CUA of the Month – February, 2011

Roland Helfenstein
"Even if it's about usability, the challenges are always different. Some things remain the same, but there are various methods. And once you go beyond pure usability, things change. Within the interview process, how do you ask questions to reveal the true needs of the customer? It's very rewarding to understand what they are looking for so that customers have a great experience."
Roland Helfenstein
Customer Experience / User-Centered Design Specialist
A large Swiss private bank

Dealing With Countless Usability Issues

by Sheldon Kreger

Usability issues arise from a variety of sources – even within a single industry. Or, better yet, within a single organization. And when it comes to financial management, providing a superior customer experience is of utmost importance.

But, this is only part of the story. Just ask Roland Helfenstein, customer experience and user-centered design specialist for a large Swiss private bank. From 2005 to 2007, working in Switzerland, he coordinated a virtual, interdisciplinary team of customer experience, market research, and client feedback experts, called the "Voice of Customer Team". This team served as an internal consulting unit for the bank's global Six Sigma initiative. With Roland's leadership, the expert team advised Six Sigma project teams in how to collect customer feedback, and worked this input into customer touch point and process design.

Even within a single organization, seemingly countless usability issues can arise. Usability experts are needed to tackle a huge variety of challenges. In fact, within only a two year time span, Roland, now working in the Singapore office, together with the VoC-Team consulted with over two hundred Six Sigma teams working on the Voice of the Customer portion of the Six Sigma method.

"We had a broad range of projects that ranged from bank branches and websites where we observed customers how they behaved, listened to their comments and feedback to process improvements."

Working with such a large number of people led to some very interesting experiences. Roland discovered early on that many people have different attitudes toward usability research and design.

"There are people who are very open. They might have heard of usability depending on what kind of education they have. For example IT people – some of them have heard at university or wherever they were trained, even though they didn't study usability specifically. If you have these people, they are quite open."

"You also have, of course, the other ones. They aren't aware of usability and the importance of listening to customers. They've been in the banking industry for ten, fifteen, twenty years, and they feel they know what the client wants. And of course, that is often an illusion."

Overcoming these beliefs can be hard and requires continuous efforts on every hierarchy level.

"When you tell people stories explaining the importance of usability testing, they understand better. Often, people see what's going wrong elsewhere when they become frustrated with a service or a website, so by showcasing customer experience failures from our daily lives, people become aware of their significance and impact. By closing the loop and showcasing failures inside our own company, then people understand that we have similar issues. In addition, another key instrument is to invite project stakeholders and executives to experience labs, where they can observe first hand real clients using e.g. the corporate website, dealing with product descriptions, the bank's investment reporting etc. By hearing the client's unfiltered feedback, they understand where clients struggle and it helps them to make more client focused decisions in the future."

Creating this kind of change within an organization is very rewarding. In fact, Roland's goal is to create a cultural shift within the bank he works for – to create a widespread integration of usability into touchpoint design.

"The highlight was slowly but surely achieving a cultural change. You have to understand – we are a company of 50,000 people. You can imagine this mindset of asking customers for feedback wasn't something people were familiar with. However, there were a lot of people who came back again once they saw the value in listening to customers. Seeing this cultural change happening – very slowly, I will say, but steadily – this was definitely a highlight."

In 2007, Roland relocated to Singapore to introduce customer experience and voice of customer services for the bank's Asian business.

"There was one project which was a great showcase for usability. For months, a team developed screens in Powerpoint. But, they made the classic mistake of working from only an internal perspective and never tested with end users. When we tested a prototype, the feedback was not very good. There were a lot of critical things coming up. That was very exciting to get things off the ground."

During the financial crisis, usability issues became a primary area of concern for one of the product development teams. A lot of people were affected by the bad performance during the financial crisis. "We were tasked with re-designing product descriptions for structured products. We needed to create documents, which clearly communicated the most important facts about these products so that clients can make informed decisions. Explaining such complex products to an average customer can prove to be a tricky task. What might sound lame is actually very interesting, because we started to understand how people look at product fact sheets – what do they read, what sort of information and data are they actually interested in, what is the decision process they are going through. It was completely different from what we thought was important. There was a clear difference between an internal perspective where you have product specialists who think about to show very sophisticated and detailed data, and the customer who looks at the fact sheet and makes a decision in five minutes."

Although Roland had a fair amount of working experience with human factors before earning his certification, the courses proved to be valuable in many ways.

"My knowledge of usability and human factors – I got that through experience in the field. I observed my teammates, how they conducted usability labs. After observing, I did the labs on my own. It was really learning by doing. After a while I decided that it would be a good idea to become certified because it adds credibility. It also gave me a theoretical foundation. I read books, of course, but the formal training really created a new confidence when I talk with other professionals or when I'm consulting. Not a lot of people have heard of usability. So, having the certification really helps open people to the ideas I want to present."

Today, Roland is continuing to create the cultural change within the bank. After a period of working in Switzerland, he's working again in Singapore to improve investment reporting for private banking clients across Asia Pacific, as well as integrating user-centered design activities into the development processes for the company's software designers.

"It's such a diversity of challenges you have. Even if it's about usability, the challenges are always different. Some things remain the same, but there are various methods. And once you go beyond pure usability, things change. Within the interview process, how do you ask questions to reveal the true needs of the customer? It's very rewarding to understand what they are looking for so that customers have a great experience."

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to

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