How to Use Emails to Drastically Improve Product User Experience
A Case Study: Progressive Leasing and Alpha
Far too often, emails are unnecessary, uninteresting, and unhelpful. Marketing campaigns, newsletters, and spam messages clog user inboxes. How can we make emails a better experience for users?
Redesigning the Email User Experience for Consumers
We recently undertook a project to redesign the user experience of transactional emails at Progressive Leasing. Transactional emails are emails triggered by a user’s action. Some examples include:
· Welcome emails
· Payment receipts
· Application status notifications
Instead of viewing these as opportunities to market to customers, we looked at these emails as an extension of a user’s interaction with our other products and services. It was an opportunity to build a relationship of trust.
This also gave us three major opportunities for improvement to our product and the business:
1. Build brand recognition and awareness. The previous emails had a mix of old and new branding, leading to confusion and distrust. The new email designs give us the chance to be more consistent and professional.
2. Cut unnecessary emails and physical letters going out to customers. The new user flow would bring cost savings by eliminating digital and physical letters that were not useful for our users.
3. Improve comprehension of our product. It is critical that Progressive Leasing users understand the terms of their lease agreement with Progressive. This creates a positive experience and desire to lease with us again. We hypothesized the previous emails did not provide users with all the information needed to understand lease-to-own. (I tested this, see more below). Improvements to the emails would also help decrease customer service calls.
Working with Assumptions
We were operating under some user assumptions as we moved through this project. The first was that users will open an email from us. Each email needed to come at the appropriate time with useful information to ensure users would open emails. Our second assumption was that users prefer an email to a phone call. In case this was incorrect, I needed to design each email with easy access to information about our customer service center.
Another designer had spent some time on this project before I joined the team. He had already created some preliminary designs. However, he was responsible for another product as well and did not have the bandwidth to devote a ton of time to emails. This is how I became the lead designer on the Customer Communication Team, and took over the project.
5 Steps to Developing Improved Email Experiences
I had never designed an email before this project. So I started with some major research into the email industry. I focused specifically on successful email design. I typically start my design process by performing audits, but how could I audit emails without spamming my own inbox? My answer was to find a community so passionate about email design they devote websites, newsletters, webinars, and blogs to it. Here are some of the sources I used:
1. Audit of Current Emails
I also audited our current emails to learn more about the current user experience. This helped me find areas that could be improved. I focused on the emails we decided were essential elements of the user flow. These were:
· Application approvals and denials
· Lease e-signature emails
· Welcome emails
· Payment reminders and receipts
2. Email Content
At this point I dove into the work that had already been done on this project. The previous designer had established a template and some content, but there was ample opportunity for refinement of copy and redesign of visual components.
I started by breaking up content to make it easier for users to scan and understand important details.
I then rewrote the copy to highlight key information. I also edited titles and subtitles for improved consistency, tone, and user experience.
For the visual elements, I iterated on various layouts and bullet and numbering styles to increase visual interest. I also edited the use of color and iconography to better align with the intention and use of these elements across other Progressive Leasing products. This was important because we were using these emails as an extension of the experience with other products. Everything needed to be consistent.
I also encountered emails that would not meet the needs of every user and would need a variation to meet all user situations. For example, the application approval email included directions to the store the user could lease a product from. This is helpful for the brick-and-mortar shopper, but what about the online shopper? For this user, I created an email with instructions on how to complete their lease online instead.
3. Design review
I got the emails into a more finalized state to get feedback from my design peers. They provided feedback on hierarchy and messaging in each of the new emails. This helped me see more areas for improvement. They pointed out that some pieces of information a user needed in different checkout flows should receive more prominence. This was helpful since I was new to the team and still learning all the intricacies of the user experience across different Progressive products.
4. Testing with Alpha
I was feeling confident in the new designs at this point, so I put them in front of users to validate (or invalidate) my design choices. I utilized Alpha’s platform to get feedback from potential lease-to-own users.
I started with a user experience test on the new brick-and-mortar approval email. This email goes to a user who has been approved for a lease but has not made a purchase with their approval amount. This is a crucial email because it can be a user’s first interaction with Progressive Leasing. Our goals with this email were to positively introduce users to the company, increase lease-to-own literacy, and encourage users to use their approval. The test showed most users felt more informed about lease-to-own and had a positive impression of Progressive Leasing after viewing the email. There was, however, some confusion in whether a customer would own the item at the end of the lease and how much they would pay in leasing fees.
I addressed these issues by moving the lease literacy section up in the hierarchy of the email. I also changed the last lines of copy in that section to highlight ownership of the leased item at the end of twelve months. I did a follow-up test, again on Alpha, and these issues were resolved.
I also ran a series of tests on Alpha with the new welcome email. I ran tests similar to the new approval email test I had done earlier, as well as an A/B test on the new versus the old welcome emails. Most users found the information in the new email helpful, clear, and well-designed. They were also able to pull out correct information in the new email, where they had not been able to in the old version. Its critical users know the correct details of a financial agreement, and the new welcome email solves for this.
5. Finalize and launch
I reviewed all emails in the new flow with my product manager, lead developer, and our compliance department. There were a few changes necessary from compliance, and the emails were ready to launch! New emails have already starting going out and all emails will launch by the end of this calendar year.
Email Design Learnings and Takeaways
Working on emails helped me grow as a designer. Here’s some of what I learned:
- There are lots of people out there passionate about their work. If you find them, your knowledge will grow faster than if you try to learn about something on your own.
- Emails can play a key role in user experience. If done right, they can build a positive relationship, provide necessary information, and delight users.
- Content and copywriting help establish a consistent user experience and heavily impact user interactions. The ideal solution to build consistency would be to have a dedicated content specialist on the UX team. If this isn’t possible in an organization, establish an individual on the team as the go-to content coach. I became the content coach for Progressive’s design team as I worked on this project and saw a lift in user experience throughout the products as we were able to unify and improve our content.