How to Fix the Ultimate Paper Jam in Your Brand’s User Experience

I love a certain a sushi restaurant near my house. I order delivery for the family all the time, but keep losing the paper menus I’ve picked up from our in-person visits. When that happens, I go to their Facebook page—because, not surprisingly, they don’t have a website—and try to make out the low-res, badly scanned menu they’ve posted.

This got me wondering, why do our online experiences so often seem broken?

In the case of the sushi restaurant, I can understand. They’re a mom-and-pop outfit.

But it still points out a common, frustrating problem: When it comes to important, routine customer processes—simply ordering food, in my case—many companies go old school. And that often results in horribly broken experiences. The sushi restaurant posted that image on their Facebook page and probably felt that was good enough—yet they’re probably losing repeat business because they’ve left gaps in the most important part of their customers’ experience.

The sad truth is this happens everywhere. Here’s how it happens—and what you, the marketer, can do to work around your company’s still flawed user experiences.

Document drag

It’s one thing to talk about the customer experience problems of a local sushi place, but what about large corporations with teams of digital experts on staff? What’s their excuse?

Every company needs a website and app strategy. It’s table stakes. But so many of these strategies remain incomplete. Why?

This might seem surprising, but it’s because they don’t accommodate documents well.

Think about the last time your progress was interrupted by a bank, mortgage broker or government office that forced you to download, print out, and then scan and email—or, worse yet—fax back a form. Frustrating, to say the least! Your customers feel the same way.

A recent survey we completed of 5,000 office workers across the US and UK found that 83 percent of those workers feel frustrated by outdated document processes, while 61 percent said they’d even gladly trade in their job for one that involved less paperwork.

Things are grim on the customer front, too. In apps and on websites, badly handled documents are killing customer engagement. Any time your customer’s online experience is interrupted by a paper form or ink signature, you stand a high chance of losing that customer, right then and there.

This happens because, in short, companies design user experiences that work best for them, rather than their users.

The shape of the problem

I recently met with two large banks that are both working to better engage customers on mobile devices. The problem isn’t their apps—instead, it’s the way they handle the dozens of documents customers fill out when they open or close an account, move money into investments, and handle other sensitive financial tasks.

When I talked to executives, they told me they use no less than 160 different processes to enroll customers in the various products they offer—and every single one involves filling out forms. Some are digital now, thankfully, but many others are on paper that customers have to print out, fill in, sign and fax back. It’s a twenty-first century nightmare.

Documents themselves aren’t the core of the problem, though. The problem is these processes are tied to what everyone refers to as “back office systems”—except the truth is, there is no back office anymore. If a process in our business touches our customers’ journey in any way, we have to change our approach, and make that process as smooth as possible for the user.

Working around it

As a marketer, there’s only so much you can do about badly-clogged processes and the documents that inhabit them. You simply may not be able to redesign them from the ground up.

What you can do, though—and should—is stop looking at the process from your company’s perspective, and start seeing it from the seat of the user.

Try to work through the process yourself, as if you were the customer. Pick a use case or customer journey and map out the entire process. I recommend literally putting it all on a wall so you can see every part. See where you get stuck, what frustrates you, and where your experience is disrupted by a document that feels out of place.

Think about what you can do—even in minor ways—to ease the stress of those disruptions. Maybe you can implement an auto-complete feature, make a form easier to read, fill-in and submit, or, worst case, at least let the user email instead of fax.

This exercise can also help highlight every offline part of the journey and the related gaps marketers face. How many times do we say “at this point they can call support”—while we actually have zero idea what the support experience is like from the perspective of a customer trying to finish their “digital” journey.

You might be shocked to learn how frustrated customers feel—and illustrating this pain to leadership will make your case for change. It’ll also help lead to significant changes in your users’ experiences, which, importantly, can create measurable improvements in your customer retention.