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In 2015, IBM announced an investment in companies interested in solving problems through the use of IoT solutions. In a news release, IBM stated, “Whirlpool Corporation is leveraging IBM’s IoT and predictive maintenance and quality solutions to improve the performance and reliability of its appliances.”
Role on the Team
Role: Research, UX, Visual Design (Onsite at Whirlpool)
The Connected Appliance team consisted of business analysts, data analysts, programmers, IBM product engineers, and a visual designer.
“Each week there were a set of objectives that needed to be met to so that the next set of reviewers would be capable of signing off on it. Britta lead parts of the team discussions to make sure that any conflicts were resolved, that the uncertainty of the system running were lost...”
— Project Manager and Business Partner, Michael Holton
In order for Whirlpool to benefit from their newly designed connected appliance line they needed IBM to help analyze and display the information in a support portal. The new portal became known as the Next Best Action Portal, or NBA.
IBM’s Connected Appliance team was asked to create three different interfaces that would meet the needs of the three support specialist personas.
Initial sketches were done on whiteboards, which were quickly followed by wireframes in Illustrator. The final templates were created in Photoshop and were designed so that they could change, as needed, for future use cases.
Insights and Discovery
In order to be successful it was extremely important to take time to research and interview the current call center agents. It was quickly discovered that the interface would be important for future workflows and that the agents were enthusiastic about the NBA Portal.
By using analytics and sensors, the new portal will help the support agents and technicians eliminate previous issues with uncertainty and miss guided fixes. The consumer will see positive results on the first attempt and will not need to try a slough of “possible fixes” before discovering the “one” that works.
Typical style of dashboards for Whirlpool Agents
There are three main users of the NBA tool. The "first responders" known as CXC agents or the Customer Service Center Representatives, Techline Engineers, and Field Agents. They represent the various levels of support Whirlpool provides it's consumers.
Call Center Agent
As a CXC Agent, their main goal is to “save a call” and to eliminate any need to send out a service technician or parts. The agent’s initial workflow starts with the collection of personal information. Then the agent asks for issues the consumer is experiencing. Once the agent receives enough information they begin to manually search through articles and product manuals to see if they can find the answer. It is a very tedious process that the agents described as frustrating and time consuming for both the agent and the consumer.
The NBA system will help the CXC agent quickly determine the next best action the consumer should take to fix the problem.The new workflow streamlines the process for the agent. It provides them with more information such as “success odds” that ensure the agent is choosing the action that has a high success rate. Every time an agent chooses an action they must select one of the three icons “Yes/Pending/No.” The NBA engine is always learning from the feedback it receives in order to continue to provide the most likely fix to a problem.
A Techline Technician is a specialized call center agent who is trained to troubleshoot difficult appliance problems. They are typically referred to as the support call center for Whirlpool service technicians that are on-site. Techline's are trained on all appliances.
The Techline Technician requires more information to be accessible in order to assess the underlying problem that the on-site Service Tech might not be able to see. The Techline Technician’s interface is identical to the CXC Agent, with the exception that additional modules were added to the bottom of the interface that display diagnostic features.
Through the NBA Techline Technician portal they can run a diagnostic test, which will provide a detailed chart of the machine’s functions. With all this additional information and the intelligent NBA, the Techline should be able to provide the on-site Service Tech with enough information to fix the problem.
The interface for the Service Technician requires the ability to be used on any mobile or web device. The technician works directly on the appliance at the consumer’s location.
The solution for this user group had to be simplified to the most basic and pertinent information. Most technicians are not Whirlpool employees for this reason they cannot have access to internal Whirlpool account information or diagnostic readouts.
The project ended early, so handoff was conducted over a week and half. Quick redlines were put in place and assets were exported and transferred to the developers. The ability to check the design after implementation was not an option with this project due to the change in the project plan.
“Britta showed logical analysis and problem solving skills when she worked with the business analysts. She was a key player in determining how the business requirements came to life. She worked with the business analysts one on one to help them storyboard the various scenarios and personas. She then began making visual, computer generated prototypes that could be tweaked on the spot to help the analysts see the impact on the design immediately.
Britta took people who were not completely familiar with the process of working with a designer from being unsure of how to visualize their ideas to being confident in their decisions and understanding how to convey elements to the entire team using UX terminology.” — Project Manager and Business Partner, Michael Holton
What I learned
I really enjoyed working with this very talented team. The team consisted of people from every time zone across the US and Canada and we all traveled in each week to bring the vision to fruition. This was a longer term project for me and I gained experience working with a team at the early stages of the process through to hand-off to development.
If I were...
If I were to have a chance to work on this project again I would do more extensive user-interviews at the beginning of the process and continue to request more hands on review sessions with the various members of the audience.