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Cancer Research works to improve users’ digital experience

UK charity has been working with Optimizely to develop a better user experience through its website, as well as improve the way the organisation works

When people interact with a charity through its various digital channels, they can often forget that the organisation will not have much money to spend on enhancing its digital experience.

Customer behaviour is changing, forcing many retailers to change with it, but unfortunately once charities make the jump into the digital world, their supporters can often apply the same demanding behaviour as they do when they are shopping.

It is becoming increasingly important for charities to offer a good service, and Josie Downey, user experience designer at Cancer Research UK, says “every penny” donated to the charity is important, and developing a reliable service keeps its supporters happy – helping it to save money.

The charity has been working with software firm Optimizely for about four years to test its landing page and develop a better customer experience based on the results.

Previously, the charity was working with a managed solution from a different provider, but looked into changing the organisation’s attitude towards digital alongside its quest for a good user experience.

“What led us to work with Optimizely is that, back in 2014, we realised a need for the organisation to adopt a digital mindset in terms of ways of working and adopting things like user-centred design and a test-and-learn approach, and to make that part of everybody’s role, not just those in the digital team,” says Downey.

As well as developing a better customer experience, Cancer Research set about becoming more agile and digitally minded.

Most recently, it used the Optimizely platform to test its landing page, assessing how easy users find it to navigate.

Changes made subsequently meant that on World Cancer Day in 2017, the charity saw a 294% increase in the number of clickthroughs on its site.

After performing “straightforward” tests on the landing page, as well as assessing feedback from usability testing, the charity found there were “competing calls to action”, such as asking supporters to donate as well as buy wristbands.

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The charity had to go through a “period of simplification” to reduce these competing user tasks, says Downey.

Changes to pages now go through AB testing, in which two versions of a page are created during a period of prototyping and one is launched as a live experiment. Half of the visitors to the page will see the prototype page.

Downey explains: “We get data straight away, we can kind of monitor it and we see the clickthrough and the percentage, to see which one is performing.”

Although Downey suggests previous knowledge and best practice would have led the charity to consider simplifying its web pages, it would sometimes conflict with the marketing team’s expectations as it wanted to push “different avenues”.

Because of this, in 2014, Cancer Research “established a digital strategy which was about adopting this digital mindset” for all aspects of the charity, from managing research finding, writing policy, making policy, information for patients and health professionals, and fundraising, she says.

Business change

As World Cancer Day happens every year, this was an appropriate starting place for business change, and Downey’s team used the opportunity to partner with other teams in the organisation to develop a campaign.

Talking about the charity’s marketing team in particular, Downey says: “We won’t just work with them and be an internal agency, we will actually partner with them and take them on the journey and train them along the way.”

Part of Downey’s team’s work with other teams involves giving them digital skills that they can use in the future, such as training them how to use Optimizely, how to perform usability testing and how to write for the web, “because we want those teams to adopt this culture of test and learn”, she says.

Previously, suggestions from other teams would have developed through an initial sketch, a prototype and then be tested in Downey’s team’s usability lab, before being adopted into the design of the charity’s services.

Downey now wants teams throughout the organisation to think about testing at the start, rather than “just creating something and putting it out there”.

“People used to come to us and say ‘I need this on the website’ or ‘Can you build this thing for me?’ and we realised that the organisation is going to be more effective and efficient if we can do all this internally,” she says.

“New ways of working are a really big part of it, so we can make sure the organisation is adaptive and resilient and innovative. We know that’s going to be a big part of us achieving the organisation’s objectives.”

Change of culture

As well as encouraging Cancer Research’s teams to adopt a testing-first mindset and spreading digital skills across the organisation, Downey says changing the charity’s culture has been equally important.

The organisation now uses agile and lean ways of working, as well as introducing a “UX hour” when employees share knowledge and suggestions about projects and developments to work on next, weekly standup meetings, and project demos.

Part of this new way of working is to encourage people to share their successes as well as failures. “Being more transparent about things that you’re learning is very important,” says Downey says.

“It’s not a failure if you’ve learnt something. You have a hypothesis and you can test it. If it doesn’t work, that’s OK cause you have learnt something and you can change direction.

“That’s a big hurdle for some people to get over, but we’re trying to foster this way of thinking because we think it’s more healthy.”

In the future, Cancer Research hopes to introduce an online chat functionality to reduce the volume of calls to its call centre, saving further time and money for the charity to put back into its research.

Read more on IT for charity organisations

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