Scaling UX through design organization

Beverly May, VP of Research and Design at Allstate discusses her efforts leading a large design platforming initiative.

In this episode, we talk with Beverly May, VP of Research and Design at Allstate about her efforts leading a large design platforming initiative. And we hit on a hot topic in our industry: CX. Hear how Beverly is defining customer experience and how it’s helping to deliver insights at scale.


Alfonso de la Nuez: Welcome to UXpeditious! A show that brings you quick, insightful interviews with design, product, and UX leaders.

Dana Bishop: In each interview we dive into how UX research impacts user insight; shaping the design and business strategy of some of our favorite tech tools and products. 

Alfonso: I’m Alfonso de la Nuez, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of UserZoom.

Dana: and I’m Dana Bishop, VP of Strategic Research Partners at UserZoom.
Alfonso: And we are your hosts. Joining us on today’s episode is Beverly May, Vice President of Research and Design at Allstate. Beverly has been at Allstate for just about a year and she’s leading a huge effort, guiding the company's digital transformation from a UX lens. Wow! I want to hear more about that.

Dana: We’ll also learn more about Beverly’s perspective on CX in the broader User Experience landscape and how customer experience is impacting business and strategy conversations. 

Alfonso: Hey Beverly, thank you so much for joining us today. Can you please start by introducing yourself?

Beverly May: Sure. I'm Beverly. I lead the UX team at Allstate, and previously led the UX team at GE Healthcare.

Alfonso: And are leading a large design platforming initiative. So please tell us a little bit more about that.

Beverly: Yes. I am leading a design platforming initiative at Allstate, and I led an equivalent initiative at GE Healthcare. So I'm definitely all in on design platforming for large organizations. I think it's essential when you've reached any kind of size beyond a handful to think about repeatable processes, repeatable services and approaches, how you can scale, how you can achieve consistency, especially when you're at an organization that has multiple products or services in a suite model. How can you make them all equivalently usable and have a similar and cohesive look and feel and experience to the customer? That's when design platforming really becomes essential. 

Dana: For those who may not know, can you kind of talk a little bit about the term design platforming and what that really means in layman's terms.

Beverly: Design platforming, at least in terms of how I think about it, is creating processes and services and tools that will allow for all people in a UX and design organization to act and create products and services that are consistent. And so at Allstate that includes a wide range of elements. So it includes what we sometimes call design ops in the industry. So that's design program and product management, design tools, design approaches. 

So we use an eight-step process at Allstate, which allows for a step by step model for how designers can evangelize user experience and also approach it in a consistent way, which also includes, for example, bringing in approaches for when you would do quantitative versus qualitative research in your process.

Beverly: For us it's processes, it's tooling, it's research repositories, it's design systems, it's repeatable standards, and guidelines and templates that any designer, researcher, program manager, content person, content repositories is another key aspect, can come in and they immediately have a playbook of repeatable tools and approaches that they can use to hit the ground running, to solve the business or product problems that they happen to be working on across the organization.

Dana: That's a big undertaking for, at a large organization, to address everyone who's touching a system, everyone who's involved in it. What's the benefit or reasoning of doing this through a UX lens? And why is that valuable?

Beverly: If we just go back to what is UX, it's user experience, which means it's the experience of the user and we want our users to have consistent, usable, intuitive, great experiences. And whenever you have an ecosystem at scale, Google's material design is our, one of the benchmarks of the industry. 

You think about the scale of Google, the number of products and services you need to provide some kind of foundational library and approaches so that anyone coming into the organization can leverage those for efficiency, not only design efficiency, but engineering efficiency, product efficiency, delivery speed, reduced QA and user errors, but also for the customer, much better experience for the customer, for everything to be consistent and have repeatable patterns. And that's kind of the foundation of what we do.

Dana: Interesting. So let's talk a little bit more about CX. So tell us how you're defining CX at Allstate.

Beverly: Well, this is a hot topic actually here at Allstate and it was also at GE Healthcare. To me they, CX and UX are symbiotic, at least the way that I define them. Others define them differently. The way I look at it is UX is about the experience of the user. And we're specifically usually talking about digital product design. And part of what we do in UX is service design and journeys that could apply to online and offline experiences, and designing a holistic approach to those. For example, in store call centers, chat bots, et cetera, might be part of what UX designers design. Ultimately we are doing the design part, but as we know, the buck doesn't stop with design.

Beverly: You actually have to implement and launch and then maintain the customer service that is involved in delivering these offline and online integrated experiences. And that's where I think CX comes in. So you've got the call centers. You've got your chatbots. You've got customer service complaints. You've got people going into a store and interacting with reps and talking to them and having an immersive experience. 

And there's the implementation aspect that goes long beyond design that is day-to-day and reflects the holistic delivery of the customer experience. So I think that they are symbiotic, but a little different. UX typically is about the digital product design and CX is about the delivery and maintenance, and ongoing relationship with the customer, CRM emails, et cetera, that are about a holistic delivery campaign around CX.

Alfonso: So from one hot topic to the other, which is the impact on business. How have you seen CX and CX, UX, doesn't matter, impact products from a business and strategy lens?

Beverly: I think that from a UX standpoint, it goes back to ensuring that your UX team is really considering a full range of data inputs and research insights at their disposal, especially junior designers who come into the industry. Customers are going to give me the insights. Customers are going to tell me what I need to design. That's the foundation of user centered design, and I'm going to go do it. And that's all wonderful. But of course there are these goldmines of customer insights that are aggregated at scale waiting for you. And so I definitely go back to CX can impact our experience if we leverage those insights and call center data has got to be number one out there.

And to take an example from Allstate, as we've evolved our digital platform and systems, which we just released a major released of a new platform in certain zip codes that we're going to be rolling out further, we learned that in this transition state between these different platforms, customers were not able to make certain transactions that they expected to make online themselves. They had to call an agent if they wanted to change certain things about their policies. And this was a top complaint. It was in the top three that kept surfacing in the logs. 

That is an obvious thing that we can get into the roadmap. That's a feature that we can fix and design for. And the logs gave us that data to help. Not only know it was a problem, prioritize the problem, see the severity and scale and reach of the problem, to be able to make the decisions, to drive the roadmap and improve the overall experience.

Dana: I think it's interesting thinking about business impact. And UX researchers really focusing on different sources of information. By focusing on things like that, and looking at that data, you can also help to influence reducing operational costs. Right?

Beverly: Exactly. And that's where it gets into the other overlap. So there's an overlap between CX and UX. And of course, there's an overlap between UX and product. Who drives the product roadmap? Who determines the priorities? The product leaders should be driving the roadmap in determining the overall priorities. That is fundamentally their job. 

But obviously UX has a role to play, to advocate for things that are mission critical for the user, and that are pain points for the user, and that are essential to prioritize. And then the product manager has to triage those with, for example, engineering platform updates, or cost benefit analysis, or market reach and other considerations to make the overall priorities.

Dana: And where do you see the balance? This is a question that we've been talking to a lot of people about. Between innovation and making things easier, making things better, more user friendly, where's that balance at Allstate? And I know you've been putting a lot into digital innovation around claims and satellite and all kinds of new technology. What's your perspective on that?

Beverly: Yes. I think this comes back to when you're dealing at scale and you have a legacy business with customers, long-standing customers with prior expectations for how things should work. If you think about the industry of insurance, it's been around for a hundred plus years, and you have customers who are used to doing things a certain way, no different in banking. And then you have new folks coming in who expect things to be very different, digital first, digital native, maybe even digital exclusive. 

And so you've got these sub personas and you really need to in effect, design for the range of them. And the innovation part is really thinking about where are you going to be in 10 years or 20 years. So the future casting aspect to use our industry term, and really project yourself into that future state and design for that future user. Use that to drive your long term roadmap, maybe as designers. I like to use this sort of fast lane, slow lane model of, yes, you got a parallel path. You're not designing for one versus the other.

Beverly: You have to keep the lights on, service your existing customers. But know that things are going to evolve. And you've got some line of sight as to what you think it's going to evolve too, and what it should be in the future. So try and bring that incrementally into the current, while you're designing for that and testing and validating by the way, those future experiences. So you have a vetted roadmap and vision of where you want to go, and that'll help to accelerate adoption in the current state roadmap if you can show it's vetted and preferred, and you've already done your homework, done the testing, and you have a coherent vision that people can glob onto and adopt.

Alfonso: Beverly, thank you so much for joining us today. Super interesting conversation. 

Beverly: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

Dana: Yes. Thank you.

Alfonso: That's Beverly May, VP of Research and Design at Allstate.

Dana: Thanks for listening to UXpeditious. Make sure to continue listening to our new episodes each week for quality insights from UX industry leaders. If you like what you heard, help us out by rating and reviewing the show on your favorite podcast platform.

Alfonso: UXpeditious is produced by UserZoom in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team: Christopher Ratcliff from UserZoom; and the team at Pod People: Rachael King, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Hannah Pedersen, Colleen Pellissier and Michael Aquino.