Learning from AT&T’s Unfortunate Member Portal Redesign

September 25, 2017

AT&T recently redesigned their member portal— this is the website that enables users to pay bills, view usage, check order status, among other key functions. It is a key (if not the primary) touchpoint for customers interacting with their AT&T service. One would assume a multinational company as venerable and cash flush as AT&T would value and invest in a best-in-class experience for their users. One would unfortunately be painfully wrong.

A friend of mine remarked recently at dinner that, “The AT&T website is soul-crushingly terrible.”His comment sparked a conversation about whether those at AT&T responsible for this digital product are either:

  • Unaware
  • Don’t value their customers’ experience — instead, believing they’ll suffer through it to avoid the hassle of switching providers.

We can all acknowledge that frustrating or downright unusable websites are a fact of modern life. In this article, we’ll look at how we make sure that the products we design meet the needs of both the business and the customer.

Specialization and Collaboration

People notice when a digital experience is awful. I’m sure you’re thinking of your own version of the AT&T member portal. We rarely comment or notice, however, when they are good. In fact, the most exceptional transactional experiences are seamless to the point of invisibility.
Creating that kind of seamlessness takes experience — seeing the patterns, predicting how a user is likely to react, understanding how the user experience (UX) must conform to data and technical limitations.

At Crux Collaborative, we develop complex, transactional, user experiences for regulated industries. That is all we do. Nobody on our staff has been with the company for fewer than 3 years. We’re familiar with the challenges specific to data-heavy portals and applications.
We bring this experience and knowledge to bear as we co-create solutions for the interface with our clients. We collaborate with key stakeholders to generate potential interface solutions.

These collaborations provide a forum for those responsible for the building and integrating data to communicate and vet ideas with our design team. Because we are so familiar with user behavior, we are able to quickly discard and avoid solutions that will cause frustration.
At the same time, client stakeholders are tasked with identifying if ideas are unworkable from a data or business perspective. Learnings are shared collectively in real-time.

This unique approach maximizes our shared potential to innovate within the constraints of regulated industries. It helps ensure that we end up with exceptional design solutions.

Research as a Design Step

The only way to really know if we’ve been successful in creating an experience is to ask actual users (not spouses, friends or coworkers) what they think.

Research with users is a good idea any time in the design lifecycle. It is critical that it is included at some point before the product is launched. The basic idea is to get the design in front of users as early in the process as possible.

Weeks into the process of working with us, we’ve developed a prototype— a working model of the user experience. The prototype is the quickest path to a research study that will help us identify potential breakdowns before we go thorough the exercise of integrating secure, complex data structures and APIs.

Usually because of pressure to deliver a product quickly or cheaply, some project teams chose to forgo design-step research. When this happens, the issues with their products end up being discovered by their customers (see AT&T member portal). This leads to more frustration, a higher volume of calls into the call center, and ultimately risks greater customer attrition.

In addition, design-step research actually makes sense from both a timing and budget standpoint. Fixing issues at the prototype stage is quick and efficient, whereas addressing such problems following integration of the full data model is expensive and time consuming.

We’re Crux Collaborative—a small group of UX nerds in Minneapolis, MN.  We help organizations design digital interfaces that make it possible to complete complex tasks online.

We value strong client relationships and believe in helping our clients meet their business objectives by advocating for their users.

We’ve developed a formula for developing complex experiences within the constraints of highly regulated industries and systems. If you have a complex, transactional, behind-the-login experience that would benefit from a consultative approach, we’d love to hear from you.

By Gregg Harrison
Vice President

Gregg’s passion for all things digital started two decades ago as a project manager and has expanded over the years to include a focus on user experience consulting, client management, and operations.

View Gregg's Bio


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