Adding missing accounts; providing users access to the data they couldn't find

My role

I worked with a highly motivated and talented agile team at Centrica as a UX Designer to provide access to previously inaccessible energy accounts in the business customer’s online account management portal.

I was responsible for mapping the user flow for the process based on system flows provided by the Business Analyst, the user interface design of the journey itself, and the redesign of the other areas that were affected by the change, navigation for example. Throughout the process I ran multiple usability testing sessions on hand-coded prototypes, involving the whole team in the process.

The Challenge

To meet the strategic business goal of the reduction in cost to serve, we had to reduce the number of incoming calls asking about missing accounts, and reduce the amount of manual back-end processing required to merge separate organisations in the database into a single one to enable the user to access all of their energy accounts.

Discovery

Who are we building for?

Thankfully we had a very good picture of our users that would encounter problems with being able to see all of their energy accounts. The vast majority of users were SME businesses who had agreed different energy contracts at different times, or for different premises, and their new energy accounts were not aligned with those that they already had existing. The remaining users that were affected by this issue of being unable to see their energy accounts were users who owned, or were the managers of energy accounts, for multiple organisations.

Aligning the needs of the user and the business

In order to provide value to both the user and the business, we created a needs and goals canvas to create a business case for the work to be carried out. In this case we had a primary and secondary goal, both of which had to align to a strategic business goal, a problem statement from the business, a key performance indicator against which success would be measured, the user needs relating to the problem statement, and evidence proving this need from the user. The need and goals were:

User need
As an online customer, I want to see information about all of my energy accounts when I log in.

Business need
Reduce incoming calls from customer who cannot access their energy account information online.

User need
As an online customer, I don’t want to have to wait up to 90 days whilst my energy accounts are made available.

Business need
Reduce the number of request for a manual merge process.

Uncovering the possibilities

The team spent a number of weeks working on the definition of the problem we had from the perspective of the user, of the business, and of the digital systems we already had in place. This process involved walking a number of business stakeholders – who would ultimately be affected by the changes we were to make – through our collective thinking, looking to expose any loopholes or uncover any missed aspect of what we were looking to deliver.

The team mapped out a complete and complex process of user journeys, lifecycles, permissions, and much more, in order to understand the the problem we were solving in its entirety.

The time spent learning about our technical constraints, and the needs of other throughout the business, helped us to shape the multiple stages of delivery that we could aim towards; essentially delivering useful solutions to both the user and the business as quickly as possible, in an iterative manner.

The Vision

Creating a long term solution

The solution for this problem would have to work in the current situation in which the users and the business find themselves, whilst laying the foundations and providing a roadmap on how the business would prevent this situation happening in the future, and allow the users more control over their business energy accounts.

Reducing time spent on both sides

The system we were to design at this point was to be the starting point from which the business will be able to reduce a large amount of work on customer data, and vastly reduce the waiting times for users to be able to access that data.

The Requirements

No major back-end changes

In order to truly resolve the underlying problem, a major overhaul of the structure of the underlying database would be required, allowing a user to be able to access all of the organisations to which they should have access. For this to happen, a major bespoke upgrade to the underlying system would be needed. As such, this became the largest constraint that we had to deal with as a team.

Error prevention

A large amount of data held against customers and their organisations was largely fragmented, due to all manner of reasons during data search and entry whilst call agents were on the phone to customers. In order to reduce these errors, an internal customer management journey would have to be designed to help reduce errors in setting up new organisations for customer where they weren’t needed.

Access to missing energy accounts

We must allow customers to request access to energy accounts they cannot see, giving them the ability to self-serve through their online account management portal. We must verify whether they should have access to the accounts they request, what level of access they should get, and design both the journey for adding missing accounts, and how to display them once they are available to the user.

The Process

From all of the discovery work we had done as a squad, through investigation into current business processes and production of process flows by the Business Analyst, coupled with some early concepts created by the previous UX Designer, we had a great foundation upon which to begin prototyping our solution.

A more refined version of paper and string process and user map, and the starting point for moving into working on digital concepts.

Fleshing out the journey

The design of the step-by-step journey to allow users to request access to their missing energy accounts was relatively straightforward. This was all down to the amount of analysis and planning we had done as a team in the discovery phase of the project, combined with similar the aesthetics of existing journeys with similar steps.

Without a design system in place, it was extremely important to be aware of our other user journeys within the online account management portal in order to remain consistent. We wanted to avoid a completely new kind of journey which was essentially the same as providing a new user with access, or registering for an online account, essentially to prevent the creation of a jarring experience to established user, and to help establish patterns to those who are new to the system.

A bird's eye view of screen designs for the add missing accounts journey.

From this initial set of screen designs for the add missing accounts journey, I moved into prototyping utilising an established prototyping framework based on the GOV.UK Prototype Kit, which had been previously utilised for usability testing.

The wider navigation problem

The current navigation did not support the existence of a higher level within the navigation hierarchy, so we would have to create one; essentially changing the way all users would navigate around their online account management portal.

Some of the early work on this was carried out by my predecessor, so before I looked to refine any of the designs, we put it to the test.

Usability testing

We tested a number of hypotheses during the design process, and some of the early prototypes revealed that the visual cues weren’t strong enough for the user to discover the ability to switch between the different sets of accounts under their different organisations. One participant stated that they “felt quite lost” when navigation to a specific energy account, another stating “I just didn’t have access to that one” when referring to a specific energy account they were looking for.

It was clear that we would have to make some visual changes to the UI in order for users to be able to discover navigation elements more easily, and that we would need to introduce clearer messaging on what to expect next as they moved through the process of adding a missing energy account.

Some of the observations captured from one of our early usability testing sessions.

Another common finding between participants in these usability testing sessions supported another hypothesis which we weren’t actively looking to test that some users were confused by the main navigation. Some users would click on a link in the main navigation with the view tom completing a task within the online account management portal. This action would take them out of the logged in area to some content on the brochureware site, leaving the users confused and lost as they tried to find the functionality they were looking for.

Keeping the user on task

In order to remove the possibility of users struggling to find functionality within the online account management portal, we suggested that we should look to remove the main navigation to the rest of the website when the user was logged in.

This was not met with open arms by the business from the outset, so we put it to the test by engaging with the optimisation team to run a split test with a small fraction of users when they were logged in. This test would remove the main navigation links that would take the user out of the logged in area, and we would measure the effect that had on actions the user takes within the online account management portal.

The test would run whilst we continued to work on the delivery of the functionality for users to be able to add their missing energy accounts.

Enhancing the navigation

Based on our findings from user testing, I began working on alternative way to be able to navigate, both around the new organisation based structure which would hold the relevant energy accounts, and the online account management portal as a whole.

It felt very disjointed, and was not optimised for use on small screens, resulting in a single compromised navigation which muddled the more easy to understand hierarchy when displayed on larger screens.

I set about sketching out various ways in which we could create a more unifying navigation solution, which landed itself more readily to the additional tier in the hierarchy that we would be adding with the new ‘organisation level’ which would allow users to switch between collections of energy accounts.

A collection of early ideas and sketches created to flesh out the journey of adding missing accounts, and looking at how to navigate between organisations and the energy accounts contained in each.

I took the previously developed prototypes, and evolved them to a state where they reflected the designs, and offered a possible solution to the problems uncovered by our users in our earlier usability testing sessions.

Examples of the before and after prototypes from the first usability testing session, including updated navigation and the removal of the main navigation for the brochureware site.

More usability testing

We ran more usability testing on our updated designs, along with some of the more advanced functionality that was part of the first MVP deliverable.

The usability testing observation team in action.

We found that users were able to more easily discover the navigation methods in the newly styled breadcrumb, allowing them to switch between organisations at the highest level, and between energy accounts within organisations. It also separated their own security and log in details as a user, from the settings of the organisations to which they had access. Although slightly different to what the users were used to across all of the websites they use, many of the participants commented that “it makes sense to separate these out” as they understood each organisation may have different levels of access and bespoke settings.

The Impact

Although the delivery of this piece of work was only the first minimum viable product of what was to become a much larger feature, the impact it had for both the users and the business was quite remarkable. It was hailed as a great success internally, and stood out as one of the first digital projects in recent memory within the organisation without any major bugs or incidents raised at launch. This was all down to the in-depth planning carried out by the whole team, the involvement of all stakeholders from the very outset of the project, and the involvement of users throughout the lifecycle of this project.