces have one thing in common. They are meant to be navigated using fingers and hence have big buttons, and navigation areas optimised for easy touch-based navigation. A desktop application, in most cases, benefits from a similar look and feel with the exception of use cases where lots of information is to be consumed by the customer. The design for such instances should utilise the extra real estate available on a big screen. Not just focus on making every clickable area the same size as a tablet, the customer doesn’t need to navigate using their finger or their thumb. Transaction history is one such case. Customers expect to see more of their transactions and less of all other things when they open that page. Key takeaway here is that we cannot and should not treat the desktop and a larger tablet screen the same. There are inherent differences between the hardware of all the platforms (smart watch, smart phone, tablet, laptop) and it pays to consider those while undertaking transformation projects. Do focus on consistency but design for the platform hardware.

Internet banking users are choosers: It is safe to assume that almost all users these days have access to mobile banking apps as well as their desktop based counterpart. They choose to use internet banking for a reason. When users log in, they have a particular task in mind. They haven’t logged in to browse financial products or scroll through marketing offers. They want to do x or y and complete it without interruption. In this case, the customer wanted to scan for a particular transaction to see if / when it was completed or, they wanted to reconcile the statement. When anything gets in the way of that, you will get negative feedback and we all know how bad that feels. The best way to avoid this, is to aim for a seamless journey to the task the customer set out to do. Make it as distraction free as possible. No pesky offers or marketing banners. Product suggestions are okay once in a while, as long as they do not not interrupt the users regular flow to achieve their task ie. pesky pop-ups or non-skippable ads.

Be consistent and consider usage patterns: Consistency is of the utmost importance. When you are aiming for a consistent customer experience, be aware of the use case, and any particular hardware strengths. I am not saying that digital professionals are not aware of this. The customer journeys and the user stories are perfect tools to bring the focus to the customer’s need for a particular functionality. However, by reminding yourself of the specific way a device is used, you are better suited to make calls regarding the tradeoffs between staying consistent and optimising for usage patterns. Focusing on usage patterns does not just tell you how the customers are using your service but what they using it for. Remember, As a … I want to … so that …

An example is a transaction history screen. It is an information laden web page and doesn’t only need to be consistent and pretty, but also needs to have the information easily available to the customers. Think of what the user needs to do with the information. All organisations have usage data and customer insights available to them. These reports are used by channel managers to reflect back on the performance of their channels as a rear-view mirror. These usage patterns should be used more often to look forward. Again, understand how the customer is using your service today and to fulfil which need exactly, before you start to transform it.

“Focusing on usage patterns does not just tells you how the customers are using your service but what they using it for”

Include your customers in the journey: Another remedy to reduce negative customer feedback is to involve your customers through the development journey. Tell your users that you have come up with a new interface. Announce what you have done and ask them if they want to try the new version and if they do, give them an option to switch back to the old version. Many digital services today widely use this approach and benefit because of the early feedback. Customers feel included and are much more forthcoming when they make the switch to the new version themselves. They tend to be more forgiving since they know they can switch back to the old one.

Give customers an option: For example, Gmail. The users can choose from 3 different layout densities. Default, Comfortable and Compact. Compact setting allows you to view more emails per page without scrolling down. If you are pressed for screen space and want to scan more emails on a page of your inbox, choose the compact layout. The density of the information increases, each row (email: Sender, Subject, snippet) becomes a bit narrower and suddenly has a smaller footprint. If you want a more relaxed reading style and don’t receive hordes of email every day, you can choose the comfortable setting. The default setting is even more spaced out and allows you to see in line attachments as well, this is great if you receive many attachments. However, you will see less emails on screen at a time.

Inbox density selection popup for gmail

Experience is subjective: Don’t be disappointed if you still receive some negative feedback. Usability is a very subjective topic and you cannot please all the customers. Humans are inherently change averse. We get comfortable with the way things are and don’t like to change. No matter how awesome the change is, it is bound to put some of your users out of their comfort zone. However, don’t just ignore them. Listen to them and talk to them if possible. Get their feedback out and there might be a way to do last minute tweaks. Ideally the number of people who aren’t happy with your product should be low at this point. If possible, talk to all of them. As stated above, focus on what task they were used to and how they were doing it before the change (you will be surprised to know what users are doing with your products!). If possible, guide them on how to do that particular task post change. This engagement is time intensive however, it is the only way to mitigate the negative feedback any further.

In summary

During any transformation projects, it’s essential to go for a modern clean and consistent interface however:

1. The importance of different usage characteristics of various customer devices should not be downplayed. A mobile, tablet and a desktop interface can be consistent while still playing to the strengths of the individual platforms

2. Use data (usage patterns) to figure out how your customers are using your services before redesigning them, and most importantly, why. If a customer looks at the transaction history, are they skimming for a particular transaction or are they reconciling or both? When do they use a particular device?

3. Include the customer in the transformation journey and give them options. No harm in letting them choose little things, like density, colour palette etc.

Ahsan is a digital payments professional and has a passion for digital products in the financial domain especially mobile wallets and PFMs. Ahsan works@ Momenton.

Shout out to the team (hello@momenton) if you need to get in touch.