WATCH: Designing Empathetic User Experiences During COVID-19

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Becky Pierson
Apr 23, 2020

Is it enough to send one email to your customers about how COVID-19 is impacting your business? Spire’s Becky Pierson, Product Lead, and Lauren Sherby, UX Designer, discuss multiple ways that organizations can design more empathetic and valuable user experiences right now.

Video Transcription: Introduction

Becky: Hi everyone, I’m Becky. Lauren and I are both on the design team at Spire Digital and we wanted to get together and record ourselves having a conversation about everything that’s going on right now and what we believe a designer’s role is to help get companies and users through these unprecedented times.  So our goal is to give you three action steps to help you pivot and solve your user’s problems during a time where we’re a traumatized population.

We have a lot of customers. From large, enterprise fortune 500 companies and small businesses. And right now they’re all experiencing something together.

Lauren: Yeah absolutely, this is a really interesting part of this is because all of our product design customers have something in common right now. Whether you’re b2c b2b, we’re all kind of upholding this mantra of ‘we’re in this together.’ We’re all facing the same thing, we’re all going through the trying times and there are things that we can be doing as we face these times.

Becky: It’s kind of funny, we need to be wearing hats that we normally wouldn’t wear and I think salespeople are feeling an undeniable sense of pressure right now. So designers, reach out to your marketing teams and reach out to your salespeople and ask how can you help them during these times. Because there is a lot that designers can be doing. So Lauren, how can designers help, and what is our role during this time right now?

Lauren: That’s a great question and I know empathy is one of the big buzz words you know in our kind of UX design practice, but I think it holds true now more than ever. I think it’s our most important skill as a designer and you know just thinking of empathy now – what does it truly mean to be empathetic and practice empathy? I think a better understanding of our users requires looking deeper into situations.

I think that segues into one of the first pieces that we want to cover, of what we can be doing as designers, is understanding our users.

Becky: Right, the first thing that we would recommend is reach out to your users, your customers, your employees and ask them “what do you need right now, how can I make your life easier?” And then make an actionable plan of how many people you’re going to reach out to starting this week and then moving on throughout the month. Keep in mind that right now, today, might be completely different than next week or, as we know, it’s really different than three weeks ago so keep in mind things are constantly changing. So make a plan to consistently be talking to your users.

Lauren: I love that. I think also kind of closing the question of “how can companies lead with service, how can you lead with integrity? How can you, you know move forward and not stop what you’re doing now but change what you’re doing – change your overall approach.”

Becky: It makes me think of some usability testing I was doing this week for a client. We had to set up these remote calls and you know, we’re in the technology industry, it’s not crazy for us to be working from home. In fact, Spire has a pretty cool remote policy so we work from home all the time. But in this particular case, our clients’ customers are always in office and so they’re in this really weird limbo period where they’re working from home. As all of us are, but during these tests, it was very interesting because not only were you testing the application but we were also learning a lot about their environment, the device, and everything else that might be going on in their life.

We’re hearing kitchen tools clanking in the background and kids coming up and climbing on their backs and all kinds of things so it’s just kind of interesting. I think we can approach usability testing differently.

Lauren: I think that’s such a good point. And going back to that empathy piece in terms of what it means to be empathetic, one of the greatest qualities is being a good listener. Like really truly hearing people out but the second piece of that is also being a really good observer. Like you said, you see how many things are going off in the background while you’re talking to a user that engages with your product. I think even the nonverbal cues are so important of how you can take that and influence some of your design decisions.

I think kind of even beyond that (you mentioned usability testing this week), I think this ties into some of our best practices that we will uphold in usability testing for our clients. It makes me think of some core pillars that I think of when I’m conducting usability tests. Some of those include: ease of tasks and flow, the overall look and feel of something, and so just for an example, like thinking of the ease piece… Understanding the effort it takes for users to perform actions with your product.

The flow piece that I think of is how easily are they navigating through the process? Especially considering these times of stress, can they get through a flow? Like carefree and considerably? And then lastly, how do they feel about the product? I think that’s really the piece that draws home right now is how do they engage with the interface and how are they really feeling about the product?

Becky: Yes, and when we do these remote usability tests, which we happen to do all the time because we have customers or clients all over the country, we encourage them to turn on their video so we can their faces. It helps them feel a little bit more comfortable and adds a little bit more of that human connection.

So Lauren, with that said, let’s jump to our first kind of action step as far as understanding your users. What should designers and executives be doing right now?

1. What Should You be Doing?

Lauren: I think that the very first piece is having an interview plan and whether that be weekly bi-weekly monthly. I think it’s important to consider the cadence at which you’re doing this so have a plan of how many people you are going to talk to, how many users are you gonna engage with. That’s the overall strategy and then the second piece of that is offer incentives to get users involved.

So typically, what we do at Spire, is we offer an Amazon gift card or something like that. But I think the offer can go beyond that. It can be something really personal. Like, for instance, a home delivery service or you know like a food and beverage gift card. Something that feels really personal during these trying times.

Becky: Hey that’s a great idea. Awesome. So our second topic we want to cover is just making sure that you’re using your user’s language. You know, what do your users want to hear right now and how do they want to hear it?

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2. What Do Your Users Want to Hear?

Lauren: I think this is a great one, especially during these trying times. I think, overall, the user experience starts with first having the right conversation and captivating the audience during such a vulnerable time. So an easy win is really taking into consideration your hero copy. Also, the copy throughout the entire home page since this is where a lot of people are entering first right now.

We have, for instance, a real estate client. So say you are a real estate client and your website lists a bunch of houses or properties. I think we can really tie in this empathy piece that we’ve been talking about previously, which is updating your copy to engage the users. For instance, talking about the feeling of home.

We talked about kind of all the different hats people are wearing right now and I think this brings a whole new meaning during this time. A home is not only a place of shelter, but it’s your gym, it’s your restaurant. That’s what it is at this time and I think that’s kind of a tangible take away from this is updating your copy to be extremely personable and personal with your audience.

Becky: This makes me think of something from last week, Lauren. We had Alla Weinberg from Spoken Wheel come to a Lunch and Learn for us. She spoke about how, when people don’t feel safe, they feel paralyzed and it’s hard for them to be productive. And whether you’re b2b or b2c, you need to do what you can to help your users, customers, and employees feel safe.

A lot of that has to do with speaking with them and reaching out to them. Constant communication and making them feel comfortable and safe in what they’re doing – anything you can do to make their lives easier right now. It’s going to improve their overall experience. So Lauren, what’s the action step for this one? For speaking the language of users and simply updating your copy? A lot of people are already doing this, we see banners with people paying close attention to how they’re handling COVID.

But it goes even beyond something like looking at your copy. Anything that you know, might be a silly, sassy or even playful tone that really kind of adheres to your brand’s messaging, we recommend dialing that back a little bit. Send to your users what they really want to hear.

Lauren: Totally, that’s great.

Becky: So this brings us to our third action step for you: to know your MVP.

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3. Know Your Product MVP

Becky: So something I’ve been reading recently… I’m like a really big podcast fan so I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ben Lauren, but Natalie Ellis is the CEO of Phosphate and she put out this doc (I think it was last week) called Pivot, Don’t Pause. Which I thought was really great. So basically what it’s all about is that if you’re a business owner right now and you’re kind of feeling a lot of fear or feeling paralyzed, take a step back and just take a deep breath and then tell yourself, “okay, I’m not gonna stop my business because we need to be earning revenue.”

You know that business is probably supporting employee families and all kinds of things, but there’s a way to pivot and do things in a valuable way. So something we should do is be prioritizing our roadmaps differently

Lauren: I think I love that sentiment, Becky: pivot, don’t pause. I think that’s huge right now. I think it starts with the question of first asking what problem our company is trying to solve right now and then taking that even further.

It’s like, you know there is a problem really worth solving during these times, so where should the focus be and how do you want to narrow down your MVPs? I think it’s important to kind of look at your list of must-haves and nice haves and consider, you know, is there anything on that must-have list that actually, during this time, might just be a nice to have? Because of the amount of effort is gonna take you to design and build that feature.

Becky: Exactly, I’m so glad you said that because it makes me think of something that was in that doc she put together. So Natalie said, “you know, right now we might be really worried about earning revenue and it might feel scarce but really time is still our most precious resource so look at your roadmap and think about what has a really high impact with a really low effort.” And this is based on all of the research that you’ve done by talking to your users right now and that’s what you should be focusing on.

Lauren: Becky, what would you say is the third concept, knowing your MVP? What’s the main action item for this?

Becky: I’d say don’t stop selling. Don’t be afraid to pivot right now and don’t pause your business. Get scrappy. Think like a startup go to square one, understand your users, and once you’re feeling really good about that, build a roadmap that has a list of achievable, low effort / high impact wins.

So I’d like to close by saying that like many other leaders in the business community, we feel an obligation it gives back. In support of this coming together, we’ve decided to offer free extended consulting to our clients and partners if your business has been changed by COVID-19. We’d like to help share ideas and help you make a plan. So please feel free to reach out to us at Spire.

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