merQbiz provides a modern solution to an old way of doing things–buying and selling reclaimed paper. The industry standard was to either use a broker (via telephone or email), or to phone/email your Rolodex of suppliers/mills if you needed to buy/sell. I learned a lot about how the paper industry works, how the recycling industry works, and how reclaimed paper (paper recycled either by consumers or by industries) makes its way back into paper mills.
merQbiz is an e-commerce platform that allows sellers (recycling facilities) to list their paper, and buyers (paper mills) to buy their paper. This product was incubated and launched by BCG Digital Ventures in March 2017, and backed by a large German company called Voith. Shortly after the MVP launched, BCGDV hired and built out a team dedicated to this product, from which merQbiz became its own company.
Uncovering The Problems
Since I was brought on after the experience had been built and launched, I inherited a platform full of great concepts that needed further testing and validation. I understood the history and rationale behind the decisions that drove the design of the platform, after an extensive and in-depth design handoff, but it was now my job to take it forward and improve upon it.
Though some initial ethnographic research was done, the product team and I felt that we needed to expand upon this research and truly understand who our customers were, as well as what their core problems were, and to understand if the platform was working as intended for them, or if there were things we needed to improve. We needed to talk to these customers, to visit them, to see and hear what they see and hear on a daily basis.
Understanding the Customers
We had phone interviews, met customers at their facilities, and chatted with them at conferences, gathering as much data as we could. I would distill the information into deliverables: personas, empathy maps, and customer journey maps. We really needed to understand what makes the customer tick.
The business development and marketing teams found this dossier to be extremely valuable; they'd never viewed customers as people with different needs and motivations, and up until this point, had been treating each person as the same person. After more refinement and research, the following assets were created and presented to the board.
Developing Solutions: Improved Seller Onboarding
While it's conventionally believed that Product owns retention, and loyalty, and Marketing owns acquisition and conversion, we felt that it was important to work together for the onboarding portion of this funnel. We saw very low conversion rates; many leads would sign up on the website, but there would be a drastic decrease of leads converting their accounts to a registered account, and even less would then create a listing, the ultimate indicator of onboarding success for us.
The old flow as as follows:
Seller would sign up on our website > Seller would submit their information, and then be told to wait for an assigned account manager to reach out to them > The account manager would schedule a call with them > The call is held to "sell" the sellers on the product > The seller would have lukewarm response and tentatively say, "Sure, I'll try it out." > Then the customer success team would reach out to the seller with a literal Word document form, asking for all sorts of information, including tax information, and schedule a time with the seller to have a virtual walkthrough > Then the seller would be walked through the platform with the customer success representative.
It is evident from the above that this workflow was painful, and we'd given the customer too many opportunities to drop from the funnel.
After gaining insight into how we were currently onboarding customers, and getting feedback from the sales team on what leads were saying about the onboarding process ("We thought a technology solution would mean that I could use the platform right away!"), it was obvious that we had wildly inefficient processes, most of the completely bureaucratic in nature, that was hindering leads from converting to listing sellers.
The teams were educated on the new onboarding process, including not requiring certain documents be obtained until absolutely necessary. This new process was implemented shortly after I left, and it's been reported that there was a 20% increase in converted sellers that create listings.
Developing Solutions: Improved Invoicing Process
One of the most glaring inefficiencies was the invoicing flow. There were many factors that contributed to its painful process: corporate requirements from our parent company, business development folks customizing rates with buyers and sellers, banking requirements, logistical tracking, and of course, the human nature of buyers never wanting to pay their invoices on time, among a plethora of other inconveniences.
Below illustrates the workflow that existed at merQbiz when I joined. Note: Buyers/sellers "upload" by emailing the merQbiz admin. Yes, it was like that.
Customers called on a daily basis to complain about the slow invoicing/payment processes, and customer success team was under water manually processing these invoices. We sought to alleviate the process, while allowing customers to be able to easily track their transactions against their internal records.I worked with the product owner to gather requirements from meetings with the customer success team, finance team, product team, marketing team, customers themselves, business development team, and upper management at the parent company. We were then able to determine what was and wasn't necessary, figured out with the product team which parts of the flow were unnecessary/redundant, which parts could be improved to have a tighter, more efficient experience—including actually allowing users to upload their required documents!
When the flow became finalized and when all business units were able to agree that their needs were met, I created wireframes (wireframes for the Seller invoicing flow here) and a workflow for the visual designer to use as a skeleton to implement her designs.
As of this writing, the feature is being built and will be launched in October 2018.