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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Once again, I clicked on ‘apply for job’ and got the popup below.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Both searches resulted in no jobs found.
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.
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.
Using ‘search’ as a keyword again yielded no results.
I listed all jobs.
This time jobs are listed, but Head of Search is not one of them. Ironic really.
I went back to this screen.
Although I’m logged in, I hit the G+ new user registration button, and got the screen below.
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.
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.
There are two definitions of what’s meant by ‘State/Province’
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?).
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.
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.