Words by Hannah Valenzona and Samson Elijah Tan
In learning more about the UX process as part of the internship program at On-Off Group, we were assigned to conduct user research for Hubtype, a computer software company that specializes in online communications based in Barcelona, Spain. One of their products, Hubtype Desk, is a ticketing solution that serves global brands based in Europe in bridging the communication gap with their customers on different social media platforms.
The scope of the user research project was to identify friction points experienced by the different users from Hubtype Desk in their own work processes and offer insights and recommendations that would provide value to the company in helping them improve the user experience of their platform for their end-users. We can confidently say that through this experience, it helped us develop a more rigorous understanding of what it means to become a fully-fledged user researcher.
The company continued to evolve its ticketing platform through innovation to cater to their expanding market as their clients continued to grow in number. Their clients consisted of small to large businesses that came from various industries. To ensure that their platform is up to date with the best design practices such as being equitable to accommodate the needs of diverse teams, the Hubtype team wanted to improve their existing knowledge of their users and how they use the platform through evidence-based research. They wanted to be able to leverage this kind of information to cater to the growing needs and demands of their different users. This supports the company’s vision of providing a seamless and flexible experience for their customers.
As part of their research efforts to gain a deeper understanding of their customer base, the Hubtype team conducted prior research through user interviews. However, additional insights were sought after to ensure that any future changes are well-intended and impactful. It was agreed that in order to achieve more accurate results, more user research was necessary in order to understand the users they are currently servicing. This is where we step in.
During the preliminary discussions with the Hubtype team in scoping the project, we came to understand that Hubtype Desk had three (3) different account categories: Agent, Manager and Admin. As the Agent and Manager accounts comprised the majority of their users, we decided to direct the focus of the research to these user groups. After consulting with the HubType Team and trying the software ourselves, we agreed that our primary research objectives were to:
Once we understood that the company wanted to add and improve features of the platform according to the needs of their users, we translated their business objective into a research question in the format of “How Might We…?”. Instead of “How do we increase overall user satisfaction?”, we rephrased it to:
“How might we improve the experience of the different users using the platform such that they can effectively and efficiently accomplish their main tasks?”
After identifying our research objectives, we established that it was necessary for us to gain clarity on the different user journeys taken on Hubtype Desk. From there, we drafted our discussion guide based on the insights that we wanted to uncover for each user group.
For Agents, our goal was to understand more about how they interacted with the different features and components of the platform, and how these elements affected their day-to-day processes in accomplishing their main tasks. We were also looking specifically for their pain points during their journey and any suggestions that they may have in improving the platform to better suit their needs.
For Managers, our goal was to clarify which part of the user journey do they encounter the most issues, whether it would be when they are managing agents in the different channels, or looking at raw data for external reports. Since it was critical for us to gain a better view and understanding of how each manager navigated the platform based on their daily activities, a screen share was included in the discussion guide to better understand their respective work process. By being able to directly observe their behaviour, we would be able to uncover their thinking process and which features they would use more often.
We were given the flexibility to design our own project timeline, as long as it would fit within the duration of our internship. The project timeline spanned the duration of four (4) weeks, and was broken into five (5) main components: scoping, pre-work, user interviews, data analysis and the final report and presentation.
Scoping entailed a stakeholders interview with the Hubtype team in learning more about their company and platform, as well as to identify the metrics and kind of information they are looking for in the user interviews. Pre-work entailed the hands-on use of the application to gain an initial understanding of overview of features, where insights gained were used to formulate a discussion guide for agents and managers each. Data analysis entailed working on the affinity mapping, as well as the deliverables for agents and managers. We allocated the bulk of the project for user interviews and data analysis to ensure sufficient time for proper data gathering and analysis.
After clarifying these points, we decided that the output of this research project would be a User Profile and a Customer Journey Map for each user group. A user profile would benefit Hubtype in visualizing and empathizing with the users that they are designing the product for. To supplement this, a customer journey would be most helpful in understanding the typical behaviour of the users when carrying out their main tasks on the platform, as well as pinpoint the location of encountered problems in their user journey.
Before we can proceed with the user interviews, we need to be able to recruit the right participants. It was decided that Hubtype would source and screen the applicants due to client confidentiality.
A total of sixteen (16) user interviews, split between eight (8) managers and eight (8) agents, were conducted through Zoom and Microsoft Teams. All participants were all regular users of the platform that came from various industries like Fashion Retail, Finance and Electronic Services.
The Manager’s Interview Session with Screen Share on Zoom
From the User Interviews, we learned that that:
As we interviewed managers mainly from the Fashion Retail and Electronic Services industry, we noticed that their work process was different mainly due to the volume of tickets they would receive on a daily basis. Those working in the Fashion Retail industry only handled B2C markets and dealt with a higher number of tickets. However, those working in the Electronic Services dealt with customers both from the B2B and B2C markets which required more communication with an external department for any request on the repair of equipment.
We also noted that the majority of the agents interviewed were from the Fashion Retail industry. Their work processes were more linear and streamlined as they only cared about their main task: being able to respond to incoming customer tickets as efficiently and as quickly as possible.
After analyzing the data we obtained from the user interviews, it led us to understand more about their work processes and the pain points they encountered throughout their journey. We began to work on our artifacts and looked into how we would communicate that information effectively to the Hubtype team through our deliverables.
As we interviewed the managers, we found it difficult to understand the behaviour of the managers only by looking at how they viewed the purpose of each page. We then came to realize that they did not have a linear behaviour in interacting with the website and decided to take a step back. A common pattern the participants seemed to have was to navigate the system on a more goal-based orientation. This came to be an important insight so we then shifted viewing the data to a process in achieving a manager’s responsibility.
Instead of creating a customer journey map, we decided to develop it into a task analysis diagram as it would be more effective in capturing how the manager performs each task in line with their goals. Task Analysis is a tool in the design thinking process wherein we understand the steps a user must take in order to complete a goal. We were able to segment their process into four (4) main task categories which includes the overall pain points and opportunity points respective to each category.
The main insights that were uncovered per task category are as listed below:
One of the first steps that are taken by managers is to assign their team members or agents to the social media channels based on the forecast of tickets for the day. Ensuring that all channels are running and have enough agents to support the traffic are important in this step.
One of the main pain points encountered by the users is the friction in adding agents to and from different channels. They found it frustrating that they have to scroll through a long list of names which takes up too much time on their end.
Monitor and check pending tickets (chats) & agents
Managers spend the most time in this particular task category. Their main goal is to make sure there are no pending tickets and to check the live performance of their agents. This overlaps with the first task, Team Assignment, as changes in the volume of incoming tickets would require adjustments to the different teams. They are also found assisting their team members to clarify any procedures or confusions.
A major issue they encountered was the inability to get an easy overall view of their agents’ tasks alongside the live chat. As this task is crucial among the four (4) other categories, it was important for them to be able to quickly see how many tickets their agent was handling so changes could be easily made and tickets could be distributed as evenly and efficiently as possible.
As a manager, it is important to evaluate the individual performance of their team. Being able to easily investigate cases and offer concrete feedback is the main goal of this task.
The main pain point that managers experienced in this task was the Hubtype integration of past cases to a third party application. This external application would be the main resource for managers in pulling up past data. However, crucial information such as notes and parts of the conversation were not accurately transferred and thus lengthens the evaluation step.
In this last step, the managers’ main goal is to analyze the overall performance of their team on a weekly or monthly basis and present findings and a course of action to the management team.
Although this step was only a task conducted by those in the Fashion Retail industry. The users still expressed that they were uncertain about the accuracy of the numbers on the page when collating the data for these reports.
After understanding the managers’ process, we were able to identify certain patterns which allowed us to develop two (2) user profiles: Tom and Cece. Creating user profiles is a UX methodology that is used to humanize insights. In creating the Tom and Cece, we made sure to include their behaviour, pain points and important tasks to accomplish so as to give the Hubtype team a digestible artifact to help them focus on designing for their needs.
T.O.M and CeCe User Profiles
The first user profile is Tom who is a naturally busy person as he works in the Fashion Retail industry. As he handles a large team, his main pain point revolves around how time consuming it is for him to manage his team members due to the multiple steps he takes to accomplish this task. The most important task was to be able to move his agents seamlessly from one channel to the other.
On the other hand, Cece is the type of manager that closely monitors every step taken by her agents. Due to the nature of the Electronic Services industry, she handles much smaller teams. She finds it frustrating that there is too much wasted space when monitoring the live chats from her agent. It is very important that she achieves her team’s daily KPIs.
Customer Journey Map
In order to identify the major stages in the customer journey map for the agents, we first collated all the different issues, concerns, and pain points expressed by the agents. From there, we identified any trends and similarities between the different issues, where we eventually categorized them into four (4) major stages: onboarding, pre-interaction, interaction, and post-interaction.
Although the onboarding stage is not officially part of the agent’s day-to-day processes, it is still considered critical in their user journey as it will affect how they engage and interact with the application later on. The pre-interaction stage refers to any action taken by the agent before interacting with a customer. This includes the agent’s actions from logging in to viewing notifications and receiving incoming tickets. The interaction stage, as the name suggests, refers to all communication done with the customer. Finally, the post-interaction stage involves any further action done by the agent if necessary once the conversation with the client has been closed. This process may include any further steps taken in third-party applications or tools such as an external CRM software.
During the Onboarding process, we found that the onboarding experience for agents varies greatly as it is often done internally by the agent’s team. Most of them considered themselves self-taught when learning the application. While a majority of agents expressed that they were quick to learn the application, there were still some who experienced difficulty with getting acquainted with the platform and some who expressed confusion with regards to some of the features. It would be beneficial for the agents if they had a reference guide that they could easily refer to that would provide a quick overview of the platform’s tools and features, so they can decrease reliance on their internal onboarding process.
In the Pre-interaction stage, we found that there are certain tools and components that were often left unused by agents. Agents expressed that they encountered most problems with the UI and notification system, which was alarming because this area is where they spend the majority of their time receiving incoming tickets. We also encountered agents who would use and interact with the application differently due to their work circumstances. They suggested that they would like to hide the components that are unnecessary for them while having a larger view of the components that are more essential to their work.
In the Interaction stage, we found that agents expressed frustration when using some of the tools when interacting with the customers, because the features or functions do not work as intended, thus they often have to work around these issues through compromises. They had problems with communicating information with clients, as well as retrieving their customer information. They suggested that they would like more flexibility and features when communicating with customers, and more accessibility when it comes to obtaining the relevant customer data.
Lastly, in the Post-interaction stage, we found that for some cases, agents would need to refer the ticket to another agent or manager, or communicate with another department in their company. During this process, they use external applications as necessary for record keeping, and for cases where they would need to communicate with the same customer later on. Agents expressed most concerns when using third-party applications and integration tools. They would prefer it if this process was more seamless and automated.
After drawing much insights from the conducted research, we revisited our “How Might We” statement and recommended a list of actionable solutions in order to help Managers and Agents efficiently carry out their tasks. The top of the list includes:
A quick overview of agents’ availability
Managers expressed that they wanted a more convenient and accessible method to ascertain whether an agent is currently busy handling multiple tickets. They find that the current method of checking agents’ status too troublesome. By providing an easier way for managers to view the status of all the agents more readily, it would be more time-efficient for them since this action is something that is done repeatedly throughout the day.
A better page refresh rate
When navigating through the page, all managers experienced technical issues on Hubtype, most specifically time out issues. By improving this, managers and agents would be able to receive incoming tickets more accurately without constant reminders from the managers’ end.
A more flexible UI
Agents noted that there was a lot of wasted space in regards to the user interface of the application. They suggested that it would be great if they could hide the tools and features that they do not use often, so they have a larger view of the components that matter the most to them.
Additionally, managers wanted changes in the layout for adding and removing agents wherein they could easily identify active and non-active members. This would streamline the team assignment process and allow the managers to focus on their other tasks at hand.
A more robust notification system
When dealing with multiple applications and several tickets at a given time, managers and agents noted that they did not notice incoming notifications, and it would easily get lost, resulting in a frustrating experience. They recommended a more efficient way for notifications to be streamlined, so that they do not miss out on any new notifications.
Besides this, it would be beneficial for the platform to include system notification updates to inform both users of any changes that could improve their way of working. In this manner, managers would be able to study the changes and schedule training sessions with their agents if necessary.
Additional chat functionalities and filter
When interacting with customers, agents expressed concerns with the chat functionalities. They mentioned that there are limitations when it comes to the current chat system that inconveniences them, and at times, impedes their work process. They recommended that new features and functionalities be implemented in the chat. They also reported that going through messages to obtain customer information is time consuming, especially if the conversation has a long history. They would prefer a way to be able to filter chat messages such that they easily obtain the relevant information they need .
The above recommendations were inspired by the suggestions given by the user participants as they came prepared with a list of improvements they looked forward to seeing on the platform.
After presenting our findings to the Hubtype team, it gave them reassurance on the issues that they found when they conducted their initial user research. They noted that they now have sufficient confirmation on the different issues faced by their users.
In future iterations of the artefacts, we can go into detail about which part of the journey managers and agents prioritize more. We can also further indicate their feelings per process explaining when and why they feel this way.
At the end of this project, we learned the ropes of conducting a UX Research project with a real client. Working with Hubtype taught us how to be mindful and flexible when working with teams and participants in an international setting. It also challenged us to forego and adjust initial plans when the data collected points towards another direction. Lastly, we understood more deeply the impact of conducting user research in giving focus and clarity to creating a design strategy. By being able to create a blueprint for the design process, we ensure that all design decisions are humanized and are crafted with user value and relevance.
We would like to thank our mentors, Nao, Sue and Ingrid for being able to guide us along our UX journey. We can proudly say that we are a few steps closer to becoming a full fledged UXer.
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