User Experience: A Primer

User Experience: A Primer

A definition

The first order of business in discussing user experience (UX) is to define user experience. The trouble here, though, is that the specifics of the definition vary from person to person as much as there are varieties of apples. All are apples though, right? Yep, and UX is no different. While UX can be explained in many ways, there are some core principles:

  •          Decidedly human-centered
  •          Empathy and curiosity about the user’s needs are paramount
  •          Systematic, intentional and process-driven
  •          Rooted in the knowledge that our experiences shape our realities and perceptions

The practice of UX is a systematic, empathic approach to determine how a human being experiences and interacts with a thing (our thing being the BENEFITFOCUS® Platform), and then use that information to better enhance that thing and thus our users’ experience of it.

UX demands continuous evaluation of our platform and the environments that surround it - those we control, and those we don’t. It necessitates adaptation to changing environments and conditions, even when it’s difficult. It requires transparency and honesty, both with our users and ourselves. It demands that we design our platform with intention, because the way our users experience - and feel about - Benefitfocus, benefits and benefits enrollment is completely bound up in their interactions with our products. Functionally, Benefitfocus facilitates enrolling in benefits. There’s lots of sensitive data involved, and lots of complexity. There are plenty of other software companies that can do this, though. The user experience of our platform is the single most important differentiator between ourselves and the competition.

Breaking it down

UX literally touches all aspects of our business here at Benefitfocus. In fact, if we replace the word “user” with “consumer” or “customer,” the gravity of that fact becomes clear - user experience is concerned with the entirety of someone’s experience with the Benefitfocus Platform. This encompasses the following:

  • The human interaction that someone might have with our platform while enrolling in or managing benefits, including and especially our call center
  • The visual gestalt of our software, made up by things like color, iconography, patterns and layout
  • The flow of our software, and how that follows the natural patterns and expectations that our users have
  • The language we use throughout, both on and offline
  • The data we deliver to and on behalf of our users - both the data that they can see, and the data that drives their experience behind the scenes
  • The consistency of experience across devices and time
  • The feelings that our platform generates, both about the enrollment process itself and the benefits our users enroll in

Sound like a lot? That’s because it is. With the amount of inherent complexity that technology companies such as ours have to deal with, shifting focus to UX can seem overwhelming. And yet we consistently see that companies that make UX a priority outperform their peers in a big way:

When compared to their peers, the top 10 companies leading in customer experience outperformed the S&P index with close to triple the returns. Forester Research shows that, on average, every dollar invested in UX brings 100 dollars in return. That’s an ROI of a whopping 9,900 percent. - Forbes

Who’s responsible for User Experience?

At Benefitfocus, every single one of us has some responsibility for the user experience. In addition, Benefitfocus has a team of people whose sole focus is user experience, aptly named the User Experience Group, or UXG. Made up of designers, UI engineers and researchers, we spend our time analyzing how people use our platform, how they might want to use our platform, and how to craft thoughtful, efficient and pleasant experiences for our users. As UX professionals, we work to define opportunities to continually enhance how our customers use our platform, and we set minimum UX standards for the Benefitfocus Platform.

As mentioned previously, though, UX is everyone’s responsibility (see how TurboTax recently took this mantra quite literally). Thousands of decisions and touch points are made here on a daily basis, and all of that potentially affects our users’ experiences, either positively or negatively. As leading UX practitioner Whitney Hess states, “UX is mindfulness.” As such, we make it a point at Benefitfocus for each and every associate to be mindful of their potential impact on our UX.