CUA of the Month – February, 2008

Stephanie Hammes-Betti
"Becoming a CUA has made me look at the user experience process differently. Take a page on a Web application, for instance. It's no longer just, 'Oh, it's a screen.'Instead, you see something that might add 15 minutes to the user experience – 15 minutes that could cost US Bank a lot over time."
 
Stephanie Hammes-Betti
Assistant Vice-President
US Bank

Banking on Usability: US Bank makes the user experience their bottom line

by Doug Gorney

"Competition is tough in banking nowadays," says Stephanie Hammes-Betti, Assistant Vice-President of US Bank. "You have 30 seconds to capture a customer online, and if that 30 seconds is not satisfactory, the prospect might leave."

Stephanie knows what she's talking about – she directs usability, accessibility, information architecture, research and design at the nation's sixth largest commercial bank. In addition to Web applications for US Bank.com and US Bank's commercial and trust companies, Stephanie and her team are also responsible for new innovations in the bank's ATMs and kiosks.

"In a financial setting, an online presence is an opportunity to grow a relationship with a customer. But the bank has gotten to the understanding that just because it's there, it doesn't mean people will use it – the customer experience had better meet the expected outcome."

After earning her master's in professional development and education, Stephanie entered the business world via the software and Web development industries. She was drawn to project management, and particularly enjoyed training clients – though it was this process that showed her how big of a problem usability gaps were.

Walking end users through websites and applications, Stephanie often saw clever design ideas that were out of sync with how sites and software were really used. When it came to what people visited sites for – or what they did when they got there – developers were just going on assumptions. But then that was all they had.

"Usability was not a formal process at most places,"says Stephanie. That didn't sit right with her. So when she saw US Bank was actually looking for a usability specialist, she knew that was the place for her.

Putting together the User Experience Group and supporting the bank's many sites and technologies, Stephanie relied mainly on her own experience. While she and her team worked with other usability consultants, she felt that they weren't offering complete, sophisticated training. Seeking out expertise in usability led her, inevitably, to Human Factors International. "HFI obviously has a tremendous reputation,"says Stephanie. She took her Certified Usability Analyst training in Minneapolis, where US Bank is based and – professionally, at least – it changed her life.

"HFI really educates you. Their training doesn't just build on some foundation of usability that you may or may not have, adding some nuggets to what you already know. HFI has been doing usability research for such a long time – what they bring to the table is the deeper meaning of why people do what they do, and the deeper understanding of how an interface will affect their daily work."

HFI's training was highly interactive. Instructors didn't just tick off points from an outline, like other usability courses she'd taken – "ones you wanted to sleep through."Instead, instructors had Stephanie and her fellow CUA trainees collaborating and working together over the course of several weeks until the material became real and immediate. And three years later, she says she still shares ideas with the CUA's she trained with.

In the summer of 2007, Stephanie brought HFI in to US Bank to train the entire 26-person User Experience Group. Stephanie was impressed at HFI's flexibility. "Susan Weinschenk tailored the course to what I already knew and what we felt my team needed to learn."

Stephanie feels that HFI's CUA certification gives the whole usability profession far more credibility. As far as her own job is concerned, Stephanie says she and her group are better able to sell ideas at US Bank with the tools they got from HFI and the wealth of solid usability research they can draw on. "When I talk to business line and technology partners, it's no longer just one woman's opinion."

As committed as she is to usability, though, Stephanie always thinks in terms of the bottom line – like any good banker. So what return did US Bank get out of their investment in HFI usability training?

Stephanie points to a credit card comparison chart her group created on usbank.com.

"This chart is a great example. We created it using a process that incorporated usability feedback throughout each phase of the design. That allowed us to find issues with the use of the chart prior to its launch. It was a great way to educate the business line on the value of usability testing! When they observed the testing, they could easily see how customers would interact with the chart – which really helped to forge the partnership between our team and the business group. We all were focused together on creating the right experience for our customers. The comparison chart went on to receive a Silver Monitor award, by the way, and the business was able to see an immediate uptake in applications as result of the new design."

"It was a great project for the User Experience Group – we were able to use our full methodology and easily prove our value to the business."

Since then, more than one business line partner has told Stephanie, "we were thinking of moving ahead with this project but then we thought no, let's get usability involved from the start."

The tools that HFI's CUA training has given Stephanie let her put usability at the center of US Bank's corporate culture. She takes a lot of satisfaction in that.

"People here are thinking, 'rather than go back and fix something, let's get it right the first time.'"

CUA of the Month

Each month we highlight the successes and achievements of a different member of our CUA community. If you are a Certified Usability Analyst and would like to be considered for CUA of the Month recognition, please send a brief professional bio to hfi@humanfactors.com

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