User experience archaeology

By Tom Wood @Foolproofer

We hit on an interesting approach while looking for insight to help us design a better motor insurance shopping journey.

It occurred to us that in our network we knew a number of wizened old IT and Marketing folk who had helped put together some of the first online insurance sales processes back in ‘98 and ’99. We tracked them down, made them tea and asked them about their memories of these early projects.

What we heard was interesting because it helped put the modern day experience of buying motor insurance online into historical perspective:

  • Projects were given little budget: expectations of commercial yield were extremely low; senior management generally saw the web as a side-show
  • They were led by IT teams (who had been tinkering with the idea of online quote-and-buy processes as a back-room hobby project)
  • The basic approach was to sling the question set which had been developed for call centre IT platforms onto the web – little was done to refine questions into consumer language or to develop online help resources
  • Little or no user research or usability testing was conducted
  • It was assumed that only a very low volume of daring and web-savvy consumers would even try to buy online, let alone succeed
  • When a 10% or 15% discount for buying online was introduced, word spread fast amongst consumers and sales started to grow to significant levels

This last point is really important: when a substantial financial incentive was created for users to engage with a poorly conceived and executed user experience the incentive tipped the balance and generated sales volume.

The next chapter is tiresomely obvious. Flushed with unexpected success the industry reacted by pursuing price as the most important competitive factor online – leading to a ten-year spiral down into the bind the UK industry now finds itself in.

What no-one did for a good few years after these initial ecommerce offerings was take a long hard look at the user experience. And by the time they did, received wisdom dictated exactly what sort of experience online shoppers ‘preferred’ (or, more accurately, had come to expect).

Our user experience archaeology was fascinating. It helped us understand the origins of the experience model that prevails today: basically a long, boring data-entry exercise with little in the way of help or support, finished off with a confusing quote result page and a high-pressure sell for additional covers.

Let’s hope our new grasp of history means that we are not doomed to repeat it. We firmly believe that it is possible to create a higher value experience for both insurer and customer. If we’re right, we’ll let you know.

Tom Wood

I’m one of the two founders of Foolproof. Within projects I usually take a role both in planning our approach and in the generative phases of design. I’m also active in gathering client and customer needs into the design space. My particular talent is helping senior stakeholders see and understand the customer’s world in richer detail, and helping them work out how to respond.

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