aqua finance

Responsive marketing site and dealer portal redesign with enhanced feature set to better meet customer needs

My Role

As the UX Project Lead for Aqua Finance, my role involved the following:

Project Planning + Leadership. I determined the UX project approach, allocated hours for each activity, and executed on the project plan. I also planned and facilitated the workshop and client review meetings throughout the course of the project.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations. The Aqua Finance team was an excellent team to work with overall. During the feature prioritization, we did have some tough conversations about budget and timeline, but with my team I was able to help the client understand how their getting all their requested features at once would cause a scope increase.

Team Collaboration. I was the sole UX designer on this project, but my team included a project manager and a lead developer that I worked with very closely throughout the course of the project. Much of what we were building had to integrate with Aqua’s existing backend systems, so I had to work with the developer on a daily basis to field technical questions and requirements from the client. Having a developer involved early on was crucial in this project, and I was able to lean on him not only for technical support, but also for wireframe and design review.

The Business Problem

Aqua Finance initially wanted a redesign for their marketing website, but after realizing their user expectations had increased, they decided to build an improved dealer portal to improve their users’ experience. Aqua’s primary users are a network of dealers across the country who provide consumer financing for a variety of markets and products including water treatment, home improvement, and HVAC systems.

Aqua Finance came into the discovery phase with several goals for the project: 1) attract new dealers in new markets; 2) communicate more efficiently and effectively both to their existing customer base and to new dealers; and 3) enable dealers to turn larger profits by providing sales tools and resources. 

Discovering the Business

Aqua knew they needed to update and expand their current offerings in order to meet increasing customer needs and have the ability to break into new markets. My goal was the help them understand their business goals and their users’ needs in order to help us define the best solution. I conducted a two day workshop with stakeholders from Aqua Finance and the rest of my project team in order to do just that.

Through a series of conversations and group activities, I worked with the stakeholders to help them articulate their business problems and define what success looked like for the project. Through these discussions, the group was able to agree on a prioritised set of business problems and use those to write a unified problem statement. The problem statement was used throughout the rest of the project as a way to focus conversations about features and project goals. Our primary business problems focused on the state of the current website: 1) it’s outdated and irrelevant and customers have no motivation to visit the site; 2) it does not accurately represent who Aqua Finance is as a company and how they serve their customers; and 3) it does not distinguish Aqua from the competition.

We then moved from a focus on the business to a focus on the customers of Aqua Finance. I wanted to get a sense of how well the stakeholders thought they knew their users. We used empathy maps to gain a better understanding of the primary user group: the dealer, whose primary job function is selling financing to consumers. We examined the sales process in detail, and I gained valuable insight into Aqua’s perception of their dealers. I learned that: 1) dealers are often onsite with customers and need to get financing approved quickly; and 2) dealers want to increase their sales numbers. Based on the insights from the business discussion, it was clear that the current site didn’t adequately meet either of these needs. Aqua wanted their dealers to have the ability to access a dealer portal which could provide the status of credit applications. While the current site could provide this information, it was slow and difficult to use.

Empathy mapping the primary users during the workshop

Discovering the Users

After the workshops, we were armed with knowledge about Aqua Finance as a business, so the next step was to get to know the users of Aqua Finance. Aqua provided me with a group of users, a mix of new and veteran dealers, as well as some internal users with which to conduct research. We used a combination of user interviews and a survey in an effort to have the most impact with the research. I structured the interviews around gaining understand of the sales process from the dealer’s perspective, and in doing that, identify their pain points and gaps in the current process.

From the interviews I learned the following about the dealers: 1) they place high value on the credibility of the people they do business with; 2) they are busy and want to focus on their sales, meaning they need quick turnaround on credit applications; 3) they don’t often use the current website because it wasn’t of much value and couldn’t tell them what they really wanted to know: the status of pending credit applications. When dealers are onsite with a consumer and want to learn the status of an application, I learned it was often quicker for them to call and speak to an Aqua rep who could give them that information.

I identified early themes emerging from the interviews and used those themes to craft questions for the survey. Over 1,900 dealers received the survey, and we received 76 responses. Questions gauged usage of the website and provided data about how and when dealers process applications. The survey also allowed dealers to provide feedback about content that would be most valuable to them. The survey provided quantitative data to support the insights gained from the interviews. I was able to draw some conclusions as to when and why dealers favor a specific method of processing credit applications. If dealers are onsite, calling Aqua is more efficient than using the website. After the sales call, while timeliness is still crucial factor to close the sale, using the Aqua website may be sufficient because a dealer is not onsite with a customer waiting for an immediate response.

At the conclusion of the research, I synthesized the learnings into a set of key findings and recommendations for what we should build. I recommended that we integrate the credit application processing system with the dealer portal to create one cohesive experience for the dealers. I heard from dealers that the real value for them was in having the ability to quickly process credit applications and receive detailed updates on the status of those applications. While an updated marketing site was also important in obtaining new business, the integrated application processing system was what dealers would benefit from the most.

Research Recommendations
Pages from the final recommendations document

The Design Process

Due to budget constraints, it was decided that we would leave out the full integration of the application processing system for the current phase of the project on focus on designing and building both an updated marketing site and dealer portal. Once this decision was reached, I led the team through a discussion to define the final feature set for both the marketing site and dealer portal. We had to manage the client’s desired feature set with the reality of the budget and development effort for implementing the desired features. Together with my project manager and lead developer, we were able to help the client prioritize the features that were the most important and save the other features for a future phase. It was at this point that our problem statement from the workshop came in handy, and the Aqua team was able to decide on a feasible feature set that gave their users the best experience possible for the first phase of the project.

Aqua Finance hired a local agency to do the visual design work, so my role was defining the interaction and layout of the site. For the marketing site, I kept in mind the business goals of attracting new dealers and portraying Aqua Finance as a credible, trustworthy sales partner. To illustrate this need, I incorporated imagery, simple text, and clear calls to action on the home page. The goals of the dealer portal were to provide Aqua dealers with sales tools and resources and to give them quick, single sign on access to the credit application processing system. The bulk of the complexity in the dealer portal came on the backend, so I collaborated closely with the developer throughout the design process.

Whiteboard sketching
Home page wireframes, desktop and  responsive
Dealer Portal Wireframes
Dealer portal wireframes, desktop and responsive

Since most of these features were new for Aqua Finance and the dealer portal itself was an updated offering for users, I proposed we do a round of usability testing. I had to help Aqua understand the value of this at first, but after one round of testing, they saw so much value in it, they requested we do a second round of testing with additional users. The primary finding from the user testing was that users were still looking for features related to application processing that wouldn’t be included in this phase of the project. I recommended some minor updates to the nomenclature of links and buttons to make navigation easier for users. I also recommended a section on the dashboard called “Application Center”, which provided clearly labeled links to specific sections of the application processing system.

Dashboard Wireframes
Version 1 of the dealer portal dashboard (left) and the dashboard (right) with revisions after user testing

Lessons Learned

We definitely had a few challenges early on in the project, especially when it came to prioritizing features, but overall this project was a success and client was enjoyable to work with. My biggest takeaway from this project was around the importance of aligning client expectations from the start of a project. Our team built trust with the client early by making recommendations that demonstrated our desire to be a strategic partner. We called attention to potential red flags that could jeopardize their budget and timeline from the outset and worked together with our stakeholders to find solutions that would still align with their business goals. By the time the development phase began, the client was very comfortable with our team and pleased with the final design. What I loved about this project is that it gave me the opportunity to lead a project in which I was able to see the entire UX process through, from discovery to research to design. I was fortunate to work with a client who valued their users’ perspective so much they were willing to invest in valuable research and testing to ensure they were building the best solution possible.