In this article, I’ll describe a typical day in the life of Huxley, the UX manager at Delta Market, an organization that is at the highest level of UX maturity, and explain how functioning at this high level of UX maturity affects Delta Market’s employees—in particular its UX professionals. The purpose of this article is to encourage discussion and to help organizations define their UX vision and set goals for their UX development.
This article is the third in my four-part series “UX Paradise,” which relates the journey of the fictitious Delta Market toward UX maturity. In Part 1 of this series, I discussed the company’s state circa 2012 and presented personas for their team, as well as their UX maturity model. In Part 2, I chronicled their journey from the lowest to the highest level of UX maturity—from the UX Swamp to UX Paradise—outlining the steps that Delta took to change the organization and its UX culture.
Meeting with Exceptional Users
In the morning, Huxley, the UX Manager, Emma, who is an experienced UX professional, and Caroline, a business strategist, had a two-hour discussion with four exceptional users (X-users), who belong to the high purchasing–power customer group. Figure 1 depicts their meeting with X-users.
Delta Market has a panel of about 25 X-users who may be customers, employees, or suppliers. The X-users provide input and serve as sparring partners for Delta’s management, strategists, UX designers, and other UX professionals. Having a stable panel of X-users ensures that designers and managers have consistent, well-informed interplay with users who stand their ground when necessary. Delta selects these X-users for their inventiveness and their eloquent, insightful, and sometimes humorous comments. The company publicly recognizes these X-users for their efforts. They have special privileges when shopping at Delta Markets, and they influence Delta’s future user experiences. Delta recruits X-users by approaching users who have repeatedly made good suggestions to Support, reported UX problems, and responded to Delta’s marketing campaigns. They screen these X-users regularly to ensure that they have not worn out and become opinion-driven know-it-alls. In addition to the X-users, Delta Market has more than 400 users on traditional user panels and in pools of potential usability-research participants.
Huxley said, “Less than two per cent of our users qualify as exceptional users. X-users—as with exceptional programmers and exceptional designers—regularly come up with great ideas that others would not have. They become even better when they brainstorm together.”
The first point on the meeting’s agenda was the X-users’ experience with a UX prototype of a full-service, online-purchasing and home-delivery facility, which they had been using for two weeks. This facility is an important part of Delta Market’s business strategy.
The X-users had tested the complete user experience of ordering, changing orders, taking delivery, returning products, and complaining about unsatisfactory products—for example, wrong deliveries or vegetables that were not entirely fresh.
In general, the new system had impressed the X-users. The UX diaries that the X-users had been maintaining provided the foundation of the discussion, which showed that online handling of complaints and repeat orders were causing problems and needed improvement. One of the X-users suggested that Delta should authorize customer-delivery drivers to handle returns and complaints on the spot. Caroline promised to look into this idea.
The discussion comprehended the business goals and UX vision for the new system, as well as relevant storyboards and user-journey maps. Huxley has found that user-journey maps are helpful tools for communicating with X-users and colleagues, including middle and top management. The UX team coordinates user-journey maps with other departments such as corporate strategy and the customer-delivery department.
The second point on the agenda was the usability problems that X-users had reported in their UX diaries, including a number of usability and other UX problems in existing products and services. Huxley noted these problems, then later had other UX professionals review them. They integrated the suggestions that could have major impacts into the user-journey maps and discussed them during strategic workshops with management and X-users. While they used lower-priority issues to focus later usability testing, the team entered obvious problems directly into the system’s bug-tracking database, for the appropriate development teams to handle just as they would software bugs. Huxley reserved about 30 minutes for discussing ordinary usability problems because such discussions often inspire great, totally unexpected ideas from the X-users.
They devoted the last half-hour of the meeting to discussing new ideas. One of the X-users, Anna, started with a suggestion for improving self-checkout by facilitating the age check for customers who are purchasing liquor. Anna had sketched her idea as a primitive paper prototype. The other X-users approved of the idea. Huxley promised to develop a low-fidelity prototype and test it with users.
Caroline presented a suggestion for more efficient ways of finding an empty parking space in Delta’s parking lots. The X-users agreed that parking is a problem, but they were skeptical about the proposed solution. Based on their feedback, Caroline promised to consider alternative ideas before the next meeting and asked the X-users to do so, too.
Meet Our Users
Within Delta, Mark, the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), is the main driver behind “Meet Our Users.” He is famous for his rallying cry: “GOOB! Get out of the Building! There is no data in the building, only useless opinions! Go out and meet our users in their natural environment and find out what their real problems are.” Figure 2 illustrates GOOB!—getting out of the building to meet users in their natural environment.
Later in the morning, Huxley and Emma met with Tom, a new hire who had just gotten back from his very first “Meet Our Users” experience. “Meet Our Users” is mandatory for all Delta employees who do not work regularly in a store, at least once every two years. Executives, including Cecilia, the CEO, and Mark, the CMO, also take an active part in the “Meet Our Users” program—and they make sure that the rest of Delta knows about it.
For two weeks, Tom had been working in two of Delta Market’s stores, filling the shelves, checking out customers, answering questions from customers, handling incoming goods in the goods-reception area, and talking to customers, staff, and suppliers. Tom had written a mandatory three-page report about his experience, which was the basis for this discussion. Huxley and Emma were pleased with the report, which contained interesting observations and opportunities for improvement.
Standard Procedures: The Personal UX Maturity Star (PUMS)
Cecilia said, “Delta Market invests millions of euros based on the advice we get from customers and staff through our UX professionals. It is Huxley’s and my responsibility to ensure that our UX professionals master the tools of their trade, so we can reduce the risk of acting on bad, opinion-based advice.”
Huxley, Emma, and Tom reviewed Tom’s Personal UX Maturity Star (PUMS), which is shown in Figure 3. External UX experts review all UX professionals at Delta Market every third year. The PUMS is a five-pointed star that compares the UX professionals’ work to Delta Market’s standard procedures for five key UX activities: interviews, user requirements, design, prototyping, and usability testing.
Most UX work at Delta Market follows these standard procedures. For example, Delta has a standard procedure for doing an interview. Delta also has two standardized templates for usability-test reports—a standard template and a basic template for UX tests—whose use is mandatory. They use the basic template when results must be available within a few hours. Inefficient activities such as observing UX tests, having a separate notetaker for a usability test or interview, and conducting eyetracking studies require justification. The UX team and external experts have carefully reviewed Delta’s standard UX procedures, and they regularly update them.
The PUMS showed that Tom has excellent design and prototyping skills, but some of his interview habits do not conform to Delta’s standard. Therefore, the team briefly discussed Tom’s approaches to ensure that they were not superior to Delta’s standard.
Delta introduced its standard procedures and the PUMS in 2015. Most of Delta’s UX professionals agreed that the standard procedures aided efficiency and consistency and prevented unproductive discussions. However, three UX professionals were so outraged by what they saw as the limitation of their artistic freedom and their choice and application of methods that they quit.
Huxley said, “Since we are at the maturity level Innovating, we encourage and consider well-founded suggestions for innovations or improvements to our methods and standards. But I frown at improvised deviations from standards by know-it-alls, who deviate from them just to be able to say, ‘I did it my way.’”
Talk to Us!
To encourage customers to “Talk to Us!” Delta’s UX professionals regularly set up booths in stores, making it simple for customers to provide feedback, as you can see in Figure 4.
Huxley, and Emma discussed what they have learned from recent “Talk to Us!” feedback. “Talk to Us!” generates huge amounts of feedback—all of which they prioritize, tag, and store in a repository, where they can easily retrieve it using search. Delta has made “Talk to Us!” part of their brand, even featuring it in some of their TV and online commercials.
UX Quality Assurance
Before lunch, Huxley met with two UX experts from an external consultancy, who do UX quality assurance (QA) for Delta Market. Huxley recalled that it was a problem finding experts who were truly qualified to evaluate User Experience in an organization at such a high UX maturity level. While the external UX experts are diplomatic and attentive, they also stand their ground and insist on reasonable answers to reasonable questions.
Among other things, QA checks that the UX team follows standard UX procedures, developers implement user interfaces exactly according to UX specifications, and the team properly addresses feedback from Support.
Emma is responsible for checking consistency within and across Delta’s user interfaces. She also makes sure that cross-channel interactions are seamless. Delta’s UX professionals peer review each others’ work. Huxley is quite pleased that his people have been eager for their peers to review their deliverables. He trains his colleagues to prepare well for reviews, think outside the box, and focus on substantial issues rather than insignificant details. Huxley and Emma have set a good example by insisting that the team peer review their work.
Emma said, “Reviews of my deliverables by my peers are a win-win. Usually, both the reviewers and I learn from the process.”
Some of Delta’s UX professionals argue that Delta’s well-trained, highly competent UX professionals hardly need quality assurance because they exercise self-control and do peer reviews. Delta uses external consultants anyway because internal people may be reluctant to criticize their colleagues strongly. However, if data shows the external consultants rarely or never find critical issues, they might reduce external quality assurance to a minimum.
Support: Enlisting Users
Huxley said, “The feedback we get from our users is worth much more than the 20,000 we pay annually in rewards. Many organizations pay incentives to people who report security problems. We have gone one step further by also paying incentives for great ideas from our customers and staff.”
Huxley had lunch with Susan, the director of Support Services, to find out what is trending in Support. Susan has encouraged getting feedback and advice from customers, staff, and suppliers, as Figure 5 shows. She trains her support agents to be curious and follow up until they fully understand a user’s problem. To encourage further feedback, support agents can hand out vouchers for 10€—or even more—for advice or complaints that are helpful. When hiring, Susan screens for support agents who know how to express empathy through both the spoken and the written word.
Support agents forward interesting suggestions and complaints from users to Susan, who discusses them with Caroline and Huxley. Susan recalls that it took a while before support agents learned not to summarily dismiss suggestions and complaints that they considered trivial, quarrelsome, or inconvenient.
Susan and her staff consider themselves user advocates and, thus, follow up on suggestions until they either implement them or reject them, providing a reasonable explanation. Sometimes they even fight for suggestions from users.
To further encourage feedback from customers, staff, and suppliers, they provide answers to questions, suggestions, and complaints as quickly as possible. Then, once Delta has implemented a user’s suggestion, the user receives a notification, another thank you, and a request to submit further feedback.
To encourage feedback, Delta says, “You can make a difference. We listen to you. Here’s the proof: [a true story of how a named customer made a difference].”
Cooperation between User Experience and Support goes both ways. The UX team informs Support in advance of any changes that could affect the user experience, so Support can provide immediate feedback to the development team if users call because of such changes. Each UX professional spends two days per year in Support, answering UX questions from customers and getting a better feeling for customers’ painpoints.
Regular Testing of Prototypes
Huxley said, “I need constant user feedback. I don’t wait for top management to tell me that there’s a need for a feature such as a product-locator app in a supermarket to answer such questions as: “Where can I find anchovies?” and “Where can I find a sales associate?” I want to know about such issues before they tell me. If something is not a good idea, I need to have the data to kill it instantly.”
In the early afternoon, Huxley visited Delta Market’s flagship store to chat with customers and the staff. He also observed customers and staff using prototypes of major new concepts. Delta uses observation, interviews, and user requirements as the basis for doing parallel development of competing prototypes. As Figure 6 shows, Huxley regularly seeks feedback from users. They do extensive UX testing to identify the best elements of competing designs—“Design Darwinism.” To speed up design, they employ UX patterns whenever possible.
To prepare himself for a usability inspection the following day, Huxley observed customers using two versions of a new self-checkout system. He also chatted with a few customers, continuing a chat with one particularly insightful customer all the way to the customer’s car because he wanted to gain a better impression of the total user experience.
Delta carries out many UX tests—for example, of delivery, post-delivery, and return-handling experiences, as well as the handling of complaints.
Huxley said, “There will be errors! If we don’t catch errors and misunderstandings in the user requirements early on, by thoroughly testing low-fidelity prototypes, those errors will incur substantial costs.”
Key Performance Indicators
A quality team regularly measures Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and checks the quality of interactions at critical touchpoints with customers, staff, suppliers, and other users—for example, through mystery shopping, in which they recruit people to portray actual customers to shop at a store. They use feedback from these mystery shoppers to evaluate how close the actual experience of the customers is to the desired experience.
Cecilia said, “Huxley and his people provide golden opportunities for Delta Market. But even gold can be too expensive.”
In the afternoon, Mark and Huxley discussed the development of a number of KPIs, such as the following:
Net Promoter Score (NPS)
System Usability Scale (SUS) score
customer loyalty, which they measure as the numbers of visits and the amounts of monthly purchases. Delta tracks loyalty using a customer-loyalty card, which they make attractive by offering multiple benefits for registered customers.
the number of calls to Support about UX problems
satisfaction with Support—that is the NPS for Support
the time it takes to order a standard set of products using Delta’s app
the time a store manager spends on low value work such as finding replacement workers for missing employees or building schedules
Huxley and Emma also monitor the development of KPIs relating to UX activities, such as
the number of person hours it takes a Delta UX professionals to conduct a UX test with five users
the number of days it takes to implement a simple, reasonable request from a customer
Through KPIs and user feedback, Huxley can make timely, appropriate corrections to UX activities. He can also justify the relevance of his employees and his department to company executives at any time.
Knocking on Heaven’s Door
In the late afternoon, Huxley and Emma had a job interview with an experienced UX professional, who submitted an application to Delta uninvited. Delta’s high UX maturity attracts qualified UX professionals. Both Huxley and Emma regularly present at conferences and workshops, where they openly share both their positive and negative experiences to attract talented people to the Gateway to UX Paradise that is shown in Figure 7.
This interview, which is one in a series of at least three interviews, lasts for about one hour. Huxley and Emma look for openness to criticism, innovation, quality consciousness, presentation skills, and respect for standards. They also check for mastery of the tools of the trade such as user interviews, user-requirements elicitation, and usability testing.
The questions they ask applicants include the following:
Tell me about a time when a business stakeholder disagreed with your approach. How did you resolve the disagreement?
Tell me about a time when an engineer demoed their finished code for your design and it did not match the design or the business expectations. How did you resolve this problem?
What did you learn from your most recent project work?
How long did it take to do the project?
When was the last time you had an opportunity to advocate for User Experience? How did you do it?
If the interview goes well, they ask the applicant to prepare for a 10–15 minute customer interview. The topic is: Delta’s self-checkout.
At the moment, Huxley has no job openings, but he is always looking for talent. Mark tells Huxley that, if he brings the right person to his door, they’ll find a way to hire her.
Huxley said, “To get the message through to our users, we must repeatedly and consistently address the user experience in plain language, with examples. But people often forget either the ‘repeatedly’ or ‘in plain language’ and both are necessary.”
As shown in Figure 8, a plaque on Huxley’s wall constantly reminds him of four guidelines for great communication.
Huxley is painfully aware that Delta’s sources of feedback could dry up if he fails to reward the people providing feedback—at least by giving them reasonable feedback on their feedback.
The UX department contributes a regular column to Delta’s internal newsletter, which anecdotally summarizes Delta’s user research and provides interesting insights for the wider company. Emma writes these columns because she has a flair for appealing writing, in plain language. Many of the columns focus on what being customer centered means in practice.
Huxley and other UX professionals also regularly speak at internal staff events in stores. The two key purposes of these activities are to encourage feedback from sales associates and to make them aware of their responsibilities as good ambassadors for Delta’s digital offerings: “You are Delta’s face.” For example, they expect all sales associates to be familiar with Delta’s app and Web site, so they can help customers who have questions about the app or who need to refer to it.
Huxley receives valuable positive and negative feedback from Delta’s social-media watchdogs in the Marketing department. Occasionally, he responds to nontrivial criticism or praise.
At every company-wide meeting, executives give an update on Delta’s UX vision and delivery. Huxley keeps a watchful eye on how executives communicate about User Experience. He discretely follows up on any apparent deviations from the agreed-on UX vision, especially from new executives. Huxley supports executives in pushing the UX vision forward by providing compelling stories, prototypes, and data.
Getting Employees’ Skin in the Game
At the end of the day, Huxley had a chat with Emma about Delta’s User Experience future and strategies. Delta has a UX strategy relating to each part of the business strategy. The UX team illustrates its UX strategies through user-journey maps. They discuss and brainstorm about the user-journey maps during biannual workshops for exceptional users, Delta Market’s designers, strategists, and management. Usually, many good and some crazy ideas come out of these workshops. The team then prioritizes the best ideas and tests them systematically with users.
Delta’s main UX strategy is to pay careful attention to all user input—both strategic advice and minor usability issues—even when their advice is inconvenient to Delta.
Delta reinforces its user-centric culture through their employee-compensation program. They tie the compensation of Delta’s senior employees, including Huxley and Emma, to the users through KPIs. Leveraging a Warren Buffett quotation, Cecilia refers to this as giving every employee “skin in the game,” or less colorfully, “a stake in the result.” This program enables every employee to make tangible contributions to the users and also produces organization-wide alignment because everyone is working toward the same high-level goals.
Cecilia said, “We are committed to User Experience. Commitment is not doing what you want to do. Commitment is doing what you don’t want to do—because it is difficult, expensive, or inconvenient. In fact, the more you don’t want to do something, but continue doing it anyway because you believe it to be the right thing to do, the more you are committed to it.“
Huxley added, “The path to UX Paradise goes through an almost impenetrable swamp of inconvenient and time-consuming, but essential details.”
Some of the UX activities that I’ve described in this story are also useful at lower levels of UX maturity—for example, the use of metrics, an iterative design process, the involvement of users, and standard procedures for UX activities.
The UX activities that set Delta apart from organizations at lower levels of UX maturity are as follows:
overall direction and priorities—Delta employs user research—in particular, many brief interviews of motivated users, regular workshops with exceptional users, and “Talk to Us!” sessions that let them collect and vet ideas—to determine the company’s overall direction and priorities.
ideas for new products and features—Delta encourages customers and other users to come up with ideas for new products and features. They discuss all ideas with a panel of exceptional users and test user experience carefully before they develop them further.
continuous involvement of users—Delta continuously involves users—particularly exceptional users—throughout a project, starting from project conception through user research and UX testing of prototypes, to the improvement of operational systems based on user feedback. All major decisions regarding the user experience rely on UX testing or feedback from relevant users.
Talk to Us!—Through campaigns, booths in stores, ads, and incentives, Delta Market actively encourages users to provide feedback and ideas.
Meet Our Users—All employees regularly work in the stores—where they can meet random, actual users, in their real context of use—to better understand users’ needs and painpoints. For the same reasons, UX professionals regularly work in Support.
Support—Support provides continuous feedback and follows up on suggestions until they’ve either been implemented or rejected, with a reasonable explanation. Sales associates and other users report friction in user interfaces.
constant care—Delta minimizes friction in its user interfaces by genuinely caring about the details of the user experience, even when doing so is inconvenient and would necessitate a lot of work.
quality assurance for UX activities—At Delta, suggestions from User Experience often lead to massive investments. To ensure that they make decisions on a sound basis, Delta carries out independent quality assurance for UX activities.
At the highest UX maturity level, there is no need to argue for the importance of User Experience or a reasonable budget. However, as this story emphasizes, Delta combines freedom with accountability. By measuring KPIs, Huxley can justify the relevance of his employees and his department to executives at any time. Plus, his team can make timely, appropriate corrections to the user experience and the UX strategy.
Next, in Part 4 of this series, I’ll describe how a customer experiences Delta’s high maturity level.
Thanks to Natalie Woletz and Dominique Winter, who provided scenarios for the original presentation and paper about User Experience at the Delta Market for the German MuC (Mensch und Computer) Conference, in September 2020.
I am greatly indebted to Peter Carstensen, Jan Clausen, Jon Dodd, Rebecca “Becs” Gill, Anker Helms Jørgensen, Søren Lauesen, Elvi Nissen, Anders Schrøder, and Chauncey Wilson, who provided helpful feedback on drafts of this article.
Rolf owns and manages DialogDesign, a small Danish UX consultancy. He is also the Vice President of UXQB, which provides UX-certifications. In 1990, Rolf and Jakob Nielsen coinvented the heuristic-evaluation method. Rolf is also known for his Comparative Usability Evaluation studies (CUE). In 2014, the User Experience Professionals’ Association awarded Rolf the UXPA Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his work on both Comparative Usability Evaluation studies (CUE) and heuristic evaluations. Recently, Rolf has applied his 37 years of experience in UX management in telling stories about UX life in organizations at low and high maturity levels. Read More