UX Research for RMF Site Redesign:

Texas Association of School Boards (TASB)

The objective

The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) Risk Management Fund (RMF) group undertook a web refresh that would address usability and business delivery obstructions to their online presence. The RMF group sought to improve the online availability of their core business offerings and make services more accessible to internal and external clients.

My role

I assessed the TASB RMF site and facilitated research to inform a mental model to more intuitively align with users needs and expectations of what services the business provides. I joined a team comprised of a Sr. Project Manager, Sr. Information Architect, Sr. UX Specialist, Director of Design of Online Communications, Web Designers and the RMF Management team.

Services Provided

  • User Interviews
  • Heuristic Evaluation
  • Information Architecture

Problem Statement

Pain points: Customers trend towards calling in for services instead of finding solutions online.
  • External customers driven to telephony channel at high rate.
  • Internal client reports a specific set of recurring critical path activities are difficult to maintain, time consuming to manage and incur strain on a limited number of CSR's.
  • Online channel communicates a poor representation of the business services and makes for inaccessible and poor user experience.

This group is top notch at making themselves available to their customers needs however the constant state of triage inhibits focusing upon the core strengths in areas where they out perform competitors and hampers branching into new service delivery areas.

There is apprehension to dedicate budget to the project without confirming the percieved challenges are real and assailable. Our team got creative with its toolkit and took advantage of opportunities to learn as they presented themselves.

Discovery

Baseline Observations

Site Usability & Heuristics

The legacy site was developed in Flash which hampers accessibility, performance, maintenance and SEO. The information architecture fails to support the mental model visitors have of service locality within the domain.
Site navigation model unnecessarily complicated,confusing. Visitors abandon page exploration for the immediate feedback of the telephony channel.

Research Perspective

As a service design project, emphasis is placed upon user expectation and online service prioritization.

Focus is placed upon validating the story with site analytics of traffic and page abandonment.  Secondly, emphasis is placed on illustrating a complete perspective of the users' frustrations with maneuvering the site and basic task completion.

User Interviews

Internal Stakeholder Sessions

I met with managers, Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) & budget influencers to hear from them directly not only what would make their jobs easier but listened to how fulfilling their customers needs brought joy into their own lives. These people care about the organization's purpose and their clients, all of whom are committed to the public education of children in Texas.

The most common complaint is that customers repeatedly indicated they tried to accomplish tasks online but grew frustrated with the website, gave up and would simply call or email in their questions and requests.

External Users and Customers

The profile of external customers interacting with the RMF group varies greatly. School faculty, facilities maintenance and members of the superintendent team all seek different solutions to claims management and each user group had different priorities in their interaction modalities.

One-on-One guerilla UX testing

The annual TASB RMF Members Conference was a couple of weeks out and provided a opportunity to do live, one-on-one guerilla user testing. User personas were generated against CSR client interactions.

User candidates were vetted for recruitment from various district employees who would be attending the conference. When your organization's budgets are tied to publicly funded industries, incentives such as free ice cream create receptive participants who are truly dedicated to their mission.

To proceed with in-person testing I created a baseline template for user interviewing protocol and process for the Online Communications department. The matrix was constructed so that it could be applied for any evaluative process going forward.

Test Proctoring & Interviewing Authorship

I formulated a set of proctoring guidelines which delineated testing protocol for one-on-one interviews, hardware implementation and session capture.

A short, resolutely focused set of questions was allotted towards different user strata that would allow us to plug and play some during walk-through, allowing mid-flight discretion to switch things up to address unforeseen findings on test day.

Heuristic Evaluation Outcomes

Retained the question and answer format of the interviews to highlight problems such as Blocking Points, Task Abandonment and successes like Task completions and Primary site visitation benefits. Collected Verbatim commentary of each interview on a issue by issue basis.

Created a simple visual legend to indicate gesturing, mouse movement and nuanced behavioural indicators in the recordings of our user experts where video of the sessions was not available. Established a severity rating system prioritize usability issues.

Identified issues by frequency, category and task and distilled the findings into Discovery and Recommendation rationales to be returned to our RMF partners for commitment on actionables and to qualify the budget we were asking for.

Findings and actionable recommendations

Analyzing the sessions produced a clear data set validating many of the teams hypothesis about what was wrong with the legacy site.
  • Navigation is not intuitve, labeling is not in-line with the users mental model of the services.
  • Interaction elements and behaviors are often confusing and bizarre. The use of unique Flash elements is especially jarring as the Flash elements behave in unexpected ways from elements generally found online.
  • A lack of predictable information chunking.
Patterns emerged which were grouped for inclusion in affinity charts, from which a more accurate customer mental map emerged. I used the mapping to set the foundation for a complete restructuring of the information architecture.

Competitive Research

I reviewed twenty-two peer organizations, bisecting the study into two divisions.

Targeted organizations were tiered as direct rivalries or as players in the vertical. Competitors sites were assessed for functionality, content, visual style, tone and structure.

Considering key competitors as well as best practices

Businesses outside of the focus industry were evaluated for best pratices, advantageous design and various methods of content delivery.

Finding

Competitors with the budget to implement a fully realized online presence and offer fully functional online shopping, marketing and customer service experiences did just that.

Solutions Implementation

I had some opportunity with the time left in my contract to contribute to the next phase of the RMF project. Alongside the Director of Design of Online Communications, we presented our findings to the leaders of the RMF. The research findings and evidence was presented showing that the current site was a clear hindrance to customers ability to complete tasks.

The RMF group agreed to contract with us and move forward. Online Communications could work with them to create a vastly improved online presence & service delivery portal. I was able to collaborate on the reimagined IA as a deliverable.

Information Architecture

The navigation and site architecture had been suspected of being the greatest stumbling blocks to users. A full accounting of content that would include not only live pages but also secured services pages and member library items provided an overarching idea of how to realign the site with users' expectations while promising not to confuse current users.

I worked with the Sr. IA and produced a reference document that would help us to properly house all of the current and future content states in a singular unified vision.

Takeaway

The compressed time frame of my contract and pulling dual duty with day to day production updates along with the project's research duties impressed upon me the need to be flexible and realistic with time estimates.

  • My former enterprise experience helped bolster my impulse to stretch beyond the baseline tasks I was brought onboard for and bring to bear some much needed UX Research best practices.
  • The ambition to prove ourselves as competent internal service providers helped drive everyone on the team to take chances and make the most of the assets we had available.