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5 Keys to a Successful Web Platform

Increasingly, a 401(k) plan’s digital platform — both website and mobile — is becoming participants’ main point of contact with the plan, upping the ante on the quality and efficiency of the user experience. What can consumer research tell us about doing a better job of fulfilling users’ digital expectations?

“Companies and consumers expect the Internet to be the main touch point for all aspects of retirement planning, such as research, plan enrollment, changing investments and withdrawing funds,” says Peter McNally, senior usability consultant at the Bentley University User Experience Center.

Speaking at May 5 session at this year’s LIMRA Retirement Industry Conference, McNally said that in the Center’s work with clients in the retirement industry, they have found that fulfilling that expectation is not easy to do. “More often than not, consumers struggle online because the digital retirement experience does not provide what is truly needed,” he said.

“There is danger in being in the field and knowing it like the back of your hand,” McNally warned, since that runs the risk of operating under the assumption that users have the same level of familiarity and knowledge as the web developers and plan administrators who created the digital platform, and forgetting that the site may be confusing and uninformative to users.

McNally listed five key factors that must be considered in setting up an electronic platform — web-based, for mobile phone applications, or for tablets — in order to optimize access and use:

Language and terminology. In his experience, these are not always tailored to, nor appropriate to, the type of customer that may be using the platform. “This is not trivial. This is important stuff,” he said, because it concerns people’s finances. “This is not buying a pair of shoes.”

Set expectations. Make sure that users understand what is needed and what to expect from the site or application, and let them know what happens next after they have used it and supplied information.

Calculate results. Provide opportunities for users to provide information regarding where they are located, since that can affect pricing and earnings. Explain the factors that are used in calculations. When projecting amounts of money in the future, provide a way to toggle between today’s dollars and future dollars, adjusted for inflation.

Customer experience. Pay attention to the entire experience, not just the digital experience. Remember that to the customer, everything is important. “The line between submitting information and asking for help is very thin,” said McNally.

McNally offered some practical suggestions regarding ways to better ensure a positive user experience:

  • remember that investors, including plan participants, are very interested in getting in touch with their advisor via a website or mobile device;

  • provide a chat feature;

  • allow users to save partial transactions and applications and send them to an advisor for completion or for the advisor to walk them through it;

  • display phone numbers prominently — don’t hide them; and

  • provide easy access to forms.

“A nice-looking site with the right amount of functionality is not enough,” said McNally. “It needs to be seamless and meet the customers’ needs on their level," he said.

Accessibility. Provide a way for those with disabilities to use a product or service. For instance, some users may have poor eyesight or be blind, have carpal tunnel syndrome or be unable to use a mouse. Providing a keyboard option and adjusting colors and font size are among the suggestions he made for addressing the matter.

McNally noted that 54 million people in the United States have some form of disability, and said that addressing accessibility is not only in the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act — which lately has been taken to extend to online access — it’s also good business.