Improving the user experience can save time and money

Paul Boag

A recent experience at a National Trust property drove home to me the importance of user experience. An experience that transcends the website and social media.

The curse of being a user experience consultant is being aware of bad experiences everywhere. When you specialise in not-for-profits this 'spider sense' goes into overdrive when interacting with a charity.

Yesterday we as a family decided to visit a local National Trust property called Kingston Lacy. I am a huge fan of the National Trust. I worked with them years ago to build one of their early websites and ever since I have been in awe of the amazing conservation work they do.

Digital can even improve the experience of visiting a historic landmark like Kingston Lacy.
Digital can even improve the experience of visiting a historic landmark like Kingston Lacy.

My wife and son have been members for a while but I was not. I didn’t get to visit properties enough to make it worthwhile. But yesterday on the spur of the moment we decided to add me.

It was a busy summers day, but they had lots of staff on and so there was somebody to help me out straight away. I expected the process to take a minute or so just to add my name to the membership and pay the difference.

When good experiences go bad

Instead the experience was not good. The member of staff had to fill in a long form asking us for information we knew damn well they already had. There was also confusion over which form she should complete and she had to complete the form by hand. No doubt this form was then sent to head office where somebody had to re-key it into a CRM somewhere.

Once she finally finished filling in the form she informed us that she would send this to head office who would contact us. They would tell us how much extra money we had to pay because she couldn’t work it out here. She also had to send off our membership card so they could send a new one. In the meantime we had to use this temporary receipt because the new card might take six weeks to arrive. After all the summer is their busiest time of the year.

So let’s recap for a moment.

  • We ask if we can upgrade our membership.
  • She has a discussion with her boss about which form to fill in.
  • She completes the form by hand asking us to repeat all our information from postal address to our sons name.
  • She issues us a receipt.
  • She posts the form to head office.
  • Somebody at head office rekeys our information into a CRM and looks up a quote.
  • That person contacts us and confirms we are happy with the new quote.
  • The head office process our payment through our direct debit.
  • They then issue us a new card that reaches us up to six weeks later.

A better way

All the time she was filling in the form by hand, I was looking at the laptop sitting on her desk right next to her. I couldn’t help thinking how much better it would be if she could just do the whole thing online.

Let’s re-imagine the process.

  • We ask if we can upgrade our membership.
  • She asks for our membership number and looks it up on the computer.
  • She enters in the new details without asking us to repeat data we have already provided. After all she can see that in front of her.
  • She then quotes us a price and takes payment.
  • The system confirms our new membership and she prints us a new card.

Even this is not as streamlined as it could be. But further refinements would cost more. This simplified process is a huge step forward and would need only limited investment.

This would have been such a better experience for me. But it would have also been a better experience for those waiting behind us in the queue.

Not only that but it would have saved the National Trust time and money. It would have quickly brought a return on investment in building the new system.

Not every National Trust property has an internet enabled laptop on hand. But it would only take a mobile phone if the system was well designed.

My point is that many organisations are blinkered when it comes to digital and user experience. They can’t see beyond the marketing benefits digital can bring. They are not using it to its full potential. The potential to improve the entire user experience, not just the initial contact.