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Listen to Brian McLaughlin discuss the importance of UX in the technology-driven corporate payments sector.
John Gaffney: When the CFO of a manufacturing company is able to automate their supplier payments on time, in the middle of a supply-chain crisis, like we're seeing right now, it's not just the technology that should get the credit. It's the user experience.
When a treasurer is able to quickly access data on a bank's affluent customers for a meeting that day, the analytics are important, but again it's the user experience and design that enables that data to be accessible and actionable.
With digital banking presenting a new customer journey, and FinTechs basing an entire business model on user experience, which we'll call ‘UX’, technology and process design is an underrated star in the payments show. It deserves more attention and credit, especially as data continues to become the energy source for the financial industry.
Hi, I am John Gaffney. I'll be hosting today's Payments Podcast on user experience and technology design. I have the pleasure of being joined by Brian McLaughlin, who is the Chief Experience Officer for Bottomline, and the person who leads product innovation and user experience teams here to deliver best-in-class customer experience across the company’s suite of leading SaaS-based business payment solution. Brian, welcome.
Brian McLaughlin: Thank you. That was quite an introduction. By the way, I agree with everything you just said that.
John Gaffney: I'm not done. I know your career has centred on designing and building customer and user-centric mobile, as well as web-based, applications. So, let's get right to it, because I know you're very passionate about the topics that we're about to get into.
Tell us first how your work would manifest itself in the day-to-day operations at Bottomline. What does your team do? Give me a good example of how one of your favourite projects showed up on Bottomline.
Brian McLaughlin: Sure. I'm responsible for all the UX. UX can be divided or defined in many different ways. Here at Bottomline, it incorporates everything from the discovery, which is the user experience research, as well as the visual design, interaction design, but I also have responsibility for the UI development.
The reason we do it this way is so that there is not a gap between what's design and what comes out, which is common. It's a common problem everywhere. It's not just in the financial institution. It's a pretty common issue to have, but I'm also responsible for the creative teams, which are the non-product-facing teams. They deal with – well, I'll get into that in just a second, and as well as mobile and some other innovation groups that we've had here at Bottomline.
The reason that it’s put together this way is so that there is a holistic experience for customers that are being stitched together. That way, if you go to the website, or you come into one of our offices, or you receive one of our marketing assets, all the way through the product experience, to the support experience, to if you want to grow and scale with us, all of these different touch points that customers have, so basically every interaction or every touch point, there's an experience that is part of one of my groups then. They're laying that in.
John Gaffney: Yes. I also understand, Brian, that you're not satisfied with your team just knowing about UX. You want them to know the business.
Brian McLaughlin: Yes. That's a critical factor, and it's something that's often overlooked. A lot of times UX designers, specifically, are thought of as, “You bring these people in, and you plop them down, and you give them some canvas,” or whatever the heck those guys use, “And out comes some nice work.” Yes, that can happen, but usually the folks that have the most success are ones that understand the business they're part of.
Just for my own personal careers, I've done everything, from funeral home design to – and, by the way, I don't mean the actual design of the funeral homes, but the digital systems that supported them back when all that was becoming digitised – coffee systems, everything.
Each time, each step along my own personal career was, “But what does this business do?” and that’s very common. Then in our world, in the FinTech world, it's even more stressed because you end up with these layers of compliance, and security, and interesting, complex behaviours that happen within finance teams.
The more that a UX person understands about the end customer, but also the business that you're in, is just that much more helpful because that way, when you're designing the systems, it's much more a fit into that area. It would be no good if I brought too much of my funeral home experience into the business payment space, because there's not a whole lot of overlap, other than people click on things.
John Gaffney: That's interesting. Brian, if you're at a board meeting or you're at some kinds of external meeting, how do you break this down for an executive that's, maybe, in marketing, or the CEO? How do you break down what you do for a living and how it affects their team? I know you have a great example about how the doors are designed in our home office.
Brian McLaughlin: Yes. In our Portsmouth office, we have renovated over. There are several floors in the office, and we've renovated over time. For continuity’s sake, the doors look the same. So, if it's a door that you enter a meeting room, or a door that you enter somebody's office, or a door you enter, I don’t know, from one wing into another wing, the door is shaped. It's called ‘affordance’, but we won't get into that fancy UX phrase, but essentially they look like they would operate the same.
My floor happened to have been done a couple of years before one of the later floors, so imagine a glass door, a vertical steel bar, for which on my floor you grab the steel bar and you slide it. On the other floor, you grab the steel bar and you push it, so I have many people show up at my office, they go to push the door, and they end up leaving a nose mark on the glass of my door.
The reason I just point that out is design is more than just what it looks like. It's how something actually works. That is, as an overall UX designer, we're always thinking about there's an aesthetic quality to it, but equally or more important is how does it actually function? Are people going to understand it? Are they going to understand the first time, the second time, the third time? Are they going to understand if I use it once or versus I use it every second of every day? All those things come into play then.
When I talk to executives or other people outside the company, I generally use non-digital product examples because we encounter design work in everything we do. Wherever we happen to be, I've talked about pencil sharpeners, the doors, to how the lights work in the room, about automated switches or not automated switches. We're just surrounded by it. Generally, the best design is not even noticeable, because it's so well done.
We all, as humans, interact with this, so whether you're an executive or anybody in a company, there's always something you're encountering. The idea is to bring it back to that, and somebody. That's a purposely designed thing, didn't happen by accident.
John Gaffney: No, well said. Brian, why is this particularly important in the financial services business, in your opinion?
In the financial world, it's really important because it's so critical to people's lives, but also, if it's ill-conceived or it goes astray, it can have some pretty big, negative effects. You can leave out marginalised groups. You can include groups when you need to.
It could be as easy as a wording mistake or a workflow mistake. Like, if you lose a customer there, they're likely not coming back, so just the fact that the financial services business is so intertwined with our lives and it has generally been seen as, “It's complicated because it needs to be complicated.” It doesn't need to be complicated. It just has been complicated.
John Gaffney: I think it's fraught. We talked about how you would describe your job to a CEO or somebody outside your space. I'm going to bet that a lot of executives also don't understand the intersection between user experience and the customer experience, because, if it's broken, you alienated a customer, correct?
Brian McLaughlin: Yes, exactly. It's hard to underestimate or underappreciate how much the user experience drives the business, either up, or sideways, or down, and particularly now. By ‘now’ I mean, I don't know, over the last 10, 20 years. This is not a new phenomenon anymore. It has been well discovered outside of the financial institutions, and even starting, probably, about 10 years ago. Financial institutions started realising how much an important role this played, because they realised this is a significant differentiator for us.
Through that, and because of that, that end-user, end-customer empathy, when you start designing for that, it really does. It does grow the business. There's no doubt about it. There is a strong correlation between every company that has embraced UX at a very deep and cultural, like at a DNA level, and the continued growth of that company, and those that don't.
Particularly, old legacy companies, which many financial decisions are, if it's not embraced, and embraced fully – and not just window dressing but actually fully embraced of what it means culturally – they tend to stagnate.
John Gaffney: Interesting. I found, myself, when we were prepping for this call, I'm guilty of a lot of things that do not tip their hat to what you guys do for a living, because we talk about customer journeys. We talk about cash lifecycles. We’ve talked about product roadmaps. Now, a lot of those things depend on the user experience. They’re not just automatic journeys, right? Do you think that UX gets enough credit as being the foundation of some of those things?
Brian McLaughlin: Yes, it's probably misunderstood where a lot of that comes from, how it originated, and, more importantly, why it originated. While I would love to say that UX invented everything from water, to air, to every other necessity that we have, a lot of these constructs did come out of early-day UX work. By ‘early day’, I mean decades and decades ago. There are phrases like ‘design thinking’ that many folks understand and embrace.
That actually started because a group – I can name those, a group called IDEO – essentially took what creative teams had been doing for decades, and they systematised it. They just thought, “Oh, well, creative teams just naturally do this. It's just part of the way they interact with each other. It’s part of the way they discover. It's part of the way that they solve problems. Others can benefit from this.”
What I have found to be critical is that, as companies adopt these various things, that they don't become checkboxes, like, “Okay, well, we did that. So, therefore, we're smart,” like, “Well, maybe not so much.”
I mean, just because a group of people understand or even know the words, or could have even gone to, like, a weekend workshop, really understanding the purpose that they serve in the bigger stream of things is super critical to making sure that they're valuable. The learnings that you get out of it, and then it prototyping work that you do, is really valuable. It’s offset by the time that you spent putting in those various practices to begin with.
John Gaffney: Okay, interesting. Let's flip the script a little bit. How would I know, if I am an executive at Bottomline, or any of the big banks, or any of the big corporates we deal with, how do you know your UX is broken? What are some of the things that show up?
Brian McLaughlin: Yes, probably I’ll start at a slightly different place than most people would think, is what I do is I look. I look, and listen, and hear to see: is there a hint of UX in the organisation, or has something broken out?
What I mean by that is I don't go look at stuff, like, “Oh, where's the screen?” What I'll do is look at things like, “Are they using personas? If so, how? Do they understand where they came from and what they're doing with it? Are there UX people speaking up in a meeting? Are there UX people that are sharing and communicating what they've learned?”
That, to me, shows how embedded UX is within an organisation. If their voice isn't being heard, because it's either consciously being stifled or their work is not getting out, or whatever, then usually that's one major sign that something is broken.
Then there's the obvious of the work doesn't look very good. That's probably the more obvious one. It’s like, “Well, that doesn't seem very” A lot of people use the words of, “Doesn't look modern. It's not very wow,” those types of things. Primarily, those phrases get used because people struggle to identify what it is that they just know is not there.
Then there are the more obvious things about engagement metrics. The wonderful thing – one of the wonderful things – about digital products is you can track them. Are there actually more people using them? Where do they fall off? Did they complete tasks? Did they not complete tasks? How frequently are they using them? Is that the frequency that we expected? All those types of things, so some are cultural and some are actual measurable. It's the softer ones, the cultural aspects, that ultimately end up being a much bigger play in how an organisation grows over time.
John Gaffney: Yes, we talked about the fact that you think it's important that your team understand the overall business. Now, on the flipside, how do you get executives outside your division to be interested in user experience? Do you have any tricks there?
Brian McLaughlin: I spend a lot of time with them. We've done a variety of different things at Bottomline. I've done a variety of different things throughout my career, which is essentially just it's a lot of education. I've been known to, walking through an airport with one of my fellow executives, be pointing out things, like, “Huh, did you ever notice why?” and just go about it. My poor son has had to grow up with me as a father who pointed out every little thing during his life, and he would just roll his eyes.
I didn't quite go to that level with my fellow executives, but it’s the same thing. I think, for the most part, it’s just pointing out when things are well done, because generally what happens, over a fairly short amount of time, is I have people coming back to me, calling out, “Hey, I saw this light switch. It didn't work very well.” Or, “I saw this. It's not well designed,” or, “I just figured out that now I know why the door in our kitchen opens up and then you can't open the dishwasher,” or something.
Once people are tuned into it, it's hard to tune it back out. So, a lot of times, in terms of just getting other senior-level people to see it and understand it, is to just walk through it and start pointing it out, how it's surrounded by good and bad design. It surrounds us all the time.
John Gaffney: It also interests me that, or it struck me that, if the UX side knows the business side, and the business side knows the UX side, there's a lot of confidence that gets generated there on a daily basis, correct?
Brian McLaughlin: Yes. No, absolutely, because that is probably one of the bigger hurdles that I've seen, is more traditional business leaders getting confidence that design leadership also is working towards the same goal, because sometimes a design leader may come at it slightly differently.
It just takes a little time for that confidence and trust to get built. Some of it is just simply, “Hey, let me just do great work. We'll get more customers. Customer delight will go up.” All those things will continue to improve. Therefore, the overall business leader starts to see, “Yes, I see it's working. It's working, it's working,” so there's a trust on that factor.
Then that starts to lead into the trust factor of, “Oh, so when that design leader opens – he or she opens – their mouth about something, that's an interesting perspective we hadn't really thought about before.” For whatever reason, they tend to go side by side.
What I tend to coach design leaders is, “Build the confidence first, by just doing great work. Then, based on that, become more included in the decision-making process by just proving that not only do you do great work on just getting things out the door, but also your approach is a very interesting approach.”
Start communicating out: “These are things we learn by talking and spending a lot of time with customers, and really, truly, empathising with them.” Not just from a requirement standpoint but of, “Oh, you know the way these people actually go about their work is this. There's an opportunity here for us because it's just a pain point across everybody.”
Yes, that trust gets built, both by producing the work and then just really showing that you understand the business and are working towards the same goal.
John Gaffney: We would not be doing our job if we talked about the relationship of user experience to FinTech, especially a lot of the start-ups. On the mobile side especially, they've based their entire business model on the user experience. Do you think any legacy companies or big banks can learn something from that?
Brian McLaughlin: The reason FinTechs exist is because most larger financial institutions have not done a particularly stellar job from a user experience perspective. Anybody that's listening to this that has experience in the FinTech world gets it, like where a lot of FinTechs will focus on is, essentially, what technical capabilities exist that have a really terrible experience side to it?
One classic example – we can talk about quite a few new ones, but one that's actually not that new anymore – is a company, Square, which most people are going to be familiar with. Essentially, they looked at the credit card industry for small businesses, and they decided: “This is just way too complicated.”
Now, I have also spent time in the transactional processing world, and I can raise my hand and vote for the fact that, yes, it was way, way too complicated. If you're a small business and you want to take credit cards, it was such a painful process. Square just found it, decided, “This doesn't need to be this hard.” They created a whole experience layer over the top of it and we all know the results of that company. They're doing quite well.
That is just one example, but this is a constant refrain, particularly nowadays that technology has advanced with APIs, and SDKs, and all these other technological advancements. It really is a matter of creating a unique experience layer, and that’s where FinTechs are going and having – getting – good traction.
What they run up against is getting the relationships built that are required to have a truly strong business around it, so that's where the traditional financial institutions have a leg-up because they have really deep relationships.
That is starting to turn a little bit, though, in terms of customer acquisition, but it's a classic innovator’s dilemma, for those that have read that. It's a classic tale of you get to a certain point, your innovation slows down. Somebody comes in, can innovate faster because they're starting where you have just left off, and they continue up that arc.
So, it is, the FinTech world is ripe for this, this type of thing. There are a couple of markets, but FinTech right now, I think, is probably one of the stronger markets. We start to see that in the news about government regulation or non-government regulation. The fact that it has gotten to that level really shows these FinTechs have done a really nice job edging into this world, and primarily it has been spent on just making a much better user experience layer.
John Gaffney: Brian, last question: I'm sure you don't feel like we're done innovating with user experience, but tell us how you bring that to work. How do you bring that innovative spirit to work in your team?
Brian McLaughlin: That's a good question. We do a number of things, one of which is we spend a fair amount of time not looking at the FinTech world. We try to look outside the FinTech world, because everything is connected, right?
This will seem like an odd one, but we try to boil things down to some of the abstract layers. For example, dating sites have done a great job of figuring out how to build relationships between two entities that don't know each other.
That abstract level, there's a lot that happens in the payments world: invoices to payments, and security in payments. There are all kinds of relationships there that you're trying to reconcile, so we do some experimentation. We certainly look out in the world to see what else is going on.
That is also part of, from my perspective, that's part of the fun of design people and UX people, is that level of curiosity of, “Hey, what's another way we can do this?” Then it tends to feed off of each other.
We even do workshops, where we'll do these creative challenges where you have to try to come up with as many different ideas, in a very short amount of time, as possible. It just gets silly, but, by the time you're done, that last one that seemed really silly, suddenly everybody is going, “Hmm, that's actually a really interesting way to approach it.”
There's a bunch of things that you can do. That’s just to emphasise that last point. This is not a, “Hey, you're either born with it or not born with it.” Like anything else, it's a skill that you can develop, and there are exercises you can do to get better at it.
So, we certainly try to do those, too, but a lot of it's based on, “Have fun with it,” because, when people are having fun with it, they tend to be more creative and then more things come out of it. Then, of course, we have to marry that up against the regulatory and compliance world of FinTech, but that's also part of the challenge.
John Gaffney: Okay, that's some serious design thinking there. I want to thank you for that. That's today's Payments Podcast, with Brian McLaughlin, who is the Chief Experience Officer at Bottomline. Brian, thank you so much for joining us and talking about technology-driven business payments innovation. Thank you.
Brian McLaughlin: Alright, thank you.
List to the Payments Podcast episode on Better Cash Management and Forecasting, for SMEs through to Enterprise Treasury teams.
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