UX research in B2B SAAS - a clever mix of quanti and quali. Interview with Eléonore from PayFit

France Wang
June 29, 2021

This month, we had the pleasure of talking with Eléonore de Lusignan, UX Director at PayFit. What emerged was a description of an organisation where everyone is autonomous in their research, where sharing of learning is widespread, where qualitative and quantitative data come together, with particular attention paid to the quality of data, without sacrificing speed of execution. Sound utopian? Read this interview, and you'll see that PayFit is not far from achieving it!

To begin with, tell us a bit about your background and how you came to be the UX director at PayFit.

Honestly, I don't think I would have imagined, when I studied, that I would end up designing interfaces!

I went to a school of applied arts because I was very attracted to everything creative.

For the record, I went to Rhodes Island School of Design, which is the school from which the two founders of AirBNB graduated, in the class just before me.

There was a huge range of options to choose from, and I really didn't know what to do. In the end, I decided to do the industrial design programme, because it was known in my school at the time as the preferred course for those who didn't really know what they wanted to do with their lives!

The industrial design programme was very object-centred, and what interested me most was understanding how people would use the objects we were going to design. However, there was no specialisation at all, it was very exploratory. Everyone could do whatever they wanted and experiment with design thinking, at many different levels, without it necessarily being dedicated to one field or medium. And that's reflected in the diversity of the jobs that the members of my class are doing today, we're all doing very different things: it goes from consumer goods, to toys, to entrepreneurship, to interaction design and digital design.

What was your path from objects to digital?

When I left school, I had my first professional experiences in packaging. At the same time, I participated in conferences, notably Lift Conference. I was able to meet entrepreneurs who were innovating enormously in the digital field: this was my digital revelation, and I wanted to train in it, in parallel with my work in packaging.

In Paris I discovered the UX Paris community, which was founded by people who really inspired me: Sylvie Daumal, Claudio Vandi and Grandon Donovin. We had a book club, events, hackathons... And that's how I learned: by discovering books, by meeting people who did that.

That's what made me discover the existence of the UX designer profession.

At that point, it became pretty clear that I really wanted to get out of the packaging world and try my luck as a UX designer. So I quit my job and went freelance, and then I found a job as a digital project manager in the luxury industry - in fact at the time there were few pure UX Designer jobs, there were mostly digital project managers with a UX design component.

There I discovered how things happen in a digital project: how to work with developers, how to test, how to design interfaces, how to imagine a service... In short, how the design process and the development of a digital experience works from start to finish.

This experience also confirmed that I really wanted to be a UX designer and not a project manager. After two years, I was contacted by Avanade to be a UX consultant for them. It was my first pure UX design job. I learned a lot on the job, by doing, by experimenting with methodologies - for me, who is not at all academic, it is very important to learn by doing! And what was great was that as soon as I managed to sell the design and convince my clients to apply my methodology, I had carte blanche. It was great fun. So I really tried to work on my methodology. And for the first time, I was able to apply user research, where before I didn't do enough or even any!

Moreover, the user research aspect was particularly important: I often had to adapt SAAS products and solutions for clients, and to do this I had to understand the users' behaviour, their needs, their workflows, and transcribe all this into their SAAS tools. There were a lot of technical limitations, so this phase of scoping and identifying needs was essential! It was often a big international challenge, as the same digital transformation project had to be adapted to the specific user experience in each country.

I left after three years to join Sylvie Daumal at We Digital Garden. She is someone I admire a lot, and when the opportunity to work with her came up, I jumped at it! Working with her has really allowed me to progress on all fronts as a UX designer, and on hyper free and varied projects where I often had to define everything from scratch. It's also where I discovered Product Design as it is known today, i.e. thinking about a service from start to finish in a specific digital channel.

For example, I worked for Sodexo for over a year, redesigning the entire employee benefits experience. We had to design and develop 3 web applications and a mobile application for 3 different user profiles - employees, merchants and corporate. A real B2B2C challenge! My only frustration was that I was too far away from the users. It was very hard to get data, to get the right to contact them - it depended largely on the maturity of the client, and it was hard to unlock as a consultant. Everything was very time-consuming, you had to fight a lot.

So for me the next logical step was to join a company, to get closer to the users.

At the same time, Léa (PayFit's VP of design), whom I met while working together for the Hexagon UX association, was setting up PayFit's design studio. From our discussions, we could see that my experience was a perfect match for what she was looking for. That's how I joined PayFit as UX Director, to run the Design Studio!

Can you explain the PayFit Design Studio to us: how does it fit in with the rest of the company?

What you need to understand is that PayFit is divided into different Tribes and Squads, and that the designers (about 15) are dedicated to their product team, to design features etc. The Design Studio is a group of designers who work together to develop the product.

The Design Studio, on the other hand, is an independent, cross-functional entity that is responsible for all the design needs of the product team. This includes three main needs.

Firstly, we are responsible for the Design System. We maintain it, we enrich it so that it always brings more value to users, we make sure that it is scalable for all the product teams, and we also guarantee the UX and graphic coherence of the elements. To do this, we are constantly on the lookout for product teams, and as soon as we see that something is missing or that there is friction in the use of the Design System, we prioritise new functionalities and new components. We have a full-time team on it, with three developers and a designer.

We also guarantee the quality of the user experience, particularly in terms of product localisation. Indeed, in each country where PayFit operates, there is a team of engineers who have become experts in payroll calculation and who must adapt the product to local legislation and habits. Payroll is not managed in the same way from one country to another, and to adapt the workflows and make them evolve according to changes in legislation, we have created our own code language, JetLang, specialised for payroll, which allows us to adjust the interface as if it were a Wordpress site.

As these localisation teams don't have a designer and are therefore less autonomous on the design side than the rest of the product teams, it's very important that we're there to help them, particularly on the user experience side.

The third point is user research, where we set up processes and practices to ensure that all user knowledge is shared with all the teams - whether it's qualitative or quantitative data.

You mention in your second point that you shoulder the localisation teams to ensure that the user experience is good everywhere. How is that collaboration going?

This is something that has been a big challenge, especially with COVID.

I'm convinced that user research should be the starting point of any design project: if I wanted engineers to understand their clients' needs, they had to do user research first.

For me, the best way to do that was to train them to do it themselves, because I believe very strongly in learning by doing. We started with a two-day training course with a selection of engineers, which allowed us to plant seeds. Some took to it more than others, depending on their level of maturity: the UK team, for example, was extremely sensitive to the approach and put a lot of things in place, with the help of the Design Studio. Thanks to this, the product was able to evolve and progress in the right direction, and the results they obtained created awareness among the other teams, who began to replicate the approach.

As a result, the Design Studio became more and more involved in the different teams, which allowed us to iterate on how we interacted with the countries. It started with training, then moved on to coaching, then to occasional design reviews and so on. Since then, we've set up various things, such as dividing up the different countries between the four designers in the Design Studio, so that they have a privileged contact who can give them feedback on their research methodologies or on the UX, and to do design reviews with them at least every two weeks.

In the end, I have the impression that everything goes through user research! The idea is to teach local teams to do research locally. But otherwise, how is it going in general at PayFit? You mention it as being one of the transversal needs of the company.

Yes, because we saw that user research was really the lever that was missing in the countries! Moreover, we filled a UX researcher position for France, which was taken by Mathilde Gauthier. And together we set up many processes!

At the global level of the company, for example, it is no longer a secret that we have to do user research, and everyone knows that before any initiative, we have to talk to the customers. We also encourage them upstream to analyse the existing data.

There is a big data culture at PayFit, so we always have plenty of information. There is of course the data on the use of the app and the features, but also all the data collected by support and sales, which is centralised, categorised and accessible to everyone. It's a very important source of qualitative and quantitative information, and as soon as there is a new project, we will advise you to study this data first.

This allows us to measure the impact of the topics in relation to our business priorities - our two main metrics being revenue and growth margin - but also to be as relevant as possible when it comes to interviewing clients, and thus save everyone time. For example, if the idea is to organise user interviews, we will advise the teams to analyse the data well beforehand to be very precise about their objectives and their research hypotheses - and therefore have a very targeted field guide. This also allows us to identify the customers who would be the most relevant to contact.

So what is PayFit's vision for the future of user research? What I see is that it is already very well interwoven, with the data, with the product, with the location. What is the next step? What would you like to push a little further?

As much as we have plenty of ways to automate the data part, our vision for qualitative research is to find all the means to automate it and save time.

To go in this direction, the first area we worked on was the processing of information gathered in user research. To do this, we implemented Dovetail - a tool in which we can transcribe interviews with a user, tag and categorise what was said, and deduce trends. It was a bit of a gamble with Mathilde: as we have a lot of people who do their own research, we weren't sure that the tool would really save them time. As researchers, we saw the value of it, but we wanted to let them test the tool directly. And it was a winning bet: thanks to Dovetail, analysing notes and extracting learning from them is so much faster! In addition, it allowed us to create a sort of knowledge base on the client, which completes the knowledge base that we have in terms of data that I mentioned earlier.

It's very powerful: everyone has access to Dovetail, and can capitalise on what others have learned.

I, for example, am doing user research on a particular route. I haven't done any interviews yet today. I've just seen that one of my colleagues had done research on something else, and my keyword came up with the clients 86 times. I've already got 86 verbatims to process! It's absolutely brilliant.

Now the data is a bit scattered between these two databases, so we'll have to find a better way of centralising it all, although I don't think we're there yet. But already, I would like to have all the qualitative customer intelligence in one place. And then there are lots of automation and integration options in Dovetail that we can take advantage of.

Well, I talk a lot about Dovetail, but it's only a tool. The main thing is the processes and the methodology, with the aim of saving more time and having better quality data. In fact, I start from the principle that to do good user research, you need preparation, and the question is: how do we make this preparation time as fluid as possible? It has to be clear and easy, so that people can concentrate on what they are missing, what they want to learn. Research is really a combination of things so that when we talk to users, we are sure not to waste our time.

That's why the data must be shared, so that everyone can be organically fed by the collective intelligence. Another major issue is the way in which information is classified.

This is a real challenge, because, unlike a showcase site for acquisition or an e-commerce site, which will have very simple tagging plans to implement, it is quite complicated for a SAAS product. Today, we are in the middle of an investigation with several engineers: what is the best way to track our product? And to have more visibility on what our customers are doing? Having hyper-precise data on what our users are doing at any given time is also what helps us to remain rational and eliminate certain biases. You shouldn't think when you go to see a user that they know the product by heart, or that they have already tried everything once!

Everything is complementary, and there is never only one way to do it. There are always alternatives, and you have to diversify your research methods and sources. It is the combination of things that makes the richness of what you learn.

Everything you say is exciting! And so, looking back, what would be your advice for someone starting out in UX?

I would really insist on learning by doing, trying as soon as possible, applying quickly.

70% of the way we learn is on the job. You really have to dare to experiment right away.

And also, above all, to surround yourself with people who inspire you enormously, and follow closely the people who are at the top of the discipline. When I started as a UX designer, I consumed a maximum of events, books, activities, networking... Today I see Mathilde doing this as a user researcher, and it's essential for her progress because she's alone in her job today at PayFit! And I can clearly see the fruits of this, because she has brought a lot of things into the company thanks to what she has experienced after discovering it in her watch.

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