A lesson in listening: why our users are our best critics

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The new look GovernorHub which launched in October 2021

GovernorHub had a makeover recently…and it pains us to say it, but not all of you loved it 😔

We decided to investigate further: had we gone too far, should we change things back – what was the problem?

Lots of teams were involved in the updates but we caught up with Product Manager Ellie Cheshire to find out what happened and whether there’s been a happy ending (spoiler: yes we think there has!)

Ellie, firstly please can you explain what your job actually involves?

Well, I’m product manager for governance products – GovernorHub and The Key for School Governors – and so it’s my responsibility to understand how our customers use the sites and what they need from them. 

I also work with the different teams in our company and make sure they’re focusing on the right things. We look at customer feedback, new things coming up in governance and I prioritise what changes or improvements we should be working on next. 

Most recently your focus has been overseeing the bringing of GovernorHub and The Key for School Governors closer together, is that right?

Yes, so we have two really successful products, GovernorHub and The Key for School Governors. We could have carried on as things were but, working with many governors and being a chair of governors myself, we know that governors have busy lives and often do their work in short snatches of time. We wanted to make it even easier to use both products together for those moments when you can get online and do your governance work. 

Not everyone has both products and that’s not a problem – GovernorHub can be used on its own and that won’t change – but for anyone with both products, we wanted to create a more seamless experience.

In bringing the websites more closely together, we also had to bring the respective styles together – essentially a little ‘makeover’ – to help people looking in from the outside to recognise instantly that these products share something in common.

In practical terms, this meant softening the GovernorHub blue palette a little bit and then reducing the pink theme which runs through The Key for School Governors website. We made both sites feel less cluttered with more white space. We used a new colour palette that fitted over both products which was mostly greys but also a softer shade of blue running through the sites.

These changes went live last October. How did they go down?

Well, bearing in mind we have over 150,000 users of the site, we heard from less than 30 about the changes and the feedback was mixed. People’s views differed depending on whether they were customers of The Key for School Governors or GovernorHub and also depending on how much time they spent on GovernorHub.

Customers of The Key for School Governors didn’t seem to notice. They’re usually visiting the site for shorter periods of time, for example to go and get some information or find a policy.

Most governors were happy with the changes to GovernorHub, but there was a small group of users who had some concerns. These were mostly clerks who spend much more time on the site – probably hours at a time – managing the work of their boards. We got feedback from several of them to say they were finding it harder to use. This was obviously a bit of a blow for us as we wanted to make it easier for them to use, not harder!

What were they saying specifically? 

Well, they were saying that the white space that we’d put into GovernorHub to replace the blue was too glaring. As I said, these are customers who’re spending hours at a time on the site.

If something’s quite glary, it’s uncomfortable on the eye. They were also worried about the size of the font. It felt like the writing was smaller, so it was harder to read. Inevitably, there were also people that just found the change hard. 

We’re lucky because lots of GovernorHub users really love the website and feel a warmth about it, but one of the issues was that the change of palette may have removed some of that friendliness they were used to, which is certainly something we didn’t want.

And finally, some GovernorHub users said, ‘…it feels like you’ve been taken over by The Key for School Governors’. They felt the updated site was a change that had been imposed on us, which, as you know, really wasn’t the case, but that’s how some users felt. 

I should say it’s always great to hear from customers, even if it’s negative feedback, as it helps us to understand how they’re using the websites.

Did we miss a trick not thinking more about clerks and how they use GovernorHub?

Well, it’s interesting because I spoke to lots of customers and several clerks before we did this to understand how they felt about the proposed changes. I think what’s most important is the ability to look at what you’ve done, hear what people are saying and say, actually we might not have got it quite right at the first attempt.

We always think of the customer first and I’d like to think that we do that well, but sometimes the outcome of what you’re doing doesn’t necessarily land ‘right’ the first time. It was a small handful of people affected comparatively, but it was important to listen to what they were saying.

I was in a meeting where you talked about the feedback, the team discussed it and you told us what you were going to do about it.

Yes, so we realised that although the font wasn’t actually smaller, it did look smaller. That’s one issue we changed immediately by upping the font size. If by changing the design, we had somehow made the site less accessible – this had to be changed.  

We also decided to address the issue of glare, which was also an accessibility issue. We looked at the contrast between the writing on the page and the background. We realised that we could strengthen the words and change the colours to improve the contrast and reduce the glare so it was easier to read.

We also wanted to get back the friendliness that people felt we might’ve lost because – hopefully everyone realises we are a friendly bunch and a friendly company. It was really important that our customers didn’t feel we were losing our identity, so we talked to our designers and they made some quite simple, but really impactful changes. 

Throughout this, we also needed to consider that when anything changes, it’s a human reaction to find it hard. We were careful to avoid a knee jerk reaction.

The original designs were based on a lot of research, hard work and effort. We didn’t feel that we’d gone wrong as such, just that we had to bring it back a little bit. Anna Samarina, one of our designers, came up with some really simple changes that made the site more accessible and more comfortable to use again for those people who spend a long time on the site.

Some of our improvement work ‘in progress’

Did you go back and speak to those people who’d got in touch to complain?

Oh, absolutely. As soon as we made the changes, we went back to those customers who’d got in touch to explain what we’d done and find out if we’d made things better for them. 

Are all of our customers happy now?

Most of those who got in touch are now happier. We were really pleased many of the people we contacted took the time to come back and say they were pleased with the updates. There is one person that is still unhappy that we changed anything in the first place, but, you know, we know we will never please everyone.

Every day is a school day! What have we taken away from this experience?

Ha yes – it’s all learning. We did talk to users about the changes beforehand, but a project is never finished when you press the button to go live. We were right to listen to those who got in touch and pleased to have continued the work until we got it right, or as right as we could.

Any changes we make will always involve our customers before, during and after. No project is finished at the button push!

So have you got a final message for our customers?

Well, just to say that friendly GovernorHub is still here and always will be and we’re always happy to hear from you with any feedback, so do get in touch.

***

You can get in touch with us using the blue help chat on the website or by emailing support@governorhub.com

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