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Ask: T-Mobile had made a significant investment in an agent-facing customer care app, yet months after deployment adoption remained grim. Management had recently heard about Adobe’s success in re-doing our own call center’s software. We were invited to spend a few days on-site at one of their care centers to see if our special-sauce could be a fit.

Approach: After a micro-discovery that included agent interviews and pairing on customer calls, the gaps were clear—and management agreed. We were immediately hired to spend the next few months in close collaboration with their design team to help them re-steer their ship. Following that success the engagement was extended, and we were invited to create a new vision from the ground-up, of what the best possible experience for everyone involved in the customer care ecosystem could look like.  

Image on homepage: Employees at T-Mobile’s Albuquerque call center. Totally swiped from a paywall’d newspaper I hope won’t C&D my use of it. I adored the care center folks I had the pleasure of working with as research participants, but can’t publicly share those images.

Prioritize user needs; zooming-out from existing UI minutiae. A major disconnect uncovered in our pre-engagement discovery was a simple process mismatch between IT management and their new UX team. The new team’s director had never worked outside her previous domain of defense industry avionics, and T-Mobile IT’s management had never worked with a UX team before. It therefore made complete sense to us that dense research reports were the design team’s outputs, and that management had no idea how to put their value to work for users.

Collaborative workshoping as a change-agent. There was easy agreement from everyone on what our priorities with users were—but our first few days in 2-hour 30-person meetings pre-arranged by the client, didn’t get us anywhere. We figured-out from those meetings who the key decision makers and influencers were among IT management, and prepared the internal UX team to lead a workshop with those managers as a springboard towards actionable, non-politicized results.

Baby steps, together. Our first goal was to identify two functional areas of the product that UX and dev could jointly craft changes to—ideally in one sprint apiece. We needed to get T-Mobile’s dev and UX teams comfortable functioning outside their silos, and to learn how much more both had to gain from close collaboration. An early focus on user needs ahead of debating UI minutae was instrumental in that.

Feedback to inform iteration, not perfection. T-Mobile’s UX team was divided into two project teams, and each was assigned one of the two functional areas agreed to. Most of the developers were in another part of the country, so one local developer floated between the two groups. The teams hit the whiteboards to sketch ideas as solutions to user needs previously prioritized for this exercise. Once each team had a solid direction established, wireframes and testing plans were created. A little over one week later we were on-site at a care center testing our first round of paper prototypes with users.

One month and 3 iteration rounds later, validated ideas ready to implement. Cultural transformation can take time, and existing-process priority fires withheld developer availability from the build-collaboration we’d hoped for. Nonetheless each team was able to deliver a scrappy JPG/HTML prototype that users had validated as addressing important pain-points, and developers had validated as easily feasible. Management was able to experience an evidence-based solution ready for implementation, and all this in far less time than anyone had expected. Developers had clear interaction patterns and assets to build from, and T-Mobile’s UX team was squarely positioned within the IT org as owning their first big win.

Now that senior leadership better understood the issues holding-back their ability to deliver the best possible care experiences Adobe’s UX team was engaged again. This time we were tasked with developing a completely new, multi-device customer care ecosystem. Central to that undertaking was developing a single application experience for the majority of support reps to use, in place of the existing +25 piecemeal apps. T-Mobile’s internal UX team had also won a newfound trust from management, and in parallel to the larger effort Adobe UX was also tasked with advising the T-Mobile UX team’s continued work in support of the QuikView app.

… just as momentum in this much broader effort had hit a great clip, AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile put the brakes on everything. All of T-Mobile’s “IT Modernization” projects came grinding to a halt once the due diligence work began. While we all know how that ended, more often mergers succeed—and anticipating that, T-Mobile management thanked Adobe for our work and things came to an end.