Interview with Stephen Apap on the role of UX research at Betsson

"We’re part of the glue that holds everything together."

Stephen Apap, Lead UX Researcher at Betsson Group, has been with the online gambling company for over 5 years now, delivering actionable insights and recommendations based on the voice and behavior of the consumer.

Stephen has managed various user testing and creative projects across Betsson’s various sites and markets from set-up through to the reporting phase.

We recently chatted to Stephen about how UX fits into Betsson’s digital business, from an ideological to a practical standpoint. We also discussed where his team sits within the organisation, UX measurement and the impact of research prior to running A/B tests.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into UX research?

I’ve been working online since 2008, initially in content, but I began to notice that a lot of visitors struggle with using websites, and this sparked my interest in UX research.

When I moved into the online gaming industry with Tipico about 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to work closer with the product team, this meant I could focus a lot on the interaction with the customers and actually provide feedback. From here, it was a natural progression to the UX research team at Betsson.

At Betsson I had the opportunity to work with some mentors and managers who were very good at what they do as well. Now I lead a team of three UX researchers.

Where does UX fit into Betsson’s digital business?

UX is now a crucial part of the digital business. If something is not as easy to use online, then one needs to rely heavily on a very good customer support system, which is not ideal.

People used to do some UX research or design before there were names for it. Now we have UX-specific roles. Though I think there’s still a lot of work to be done around it.

Customer support will always need to be present in one form or another, but not every customer who’s experiencing problems will reach out for help, many will simply abandon the site. This is why website usability is essential – it removes these causes of frustration for customers.

User experience is essential for everything we do online. Take content as an example – content needs to be meaningful and supportive to users so they understand what needs to be done, rather than having content on the site just for the sake of it, or purely for SEO purposes.

UX writing is very important for this reason. You need people who are specifically skilled in writing content that explains what something is meant to do. So if a user reads the text on a call-to-action button for example, it should be simple enough for them to understand what that button does.

“Not every customer who’s experiencing problems will reach out for help, many will simply abandon the site. This is why website usability is essential.”

What is your future vision for UX or research within Betsson?

We’ve started using research more heavily now. Designers have been involved in the research we do in the past, but this now happens at an earlier stage in the design process.

The fact that we’re a specific UX research team using a hybrid approach also makes it possible for us to help the design teams. Designers are working on specific areas, but we’re working in parallel with all of them. This means we can help them by bringing insights that we’ve uncovered doing research in other products or areas as well.

I’d like it to be a more research-based approach. We’re not there yet, but it’s improving quickly. The business has actually understood the importance of UX research and it’s being pushed from the top down, which is a very good thing.

Rather than running after designers or product owners to procure research, we’re now in a position where we’re actually getting a lot of requests for where we can include research.

This is a step in the right direction, as we now look at data first before we actually start the design process rather than designing and developing everything and then thinking about research afterwards.

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How does your team work with other teams such as product research, development and design?

As a research team, we have adopted the hybrid approach model. We want to keep it a bit central, but not totally centralized. We want to be able to go into a specific project or a specific area and help that area but at the same time, keep everything tied together.

I think we’re part of the glue that holds everything together as well in terms of the whole journey. We can’t do research on a specific area completely whilst omitting everything else.

This is a new structure for Betsson but I think it’s working quite well.

We have another challenge at the moment, since everyone is working from home. That’s working well though, as everyone finds it easier to communicate directly.

“As a research team, we have adopted the hybrid approach model. We want to be able to go into a specific project and help that area but at the same time, keep everything tied together.”

Has the ability to demonstrate the value of UX research led to increased trust and more involvement across the business?

Yes, the research mentality across the design team is increasing right now. We’ve been able to go from working hard to advocate for and share the importance of UX research, to having people coming forward and asking about how research can help in a project. That in itself is a success story for us.

Given an unlimited budget and resources, what would be your ideal organizational setup in terms of UX research?

Unfortunately, we cannot always run research without any cost, but we would definitely love to be in a position to be able to research every single idea that we have.

In many projects, we have to look at which parts of it make sense to research, and there are often some smaller projects that we don’t have enough budget or time to conduct research on.

The ideal situation would be for us to be able to go from concept all the way to the launch and then be able to gather data after the actual launch.

How did you go about proving the value of UX? Does such a large organization feel the impact of what you do? 

We’re fortunate that it’s coming from the top down. The C-level understands the importance of research, especially our CPO. He’s been supportive of implementing and pushing UX research forward throughout the teams.

We don’t really have to worry about ROI too much for this reason, but it remains important for us to be able to demonstrate that return on investment from UX research because, at some point in time, there might be someone who questions the importance of research.

For example, we can tie research in with things like A/B testing that measure and give an output in terms of one variant over another, it’s quite easy to demonstrate the return on investment from the UX research implemented within that process.

Have you used UX testing to build better A/B tests?

Yeah, we definitely have. We had a project which came up quite recently where one of the stakeholders had many ideas and variants for an A/B test.

Of course, to have a valid amount of people testing it on a specific page, you need to have a large amount of traffic. So when it comes to A/B testing, we normally try to do some UX research first, which narrows down either of the variants before we run the test.

The more variants you have, the more time it takes to be able to collect enough feedback and actually use it, so this speeds up the process.

Do you have ways of showing the value of research and measuring the impact?

In terms of measuring the impact, we conduct UX benchmark studies periodically. We’re able to track the improvement of the website over time as well.

It’s very important for us, especially for new features or specific improvements to the website, that we can benchmark the performance of that feature before the release of the new improvement. I wish I was able to say we keep track of all the data but we do in most cases.

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So what do you see as success indicators for your different projects? Which KPIs or measurements do you use?

There are UX KPIs which are defined depending on the project, especially when an A/B test is involved as well. Depending on the area that we’re working on, there are different KPIs that would indicate the success of one project over another.

We’ve started to tie those KPIs together to the research as well. It helps to have research at every single stage. We start from a concept which we validate with data before starting to work on a design. We are then able to work in research in various iterations until the project is ready to be launched on site.

This saves a lot of time and allows you to see the progress throughout the stages. This allows us to bounce designs off users and get some feedback, so we can see when something is not working. We then give suggestions on how to improve it, and we can measure if it has actually made a significant improvement.

What UX trends do you think we need to look out for in 2020?

I’m very interested where 2020 will take us when it comes to augmented reality, which is something that seems to be coming up quite often. I’m interested to see how we can use AR, as well as storytelling for UX.

It’s about how we can make it easier for the customer to understand by just showing them the right content for them, as opposed to just showing them any content.