SpringFour provides consumers in need with referrals to financial products and resources in their area. Top mortgage servicers, banks, and nonprofit financial counseling agencies subscribe to SpringFour’s services. Through its suite of products, bank agents and counselors are able to help improve their customers’ financial security and replace loan default.

SpringFour connected with Designation to redesign their marketing website. After a previous team of UI designers completed the interface, we partnered with SpringFour to help with the user experience for their desktop product, S4Desktop.
Over the past decade SpringFour has provided resources to consumers through thousands of referrals. The tool was intended to be as intuitive as possible so that agents with little training and knowledge of social services could use it. Counselors and agents could search for resources by zip code, review them in their resource summary, and ultimately share out the information through a variety of delivery methods.
When speaking with a customer, agents and counselors could search by zip code to locate and refer services.
Without a significant update to the product in years, SpringFour felt it was time to enhance the user experience for both its existing customers and desired users in the financial services and fintech space. Though the need for change was clear, they didn’t know where to begin. SpringFour didn’t receive any regular complaints and were unable to consistently communicate with their user base.

The product was all about accessibility but users (agents and counselors) were extremely difficult to access due to high security environments and the protected nature of customers’ personal information. Often users couldn’t share visuals of the pain points they were describing and instead gave vague responses. It became clear how users could appear to not have any complaints.

Though the need for change was clear, SpringFour had limited access to its users and didn’t receive any regular complaints.

SpringFour’s internal team had several assumptions that required further testing:
  • The crowded categories menu made it difficult for users to choose resources.
  • Counselors wanted to save their favorite resources.
It was clear that the site needed to adapt to the behaviors of its users as its demands had grown. To live up to its original vision, several steps needed to be taken towards a more guided, streamlined experience.
SpringFour’s ultimate ask was to identify areas for improvement and opportunities for innovation. They needed a solid product road map supported by research and user interviews that served as a launching pad for implementation over the next year.

We would also need to address two unique challenges. Agents and counselors worked in extremely secure environments. We would need innovative workarounds to design for users we had limited access to. We would also need to find solutions that served users’ needs while incentivizing stakeholders. SpringFour customers and users were two distinct groups. Solutions would only be considered successful if they satisfied both parties.
First we needed a deeper understanding of the differences between agents and counselors. This meant observing each group’s workflow for S4Desktop as well as their frustrations and pain points within the platform.
SpringFour’s two user groups: counselors and agents
To better understand behaviors we talked to five users, two potential users, and two SMEs, a healthy mix of counselors and agents. Through our conversations it became clear that while counselors and agents had the same goals, their behaviors and motivations were very different.
While counselors and agents had the same goals, their behaviors and motivations were very different.
In our client presentation we proved our value by revealing new insights and validating existing ones. Users’ calls were full of redundant activities, slow load times, and duplicative information in multiple categories. They mentioned how awkward it was trying to walk customers through long lists of resources without any organization.

The level of detail we provided about each groups’ behaviors was the ultimate differentiator. After experiencing the site through its users’ eyes we discovered the areas where we could make the largest impact. When every minute counted, content needed to be more focused and adaptable, with all unnecessary steps eliminated.

Users’ calls were full of redundant activities, slow load times, and duplicative information in multiple categories.

Though both groups required streamlining, the agents’ needs were more pressing. Because of their extremely limited time and budget, they needed a tool that connected them to resources as efficiently as possible. As the rapidly growing user group they also made sense as our main focus. Solving for agents would not only benefit the counselors who had more time and attention to give but also satisfy the bottom line for decision makers. Through these new insights we arrived at a more clearly defined problem.
All agents need a seamless way to compile relevant resources that maximize the benefits to their clients in a way that is quick, efficient and folds organically into their call flow.

We thought agents needed a more tangible way to feel their impact, but we were wrong. They wanted ways to help them get through their large volume of calls quickly and intentionally.
Design Principles
To design for a product that was simple and easy to navigate we created a guide that would be the same for the client. We developed three areas to check against so that every element in our designs related directly back to the problem.
Streamlined focused on the relationships between categories and subcategories while all-in-one focused more on creating a hub and homebase. Built for flexibility meant information needed to complement the existing company workflows it would be applied to. Through defining the problem statement and design principles we were able to focus on who we were designing for and have a clearer vision of what we wanted from the outcome.
Once we reframed our approach, we also narrowed in on what we wanted to learn.
We wanted to find out:
There were currently 30 different categories with no hierarchy or quick scannable explanation to help agents guide their customers. Their solve was to create their own workaround or either forward the caller all 30 resources without any direction. Resources needed to be grouped into higher level categories, with quick explanations and options to make agents’ calls as easy as possible.
With over 30 categories and no context, agents had no way of navigating SpringFour’s growing list of resources.
We wanted to get a sense of how users preferred their information delivered to them and explored options with varying degrees of change. We sketched out countless directions, ultimately landing on 3 different concepts: a horizontal navigation, a step-by-step progression through a series of screens, and a single view 3 column grid using sequential progressive disclosure.
Concept 1: Step-by-step
The step-by-step option presented users with a more focused and visual experience. It contained a series of screens, allowing users to focus on each step of the process.
Concept 2: Single view
The single view concept represented the other end of the spectrum, allowing users to view everything at once without ever leaving the main screen.
Concept 3:Horizontal navigation
Inspired by SpringFour’s main competitor, Aunt Bertha, this concept flipped the site’s current orientation. We needed to understand if the current navigation system truly was the best option or whether users had simply gotten used to it.
When we tested with our users, a mix of counselors and agents, they had the following feedback:
  • There was a clear need for a stronger connection between categories and subcategories.
  • They wanted to avoid multiple screen views and steps. They also wanted to keep everything in one spot, with the ability to view the results and summary at once.
  • They wanted flexibility, with the ability to preview, edit, and rearrange resources up until the moment of sending.
Ultimately we found from our testing that we didn’t need to shake things up as much as we thought, but there were clear opportunities for improvements to the overall experience.
  • Priority categories varied with every call.
  • There were opportunities for smarter relationships between resources. For example, though a customer hadn’t qualified for a housing solution, they might fit the requirements for food stamps. We needed to clearly help agents identify how they related to one another.
  • There was a need for sensitivity with how specific categories were grouped, especially around mental health. Counselors especially acknowledged how isolating it could be for a caller to point out a category like suicide when the main intention was taking care of overall mental health.
  • To avoid a new learning curve, the website needed to change gradually from the existing state. Though they acknowledged the platform’s shortcomings, users weren’t clamoring for drastic changes; in fact, it made some anxious to have too big a shift too fast.
These insights led us to three key takeaways:
To help us uncover these insights we needed to test some key tasks. For the resource categories, this meant understanding how testers searched for resources in a specific zip code. We needed to understand how testers viewed their referral summary and how they chose their preferred information delivery method. We also wanted to gain as much insight as possible into how users grouped the different categories.
We redesigned the two core screens of S4Desktop: the categories page and the referral summary page. Eliminating the steps involved in connecting the two would help users make informed decisions more efficiently.

Through our convergence we identified several areas of focus for our final prototype. I led the team in ensuring that we addressed the following areas:
We allowed users to easily access frequent actions.
We created a “Most Referred” and “Refer all” section. We also created solutions that addressed the needs of agents through the “Select all” or “Top 3” referral options, but still allowed flexibility for counselors that required more details.
We made it easy to quickly share information in different formats.
We grouped all three delivery methods together, placing Send, Copy All, and Print prominently at the top of the referral summary. We created hierarchy to call out the preferred agent option and eliminated the number of clicks it took to send an email.
We made information appear in a natural and logical order.
We reduced memory load by grouping together categories and subcategories based on insights from interviews and card sorting exercises.
Through our partnership with SpringFour we uncovered many insights and key takeaways from our weeks of research and testing. I led in creating a road map to translate these takeaways into actionable next steps for the SpringFour team. We experienced first-hand how agents, the main user group, valued efficiency and were risk-averse, demonstrating the need for a carefully crafted approach that included incremental changes to existing task flows and gradual feature rollouts to the platform.

Risk-averse agents needed a carefully crafted approach that included incremental changes to existing task flows and gradual feature rollouts to the platform.

Over time this combination of streamlined categories, intuitive interactions, and data-driven tracking for referrals would vastly improve SpringFour’s user experience and give the product a strong competitive edge. We organized these next steps into near-term and long-term goals, with call-outs for key audiences and areas of further exploration.