H&R Block redefines superior service with innovative UX optimization

When it comes to making their users happy, a Digital Innovator looks beyond the status quo. Whether it’s inventively iterating a current experience or designing a brand new interaction, “improvement” is their motto and “creativity” is their middle name.

Heap is proud to recognize Zachary Witt, Senior User Experience Designer at H&R Block Canada, as the first recipient of the Digital Innovator Award! Zachary exemplifies the spirit of a Digital Innovator through his passion for data-enabled creative problem-solving to support H&R Block’s customers. 

Read on to learn about the innovative ways Zachary utilizes Heap to make tax season a smoother experience for their customers.

The Challenge

A complex user experience. Detractors took 40 minutes longer to complete their returns. H&R Block aimed to improve NPS and revenue by reducing the time it takes to complete tax returns.

The Results

Redesigned their tax return navigation to be more seamless and intuitive. Resulted in improved customer satisfaction, increased return customers, and higher NPS, ultimately leading to increased revenue opportunities.

The Verdict

By combining Heap’s analytics with H&R Block’s business analytics, H&R Block is able to design an experience that customers love and win competitive market share.

Zach, tell us a little bit about your mission and what you've been working on.

H&R Block is a pretty famous name in the tax prep industry, but historically the bread and butter has been in-person services. I've been with the company for seven years now,  and my role as UX designer has been building our do-it-yourself tax software. It’s a way to draw people in with a freemium offering, with the hope that customers will eventually seek help from our offices as their tax needs become more complex.

We’re now focusing on expanding our digital offerings through an omnichannel approach, to fluidly move between the digital and the retail experience. The UX team facilitates the design process and works with the tax analysts, content team, and developers to bring the product manager's ideas to life.

My role in this process is using behavioral analytics to provide insights into user behavior and identify areas for improvement. As the world is going increasingly digital we’re accommodating a hybrid process that allows customers to start online, visit an office with their box full of receipts, and then finish online by signing documents. 

Can you iterate during tax season, or is it too busy for major improvements?

We’re busy, but user experience and customer satisfaction is always a priority. Heap allows us to see how users interact with our software and identify any areas for improvement.

For example, our recent implementation of Heap's Snapshot feature has allowed us to live-catch some major errors. We’ve seen a few users that accidentally applied nine million dollars of credits. Imagine requesting a $9M refund from the government!  So we’ll call them and say, “Sorry to disappoint you, you're probably only getting $1,500. You might want to refile your taxes.” But this saves them the pain of an audit: needing to prove where they screwed it up,  and then having the CRA on them for multiple future audits. 

Snapshots helps me understand more nuanced user information, like connecting NPS scores to demographics.

- Zachary Witt, Senior User Experience Designer

How is Heap helping you gain insights into client behavior?

I’ve been playing around with how deep I can go in Heap, because UX doesn’t get a lot of API level information. Snapshots allows me to inject JavaScript into API requests and view them from the perspective of our clients, rather than just dev or QA environments. This helps me understand more nuanced user information, like connecting NPS scores to demographics.

For example, we found that landlords and self-employed users have higher NPS scores and revenue conversion, compared to say, those on social assistance. I can use this information to create more effective UX features and products by focusing on higher-revenue demographics. While feedback from all users is important, we need to consider business KPIs when making decisions about accessibility and design. 

Is there a big difference in tax collection between Canada and the USA?

The main difference between the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the filing process. All tax filing software must include an "AutoFill My Return" feature, allowing Canadians to log into their CRA accounts and access their income slips and bank slips.

The major benefit that tax software like ours offers is in applying for credits and applying deductions, because the government does not automatically know about items such as child care expenses or employment expenses. H&R Block’s linear workflow makes the filing process easier so we can help Canadians understand what deductions and credits they are eligible for, and assist in the application process. 

Are there any unusual ways you use Heap?

Yes! I've been using Heap to help clarify search terms. One of our major features is allowing users to search for forms or slips without needing to know their formal name. No one knows what a “remuneration statement” is, but if you say “employment income” they understand. By using Heap to track what people are typing, we can identify the most commonly searched terms and adjust our results to provide more clarity.

For example, many people search for "TFSA" but don't realize it doesn't require a government slip like a registered retirement savings fund would. So we've refined our results to inform users that it's not necessary, instead of just saying "we couldn't find anything." This reduces the need for customer support calls and saves costs. Search can be a challenging experience to get right, but by using Heap, we aim to push users in the right direction instead of them just hitting brick walls.

Heap data was crucial to negotiate with the product manager and make the software usable for these users.

- Zachary Witt, Senior User Experience Designer

Can you give an example where Heap helped you improve the product for users?

We had a problem in our pro tax software where users couldn't differentiate visually between working on the primary and the spouse's tax information. They could only tell by seeing it in the navigation. I negotiated with the product manager to go above and beyond in making the software more accessible.

My proposed feature would allow users to theme the software, so that when working on the primary or spouse's tax information, the colors would change to indicate which one they were working on. This was an improvement from the usual practice of assigning blue to the husband and pink to the wife, which is not only boring, it’s kinda sexist!

The idea was to push away from this and address issues of color accessibility and contrast, especially since we had data that showed the need for it—we had users who were legally blind or had vision loss, and the software was not accessible to them. We also had semi-retired tax pros in their ‘60s who had vision problems, as well as users with color blindness. Heap data was crucial to negotiate with the product manager and make the software usable for these users, not just blue and pink like everybody else does. We can be better by being different.

Is your main design priority revenue, or ease of use?

Negotiating for non-revenue features or improvements is a challenge. However, H&R Block has a high level of UX maturity within the company, which greatly assists in these negotiations. User research data and feedback from testing can be powerful tools to show that a proposed change makes sense and is supported by the users. Probably 50 percent of my job is putting that user research in front of someone and saying “we need to go this way right now.”

In situations where data isn't available, it’s more difficult to convince decision-makers, as they're concerned about the cost of increasing scope without a clear impact on revenue. In these cases, it's important to have evidence, like analytics data, to show how users are behaving and why the change is necessary. When you don't have that data, that's where you get into the pickle of “Okay, are you just increasing scope because you want it to look pretty?” If you can come to the table and say “Heap is showing this,” and “our user testing is proving this,” it becomes easier to negotiate for new features and improvements with our product managers. 

And that's where Heap is especially useful. After tax season, when we're able to catch up on feature work, we use the backlog of Heap and NPS data to identify areas where user engagement and satisfaction dropped. By presenting this data in a clear and concise manner, we can make a strong case for additional resources and budget. This way, we can work on improving the user experience without having to wait for someone else to get back to us, which can take a while due to VP’s having higher priorities than UX. By having this data readily available, we can advocate for our users and make meaningful changes.

It seems like NPS data is really a key driver for improvements.

Absolutely. Take the case of the new navigation redesign we’re releasing this year. It involves a significant change to the way our nav works. Prior to having actual user behavior data and NPS feedback, the project sat on the back burner for about five years. It wasn't until we presented the data, showing the struggles users faced and how the redesign would improve the product, that we got buy-in from stakeholders.

Using behavioral data to negotiate is key in these situations. We can sit at the table and show that it's great to use six months of resources for revenue-generating projects, but it doesn't mean we should neglect improving user experience, which is the whole point of NPS. Focusing solely on revenue is great for business KPIs, but user experience is going to become bloated and then resolving this UX debt becomes two years of work instead of six months. 

With a Heap dashboard, now the team can see actual user interactions and sidestep weeks of work.

- Zachary Witt, Senior User Experience Designer

What future gains do you see from using Heap?

We are currently preparing to use Heap to conduct A/B testing on our workflow and product sales pages, giving real-time data and insights to our product managers on a weekly basis. Heap’s ability to present data as a live dashboard means we don’t have to wait for end-of-season data, which can be difficult to digest, and arrives too late for some clients. The previous analytics team focused more on business and revenue metrics, and data requests would take weeks or even get lost. We only had support tickets, and even then it was a delayed process. 

With a Heap dashboard, now the team can see actual user interactions and sidestep weeks of work. We were able to identify a spot where 85% of users were getting an erroneous error message and not ignoring it. This allowed us to quickly address the issue and improve the user experience in real-time. 

With the help of Heap analytics and user testing, as well as NPS, we aim to reduce our UX debt and have a more effective negotiation process. Being able to measure and show the ROI on UX efforts results in potential cost savings of tens of thousands of dollars a month. Heap helps us make a stronger case for investment. different.

With tax season upon us, where do you stand in the navigation improvement project?

We're basically done, and I'm happy with the progress. There may be some small product changes, such as button modifications, but they're manageable. I can say confidently we are ready for tax season!


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