User experience design makes or breaks the digital customer journey

Corporate Payments And Payables


Sandhya Pillalamarri

Feb 27, 2023

In this post, expect to learn about ….. 

·      The connection between UX and the customer journey

·      How data informs the digital user experience 

·      Use cases detailing the art and science of effective UX optimization


We’ve all been there. It’s the credit card application that takes forever. It’s the online hotel reservation form that you filled out just two weeks ago and now they want the same information. Or maybe it’s something that should be as simple as adding another user to a streaming service but the result turns out to be a frustrating exercise with the billing department chatbot.

It all comes down to the end-user experience (UX). It doesn’t appear on a P&L statement. But in a digital world in which screens are almost as important as people and the user interface (UI) is the face of the application, UX is as much a leading indicator of success as revenue and marketing ROI. And user design - by extension - is the dominant factor in the customer journey. With customer satisfaction levels for the average B2B digital experience hovering around 35% according to Gartner, it is essential that companies and their senior executives focus on “look and feel” as well as “click and conversion.” UX is the path customers travel toward a positive or negative experience. A great user experience helps retain customers, builds brand loyalty, and retains customers who come back to your product or application repeatedly.

To achieve that optimal customer journey, UX depends on data. Data from many different sources will need to inform the look, feel and eventual revenue from your digital interfaces, and it’s an area that finance leaders don’t spend enough time on. If UX is about art and science, data is the science. By connecting data to overall success, companies can gain a competitive advantage and increase all-important satisfaction levels. 

Data shows up in the context of UX in four ways: initial discovery, user testing, behavioral data and anecdotal evidence. Some are as easy as they sound, but all of them combined have taken UX design from simple interface, layout and coding (art) to a data-driven digital process with its own language of success and failure (science). 

Let’s start with initial discovery. Sounds simple and in many ways it is. But I doubt that non-UX types know how important sitting with a potential user can be. I always reflect back to customer research sessions we held when building our accounts receivables application. We talked to a cash allocation specialist responsible for downloading the statement data that comes in from their bank every morning. The specialist had to log into five different portals to bring in statements, invoices, remittances, customer lists and then physically port that data from the ERP into her system. Then she manually reconciled all those data points (and there must have been over 50 of them) to find matching invoices.  We knew from watching that we needed to design an in-app experience that would allow this data to be matched to invoices automatically to give her the kind of experience that would save time, be as accurate as possible and give her opportunities to grow in her career.

User testing is usually reserved for later in the product development lifecycle and will produce behavioral data if done properly. So, the learnings from that one instance we observed with the cash allocation specialist would be implemented and then extended to wider audiences. Gathering that type of behavioral data (both qualitative and quantitative) will answer key questions and help shape the overall user experience. Examples: How many clicks did it take to complete the task? Can I add a bank account or upload a bank document easily? What if I can’t find those documents? Can I set it and ‘forget’ it (aka automate)? How long is that going to take me? So, there's the quantitative time on task versus attitudinal metrics and data. 

Attitudinal metrics can come via user survey or from anecdotal evidence. Anecdotes can be very useful as we witnessed earlier. But they usually need to be backed up with a number to draw patterns from. If a user contacts us at Paymode-X and has password issues, that means that one user needs to be taken seriously; perhaps it’s a bug they are experiencing or a special condition. But if several users have the same problem that’s the kind of data that will find its way into a potential redesign. 

Data as a science 

As I stated earlier, UX is a mix of art and science. For me the “art” in this equation is a bit like a pebble thrown into a pond. Optimized UX is at the center. One ring from it would be the confidence gained in onboarding customers and seeing the best possible digital journey from there. The second one would be the time freed up for internal accounting and other teams as they move away from manual processes. Three: The confidence in knowing that your customers are seeing similar benefits as well. And the fourth ring completes the pattern. Here we find that an excellent UX becomes its own data source that is now able to create new insights and feed yet another level of optimization. 

Now, let’s look at what a few of these “art and science” projects look like in action. Here’s three use cases: 

UX case #1: Reducing manual processes in AP departments: No one sets out in a career looking to print checks and stuff envelopes. Digital technology is at the heart of automating that process. Beyond the basic technology, the proper UX will make it easier for automation to become business as usual by providing a UX that allows a smooth approval path as well as automating tax percentage splits. In a similar fashion, let’s look at the decidedly manual process of chasing suppliers down for invoice approval. Suppose someone is out of the office and an invoice approval needs to be reassigned. A UX that makes it easy to reassign tasks with the proper coding for allocating amounts and taxes is essential here. It’s also relevant for matching invoices to purchase order line items. To do that manually is to invite wasted time and potentially inaccurate coding. 

UX Case #2: Redundant data entry: Let’s start with a big daily frustration: duplicate data entry across your ERP, payment portals, and invoices. Effective UX design and workflow should bring all of this into one system (like the observations we made earlier with the cash allocation specialist). So, for example, using the Bottomline Paymode-X network here, once a user syncs PMX and ERP accounts together, a new vendor in the ERP system is automatically seen in the PMX interface. Duplicate data is not an issue. The same use case can be applied to duplicate invoices. Paymode-X solves this with automated data capture so a user can stop or research a possible duplicate invoice when it comes in and prevent processing it through prior approvals. 

UX Case #3: Payment status tracking: This is arguably the most important thing an AP team will do. Let’s start with the daily need to respond to vendor requests for payment status. In the analog world AP teams do this by logging into several portals and contacting vendors by email and other forms of communication. In PMX, vendors log into their proprietary portal and see incoming payments reports, remittance reports and an estimated payment date with an inbound payment tracker all in one interface. Payment confirmation can be done through a similar process. 

And of course, we drink our own Kool-Aid at Bottomline. Take the work we did around Paymode-X vendor enrollments. Enrollment boiled down to four steps: personal information to company information to bank details to hitting “submit.” One email is sent to confirm that the information has been successfully received; another is sent when the account is active. We watched the gap in time closely, measured, prodded, redesigned and then measured iteratively. Post some UX enhancements, we found that vendors enrolling successfully increased from 30% to 96% adoption when it came to verification of their data post enrollment. On-time bank validation detail entry spiked 66%. 

Action points

This post is aimed at non-UX readers. Hopefully it has extended the idea that UX is the CX (customer experience) in this digital age. And as such executives should take it seriously. Here’s three steps to take when communicating to the executive team and the company as a whole. 

One: Talk the talk: Executives should know the status of all UX initiatives current and have a clear view of the planned UX roadmap. Better to have visibility than it is to hear about problems later. Be ready to pivot and adjust as you continuously monitor the pulse of your customers and end-users.

Two: Ask the right questions: You don’t need to be a UX professional to ask about things like time on page, task completion rate, error rates, and overall customer satisfaction scores. Find the metrics that are most important to your company and track them.

Three: Make the right connections. The purpose of UX is to bridge a deeper connection with your customers. Make sure everyone in your company knows that. You will never see UX the same way again if you make that connection and keep making it. Invite your colleagues and leadership to customer calls, user testing sessions and customer interviews whenever possible. Increase the chances of team members listening to your customers.

Art and science. Data is the essential second half of that equation and that’s where most executives will find their UX sweet spot. But the art of UX is the many ways it will make your company more efficient and ready to take advantage of all the benefits automation has in store.


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Sandhya Pillalamarri

Sandhya Pillalamarri is an experienced leader in the User Experience and Product Design of B2C, B2B, IoT, connected devices, enterprise, SaaS and responsive mobile application development. Sandhya specializes in human-computer interaction and user experience research and design with over 17 years spent leading creative teams on highly visible programs within various industry verticals.
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