Internal and recruitment applications need as much UX as ecommerce

Companies need to give as much attention to their internal digital applications as they do to ecommerce

Most companies these days have realised that they need to ensure at least an adequate user experience on their customer-facing digital touchpoints. Many though haven’t realised that they need to put the same effort into internal applications.

Whilst those responsible for external facing applications can often justify the necessary expense with an ROI based on revenue, it’s more likely that internal developments would be justified in cost savings or productivity which can be hard to calculate. That’s not to say that revenue is easy to judge either. It’s also typically the case that the people in charge of internal applications have (even) less experience of UX and usability than their external facing colleagues.

I have been subjected to many awful internal interfaces for the likes of raising purchase orders, staff expenses, workflow management, time management etc. I once set up a meeting with the owner of a purchase order system which had to be used by staff who wanted to make a company purchase. The system was notorious amongst users, most of whom only had need for occasional use. Many hours were wasted with people spending too much time helping colleagues navigate the arcane structure. In our meeting I suggested to the owner that there was a problem with usability, and that internal productivity would be improved with adaptations to the system. The owner disagreed. They received few complaints, there was a help system, and anyone who needed more help could just ask. I enquired whether any users had been involved in the implementation of the system. Oh yes, said the owner, we had an expert panel. The problem was, as I’ve said, most users weren’t experts. I didn’t have the time to chase the argument.

The consequences of poor internal usability can be severe. A PO could be raised for the wrong amount, or the wrong currency, or in a way that made it hard to receipt. In another system I had to declare a gift from a supplier. I used a drop-down to declare the type of gift, filled in the rest of the form, and pressed the button. Some time later an irate compliance officer contacted me to say that I’d broken the rules by accepting the gift. I pointed out that I had no intent to do so as evidenced by the fact that I’d declared it, and that the form had not given me the relevant information. Yes it had, the officer said, it was in words at the end of the form. It was true, the words were there but I’d missed them. The appropriate place for them was when I’d selected the type of gift – I should have been presented with an unavoidable and relevant message at that point.

There are other examples, but hopefully you get the point.

An oft-quoted excuse is that the system in question has been bought-in, that there are limited customisation options and that they cost money. It’s a fair point, but needs to be weighed up against how fit for purpose the system is. That calculation is often not made. Some vendors are better than others at ensuring the usability of the systems they sell, but if their customers aren’t asking for usability then the vendors aren’t going to put a lot of effort into it.

All of this was highlighted when I recently applied for a job using a system that isn’t fit for purpose by most standards. I just happen to have picked this as an example. There have been others.

Applying for a job

Start on Linkedin…

I saw a job on Linkedin that I wanted to apply for. Head of Online Search at LexisNexis.

Job ad

To Neuvoo

When I clicked the ‘apply’ button I went to the page below on Neuvoo.co.uk, which is a job site. I had hoped to be able to immediately fill in a form but had more realistic expectation of going to another job listing, which it was. I wasn’t immediately sure if I was in the right place due to the ads at the top – but I was.

Job list

Since I was here to apply, not read the same description, I looked for another ‘apply’ button. I had to scroll down to the bottom of the job ad to find it. It would make sense to have an ‘apply’ button at the top as well as at the bottom. The idea is to make it easy.

Apply button

When I clicked to apply I did at this point expect to go to a form to fill in. Instead, I’m asked to sign up for email alerts.

Sign up form

Selectminds.com

I chose ‘no thank you’ which took me to the following page on selectminds.com, which is a ‘talent search and acquisition platform’ that’s been bought by Oracle. It seems that it’s a white-label platform used by many companies.

For the third time now I’m on a page with the job listing and an ‘apply’ button. Who is thinking about the user journey?

Another job listing

Once again, I clicked on ‘apply for job’ and got the popup below.

Start of application

In this popup, the name fields are greyed out and can not be edited. It’s impossible to enter your first and last names. I had encountered this before and it had nearly stopped me from applying for a job. I eventually figured out that you have to be logged in. Because I’d used selectminds before (but not for LexiNexis) the site ‘knew’ that I had a login and that I wasn’t logged in, but there is no indication that this is why I could not proceed.

When I did log in, I saw the following.

Start of application again

Although the design takes the eye down to check the name fields you have to go back up to the ‘Go’ button to continue. It’s a basic usability issue that shouldn’t happen.

When you click the ‘Go’ button, all that happens is that a ‘Start your application’ button appears at the bottom of the popup. The ‘Go’ button is seemingly redundant.

The same form

Much of the text here isn’t needed. It says that you need Flash but I don’t have Flash installed and I didn’t encounter a need for it. It also warns that popup blockers should be disabled – they should not be essential in an age when increasing numbers of people are installing them.

There’s also an instruction ‘if you’ve previously registered, please login and search for the job you are applying for’. If this instruction is important it should be more obvious – in a bullet point – but I’m not at all clear why I should need to search at all. I’ve clicked a link to apply for a specific job and the page should know that I’m logged in. Flash is mentioned again.

Clicking on the red button, takes you to the next page.

Taleo.net

Another registration screen

I’m now on taleo.net, another white label recruitment platform. Small text beneath the image says that I’m logged in but the prominent content is a new user registration form. I was utterly confused – again.

As the previous instruction had been to log in and search for the job you wanted, I went to the ‘job search’ form. I tried two searches, firstly using ‘search’ as a keyword (because the job I’m applying for has ‘search’ in the job title), and secondly using the job reference.

Job search 1
Search again

Both searches resulted in no jobs found.

‘No results’ message

In fact, the form appears not to be working at all. I searched on the defaults for ‘all’ jobs in ‘all’ regions and still received no results.

I went to advanced search.

Advanced search

Here I saw the link to all jobs at Relx. It took some experimentation to find that only the ‘R’ is a link. One day I want to build a spoof website incorporating all the worst design elements that I’ve seen. I wonder if someone beat me to it.

The ‘R’ took me to yet another search form.

Another landing page and search form

Using ‘search’ as a keyword again yielded no results.

Searching for ‘search’

I listed all jobs.

Search results header

This time jobs are listed, but Head of Search is not one of them. Ironic really.

I went back to this screen.

Another registration screen, again

Although I’m logged in, I hit the G+ new user registration button, and got the screen below.

Application process

For reasons I cannot imagine this was the route I needed to follow. I didn’t need to search for the job, I needed to hit the Google Plus button. Go figure. I uploaded my cv. The guidance said that education and work experience will be replaced in my profile. I’m not sure what that means.

Resume upload

Next up was the form below. The system isn’t intelligent enough to read my cv and extract and pre-fill my name, address etc, and the contents of drop-downs are not displayed properly.

Personal information entry

There are two definitions of what’s meant by ‘State/Province’

2 State/province entries

The ‘region’ selection is an odd mixture of towns, cities, areas and counties. It’s one I’ve seen on other US sites. It’s like some intern was given the job of populating the drop-down from an old school atlas (remember those?).

Region selector

Thankfully, there were only a few more simple fields to fill in after this, and my application was done. I’m still waiting to hear.

Wrap up

There’s a business reason for this process – companies want to employ the best people. But the difficulty of making an application means that an individual’s persistence becomes the first filter, regardless of their fitness for the role. I don’t think that’s intended. With my application I included a message that the process had been difficult and that I could provide feedback if it would be helpful. I didn’t expect it to affect my application either way. No one took me up on the offer.

When applying for other roles through Taleo.net I’ve had other issues. Although (obviously) my job history is in my cv which is attached to each new application, there are still forms to fill in asking for job history. What’s the point? What am I supposed to do? I cut and paste. Likewise for educational achievements. It’s a waste of time.

Another time I had to give references. That just seems unnecessary at this point. When doing so I could not tell whether the ‘title’ field referred to Mr, Miss, Ms etc, or whether I was supposed to fill in a job title. Maybe getting it wrong accounts for another lack of response to my application.

It seems a little ironic to me that I’m applying for roles that relate to usability through systems with poor usability. There could be reasons why it’s not easy for companies to make changes, but those responsible should at least be aware. And care. I told one job owner that a job advertised on Linkedin linked to the wrong application form. It hadn’t been updated two weeks later.

For the likes of Selectminds and Taleo – there’s work to do.

Booking cottages – lessons for ecommerce

Help your customer

Small things can make a difference as to whether a customer ends up spending money with you. Sometimes a small missing item of information that the site owner doesn’t think is important would have made the difference. Sometimes it’s just making the search function a bit more easy to use.

I have a dog. Sometimes, we go to pubs. Some pubs don’t allow dogs at all, some allow them outside, some inside. Some pub web sites state whether dogs are allowed or not, but many don’t. Whether they are or aren’t I’m not the only one who will have that question. Help your customer.

Searching for cottages

I want to book at cottage for about a week in the UK. I have the following requirements.

  • 4 adults
  • 1 dog
  • 2 bathrooms
  • near a pub
  • start on Sunday, return on Saturday

I went to Best of Suffolk.

Best of Suffolk search bar

The initial search on Best of Suffolk has limited parameters, which is ok if there is some good post-search filtering. There’s always a tension between making a search form really easy to start with but you then have to filter, versus more questions but more relevant results. One simple thing that the site doesn’t do is cookie the search parameters. This means that if you come back to the home page to start a new search you have to enter everything again from scratch. Best practice with just about any search is to pre-populate the last search so that people can just adjust what they need, and to use a persistent cookie so you can come back another time and pick up from where you left off.

Sykes Cottages has a few more parameters, which I find useful, and it’s not so many that it’s off-putting.  Being able to state the flexibility of your search date is especially useful. However, they don’t cookie the parameters either.

Sykes Cottages booking panel

Filtering results

Back at Best of Suffolk the initial display of search results is quite good. There are large pictures of each property, and some of the key features are displayed as icons and text allowing you to quickly identify those you might be interested in.

Best of Suffolk search result detail

However, there’s no mention of proximity to pubs, and I want a tailored list. There’s a slide-open filter section at the top of the results. They are nice big icons, again with text. Pubs and pets are included, and one of the options is a swimming pool. It’s not a requirement, but why not have a look? So I include that too.

Best of Suffolk filters

However, when I set these filters there are no results (although it doesn’t actually say that). The obvious thing to do is to de-select the swimming pool filter. Yet when I go to the filter panel, all of the filters have apparently already been de-selected. Users will often try different combinations of filters and sometimes won’t recall what the last combination was that they tried, so this just makes it a lot more work. This is basic stuff. I also can’t filter on the number of bathrooms, which most other cottage sites do allow.

It gets worse. Here is what the filters look like after an unsuccessful search. The original search parameters are there, and no filters are selected. I want to get the original set of results back so just click ‘search’. No results. What I suspect is happening is that the filters actually are selected, but not shown as selected. It’s desperately poor work. Doesn’t anyone check this stuff?

Best of Suffolk filters

Sykes have a more traditional filter panel to the left of the cottage listings. You can always see what options are selected. Each time you add a filter the page refreshes. Many sites do this, but there are two factors that make it awkward here. Firstly it’s slow, and secondly the page reloads to the top each time, forcing you to scroll down and re-locate the filters again.  It’s quite laborious to set a number of filters. Functionally at least it works but the experience could be better.

Sykes filter panel

Dates and pricing

I start again from the home page on Best of Suffolk and persist enough to find a property that I’m interested in, but there’s further frustration ahead. Although I’ve searched on specific dates for 4 people I have to enter the information again on the property page. The calendar defaults to the current month even though I entered dates in May. I don’t really see why anyone should have to persevere with this.

Best of Suffolk date picker

When I move the calendar to May I find that there are changeover days, and you can only stay for seven days. I don’t understand the business well enough to know why this is necessary – I get that it’s more efficient if you sell out, but it could unnecessarily constrain sales. What would make sense here would be a message that you could pick other dates, and they’d get back to you if the owner accepted (especially sensible if it’s close to the date and the property might remain empty). They could at least suggest that you phone if you want other dates. But they don’t.

Best of Suffolk date picker

Despite the good visual design, layout, and well-written content, the functional experience is enough to put customers off. I did try to reach out to someone who I think is a founder of Best of Suffolk on Twitter, to give feedback, but didn’t get a response.

By contrast, Sykes lets you specify your own dates. On the date picker, an ‘arrival date’ is still marked, and it’s not immediately clear what the meaning of this is. As shown in the image below I’m planning to arrive on the 3rd and leave on the 9th, and the 4th is a changeover day. After some playing around, I think if your stay spans two weeks with an ‘arrival date’ sometime during your stay then you pay for two weeks. The cottages are priced by the week, rather than by the day as hotels are. Given that that’s how the system operates at least Sykes lets me do what I want if I’m prepared to pay for it. An additional customer-friendly enhancement here would be a message saying ‘if you arrive one day later, you will save £x’.

Sykes date picker

Other issues

There are a number of sites selling cottage rentals, as you might expect. The likes of booking.com, Expedia, and Air BnB get in on the act, and they appear to have some of the same technical constraints imposed by the way the business works. Whether these are technical constraints or commercial process I don’t know.

There are pluses and minuses across sites.

A common frustration is being forced to choose one specific geographical area. This example is from cottages.com. If I want to choose Cornwall and Devon, I can’t. I have to do a search on each on individually. This can be solved by using tick boxes which would allow for multiple selections. Often when I’m using filters and there’s a long list I would rather be able to exclude one or two, rather than include lots, but I rarely find this function offered.

A nice touch on the Original Cottages site is the ability to filter by drive time from home to the cottage. However, it doesn’t work. When I first tried it I got a swirly thing indicating something was happening, and it didn’t go away. I had to refresh the page to make it stop. More recently it just results in no search results, whatever length of drive I enter.

Original Cottages distance filter

The wrap up

So there you have it. As with many usability issues the good and the bad aren’t specific to cottages. If you’re in the business think about how you can strike the right balance between initial search parameters and filters. Do you cookie the search parameters, and are you thinking about the dimensions most meaningful and relevant to your customers? Also, it’s not just about making sure that a customer can add something to a basket and press ‘buy now’ – you have to look at what happens if they want to change their mind in the process. And, quite simply, just make sure it works. How could anyone not do that?

Lloyds needs to link its databases to avoid a bad customer experience

I’ve just had one of those experiences that sadly fails to surprise. I have a Lloyds Bank credit card, and in attempting to do an online transaction with it, was presented with the Click Safe authentication screen. This told me that I would be sent an SMS message with a code that I should enter on the next screen.

Lloyds credit card

The problem was that the code was going to be sent to my old mobile number. Several months ago when I changed my mobile number I had logged in to my card account and updated it. Maybe it had regressed? I’ve checked but my online account was up to date. Clearly Lloyds have separate databases holding customer information, and they don’t always talk to each other. It’s the sort of incredibly annoying thing that still happens.

My penalty for being in this situation was that I had to phone the euphemistically named Customer Services, never something I’ve looked forward to with Lloyds.

I had to speak to three people, which included a gap in between the second and third where I was told I would have to wait at least ten minutes, and I could phone back another time. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I’ve called when they haven’t been ‘extremely busy’.

Of course, I had to explain the issue three times. All of the staff tried to be helpful and polite. The last chap had to take me through some laborious authentication questions, and then told me that he’d updated the system to authorise the transaction I was trying to make, and he’d updated my phone number. I should wait five minutes, then try the transaction again.

I waited more than five minutes, and tried again.

Transaction error message

I was told that the authorisation had been declined by the bank.

I waited, and tried again. Same result.

I phoned again, and although this time I check to use a number specifically for credit cards, I still had to be put through to ‘credit cards’ after explaining the problem.

The chap on the phone then explained to me that the problem was with the expiry date of the card. I guess that the error message couldn’t have told me that, as it would help someone who was trying to make a fraudulent transaction. I was using a password protection tool to auto-fill my card details, and although the information in the database is correct, it was appearing incorrectly on the payment form, and I hadn’t noticed. I still don’t know why that happens. I tried again with the correct information, and this time it worked.

There are a couple of take-outs.

Firstly, there’s no excuse for the lack of a joined-up view of the customer by Lloyds. When I updated my account online with my new phone number, it should automatically feed into whatever Click Safe uses.

Then there’s the inevitable transferring of calls, and the need to explain the problem multiple times. There has to be a better way.

It’s not all down to the business though. I did submit incorrect information when I tried again. I didn’t check, and if anyone had asked me, I would have insisted that I had entered the correct information. I know from experience on both sides of the fence that people will often swear blind that they did or didn’t do something online, only for the system logs to prove differently. People can look very sheepish when presented with the evidence, but that’s how people are. It’s not acting in bad faith. We’re fallible creatures who don’t always understand our own motives, and who don’t notice what actions we take. As far as possible, it’s the job of UX (and CX offline) to mitigate the impacts.