I’m going to share with you a story about the evolution of a UX strategy that started with delivering guidance and personalized advice for a single product to a CX strategy that involves big data and a personalized customer experience for multiple products across Sage North America. What I hope you take from this story isn’t so much about our specific strategy, although I’m proud of the work we’ve done and I’ll talk about lessons learned in case you want to attempt such a project; rather, I hope you hear this story and feel more inspired to get your UX strategy aligned with your business strategy and to turn your business leaders into your biggest champions.
My background is in developing products that accommodate the needs of the users. For about 2 years at Sage, I managed a group with all of these disciplines, then I took on a broader role that involved implementing the strategy I’m going to share with you to Sage products across North America. Now I am solely a Product Management leader (but I still have the heartbeat of a UX person).
The Sage 50 Accounting product, formerly known as Peachtree Accounting, is a mature desktop product. Because the product is so feature rich, it also has become more complex to learn and use. We spent several years improving the UX of the product and third-party testing showed that it was as usable as our competitor’s product. Still, we wanted to seal all of the cracks where users could fall through, especially during their initial use. I was asked to create an approach for reducing abandonment by new users. We conducted several new user studies, listened to support calls, and analyzed call drivers. We concluded that the main challenges occurred during the first 90-180 days.
Users had access to a lot of the assistance that they needed, but it wasn’t easy to access and the content wasn’t coordinated. Also, the assistance was focused largely on task completion rather than building expertise for long-term mastery and understanding. The solution was to create a safety net of user assistance, focusing on in-product guidance and personalized advice. The ultimate goal was to personalize the in-product experience.
My main UX goals with this strategy were to: (1) reinforce the idea that a user-centered design process was the starting point and that improving the product design was the top priority, (2) to provide a safety net of user assistance that ensured that users had someplace to go for help when they didn’t know how to start, wanted to improve how they worked, or experienced a problem, (3) increase the coordination of content created in multiple silos, and (4) reduce the amount of effort that users had to exert to get the user assistance that they needed. I was trying to expand the reach of UX outside of product development by creating a more holistic strategy that worked across organizational boundaries. As a UX team, we focused most of our efforts on the first two inner circles.
The idea of the safety net wasn’t so much a linear progression as it was about a seamless connection of all the levels and a tighter coordination across the various interactions. We focused most of our initial efforts on the first two levels because those areas would impact the greatest number of users.
I spent a lot of time talking to whoever would listen about our UX strategy and what we were now calling the Sage Advisor approach. I made presentations to the leadership of the company, including the Board of Directors. Their most common question was: how are you going to monetize this? My initial attempts to monetize Sage Advisor involved counting the revenue saved from customer retention and reduced support calls; however, it aligned better with the forward direction of the company when I tied it to our annual Sage Business Care subscription as a value-added service.
The UX strategy was adopted and UX was moved outside of R&D. I reported directly to the GM as a peer to PM and R&D. This moved UX closer to the business. Now I was sitting at the table where they talked about the business goals and challenges. We did a lot of tactical projects to advance the UX strategy, but I want to focus on three of those: (1) embedded user assistance, (2) usage tracking, and (3) advisor messages.
We made several changes to improve the setup process. We added the Setup Advisor (the side panel assistance that helps users make decisions about what to put into each field on all of the setup screens), redesigned the setup wizard, added embedded user assistance links at common points of uncertainty, made more training content available for free, created more learning content branded as Sage Advisor (especially short videos and quick reference materials).
Started collecting usage data and connecting it to other data sources. To provide a personalized user experience you need to know more about who is using the product and how they are using it. This usage data helped us see what areas of the product were being used (including how often and how extensively). It also showed how long the setup process takes. The usage data became a building block for our future big data project.
Created rules engine (patent applied for) to deliver personalized in-product messaging. In addition to helping new users get started and helping existing users work more productively, we started using the Messenger for more proactive support, addressing call drivers before they generated the calls.
I created these guiding principles to help explain how users should receive personalized advice. In communicating the strategy, it helped to have memorable and visual ways for others to understand it. The Principles have been so well adopted that I find my team using them against me sometimes, which means they are owning the vision.
A year later my sponsor, the business shifted focus from new customers to existing customers and their renewal rates. Our usage data showed a correlation between deep/frequent usage of the product and renewals, so I shifted the focus of the UX strategy to Sage Advisor Messenger (from getting started messages for new users to productivity messages for existing users). It’s critical that UX strategy be aligned with the business strategy and the business leaders.
The goals of the business are constantly evolving, so our strategies must also evolve to stay as close to the center of that strategy as possible. In the first two years, we changed focus from abandonment to renewals, but both of those fit fine under the vision of increasing expertise. I just shifted the focus from new users to existing users. Over the last three years, we’ve been more focused on using the Sage Advisor approach as a part of the Sage brand.
The original vision has broadened. It always included an aspect of personalized advice, but now it’s evolving into part of the corporate brand rather than an individual product. It’s also evolving from a more traditional UX (user/product) strategy to a CX (customer experience) strategy.
The Sage Advisor approach applies to all Sage-Customer interactions, even when there is no product involved.
All UX strategy should be tied to some business goal. You may be able to keep the same basic UX strategy by reframing it (or refocusing it) based on the evolving goals of the business. This is the more politics than user experience methodology.
Big data projects take a long time, so find ways to show early successes and impacts on the business. Tracking multiple levels of success can help you show progress. Ultimately, you have to focus on results that are meaningful to the business. Be clear on the metrics you will use to show success and track immediate and global impacts. We track awareness, change in behavior, and impact on the business.
UX is rarely a direct revenue generator, so find ways to monetize your project(s). This is not just showing the ROI but connecting your work to the generation of revenue. Give business leaders an idea of how your project generates revenue. IDEAS: show expense savings (fewer support calls, less time to handle calls, more self-service support); show increased retention (lay claim to on-going revenue); show incremental revenue from additional sales or cross-sales based on your work; show how your strategy generates new products and services that drive new revenue.
Companies should have one big data project (to collect and connect data) However, they can have multiple projects that analyze and act upon the data differently Don’t silo your big data projects.
Business leaders are getting excited about Customer Experience. Yes, it is largely the same techniques that we use in UX; however, CX is tied to marketing, which usually has the budget. UX may not have the political clout or voice to push a strategy that goes across the company
Using Big Data and
Personalization to Drive UX
Strategy: A Case Study
Senior Director, Product Management
Developing products that accommodate the
needs of the users
Setting the Scene
• UX group in place for 4 years
• Mature, full-featured desktop product
• Abandonment became a big concern of our GM
• Researching the problem:
– New user studies
– Support call listen ins
– Call driver analysis
– Win-loss calls
• Main challenge:
– First 90-180 days, mostly with setup and initial use
That Sage 50 Accounting (at the time Sage Peachtree
Accounting) users always have a way to get assistance
when they need it, especially from inside the product,
and that they need to exert as little effort as possible
#1 A successful user
experience starts with a
#2 Assistance needs to
occur as close to the
point of need as possible
#3 All forms of user
assistance should be
available inside the
#4 Assistance must adapt to
the users as they evolve
The Safety Net
The safety net of user assistance was based on a
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5 Level 6
Help & Demos
The Approach Gets a Name
• Sage Advisor became
the name we used to
describe the approach of
advice and guidance
Very innovative, but how do you monetize it?
Embedded User Assistance
Created more contextual user assistance, especially for the setup process
Created a proprietary system for tracking usage data from the desktop
Created rules engine for personalized in-product messaging
97% of Sage 50 U.S. customers
have received at least one Sage
40% have changed at least one
behavior based on a Sage Advisor
Customers who have changed at
least one behavior rate Sage 6%
higher through NetPromoter.
Principles for delivering personalized advice
make sure it’s the right message for me
tell me where and when I need it
minimize the interruption to my work
let me ignore it or turn it off if I don’t want it
connect me with other helpful resources
Aligning to Business Goals
ease of use
and ease of
2011201020092008< 2007 2012
CX as a brand
That our customers would tell others
that Sage really understands their
business and is essential to its
Sage Business Care
When you talk to me you know who I
am and what I need to minimize the
disruption to my time
When you communicate with me directly
it always relevant
You give me the guidance and
assistance that I need based on how I
work, which makes me more efficient in
You know when I need help and your
services have increased the value of
what I bought from Sage
When I have problems or questions,
you help me quickly and easily with
minimal effort on my part.
You keep me safe and productive
Sage really understands my business
and is essential to its success
• Our UX strategy has impacted the brand and given
many disparate products a more common customer
• Impacting the customer experience drives revenue
more directly (because it is more closely connected to
renewals, attrition, purchasing, cross-selling, and up-
selling), which the business can more readily
• CX is a good partner for UX
• Twitter: rhouserjr
• LinkedIn: Rob Houser
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Cell: 678-848-6646