Insights — December 14, 2016

The Joy of Designing for the Employee Experience

When we think of the “user” in user experience, we often think about the customer. But employees are users too, and their experiences matter.

by Josh Levine

Customer Experience Design Thinking Hiring Leadership

A person holding a sign

The assignment was straightforward: improve the way phone agents sell life insurance to potential and existing customers. Our goal was to simplify and streamline the process of selling insurance so agents could focus less on data entry, and more on providing the best service possible to the customer.

The existing software was a disaster. It was everything you’d expect from an antiquated, enterprise-level sales platform. It demonstrated a complete lack of respect that there was a human using it on a daily basis. The data entry process was split over 12 steps, and the quote wasn’t accessible to agents until all steps were completed. Agents had to reference multiple systems in order to answer customers’ questions. It was almost as if someone was trying to make their job harder. Yeah, that bad.

“Is this for real?”

For this project, we were running our second round of remote user research. It was going well. And then ten or so minutes in, one of the agents interjected with a question, “Am I allowed to ask you guys questions?”. She proceeded to share her thoughts. ”So what’s the deal here? Is this for real? Like, will I actually be able to use this? Because oh my god, this is so awesome. Do you realize how much easier my job would be? I’m so excited right now. Ok, I just had to say that.”

To designers, this type of reaction to a prototype is just pure gold. Awards, industry recognition… nothing comes close to the feeling of joy and satisfaction a designer gets when seeing the first-hand the impact their work has on a fellow human. Hope becomes reality. Butterflies flutter about. Unadulterated, pure joy.

As product designers, we’re extremely lucky to do something for a living where we can see first-hand the positive impact it has on people. And there is no question that design, as a whole, has changed the way we go about our lives. Whether we’re lounging on our couch, commuting, exercising, or even sitting on the crapper, our lives have become easier, more convenient, and, well … more human. Simply put, things are working better. Yep, it’s a rewarding time to be a designer.

But however great the rewards, the truth is that the distribution of great design, particularly in the world of enterprise software, has not been exactly even. When we think of the ‘user’ in user experience, it’s most often associated with the end user, or the actual customer. And for good reason. They are the ones who ultimately exchange currency for value and impact the bottom line. Because of that, we’ve seen less investment in the betterment of other experiences, most notably, the employee experience. And I’m not referring to progress in workspace design or commitment toward wellness. I’m talking about straight up enterprise software design.

And perhaps that’s what made the reactions we heard that day feel so rewarding.

For most of our projects, it’s the front-line employees who ultimately run and maintain what we design. This is exactly why co-creation is an integral part of our design process. We invite our clients and their employees to collaborate with us through sketching and prototyping. This, along with validation, ensures that our designs will actually meet users’ needs—regardless of whether they are customers or employees. At the end of the day, we can dream, prototype and validate until the cows come home, but if the design doesn’t consider everyone who will be interacting with it, then its true potential will never be realized.

“I’ve been working with our existing app for years. To be honest, I never realized how terrible it was until this. It’s just how it’s always been.”

These phone agents never complained. They didn’t ask for a better tool. In fact, they didn’t even know they needed it or that an improved experience was at all possible. That’s what makes designing for this group so special. Sure, there have been advancements but in comparison to impact of design on our personal lives, it’s the employees who tend to be left behind. They too should enjoy the fruits of advancements in design and technology. After all, the commercial value is inarguable. Equip employees with the right resources and tools, and in return see an increase in efficiency and quality. Even better, see an increase in their production (i.e., sales) and employee job satisfaction.

“You made my day. I can’t wait for this to come out.”

No question about it, there is something special about improving the quality of life in the workplace. Perhaps it’s my personal passion for happiness at work. Or my desire to brighten up the grayness of today’s enterprise work applications. One thing I know for shit sure though, a product is only as good as the people who run and support it. So here’s to the underdogs. The quiet ones. The ones who aren’t always top of mind. Here’s to them, as we co-create the future of the customer and the employee experience.

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