City Water Technology
2 UX Designers
The Business Problem
Gaining new leads within the competitive water treatment consulting industry.
City Water technology (CWT), a family-run water treatment consultancy, came to us with the belief that UX could help them find and retain business leads. The managing director, Bruce Murray, had been responsible for building ongoing client relationships from before the digital era, but with plans to take a step back into semi-retirement, this strategy was no longer tenable. At the same time, CWT was losing out to tender bids from bigger companies and not getting enough reference work in certain geographical locations to gain inter-state credibility. I connected with the team’s family-charm that was clearly a big factor in their success, and was excited to discover what drives the industry how learning more might uncover a new business strategy.
Is the problem really within digital?
We knew that CWT’s lead-generating challenge could be a symptom with an array of causes, so our kick-off meeting focused on questioning an array of business practices before we considered the impact of addressing their website. We asked Bruce and Audrey, about their client engagement processes, tender bids, business strategies and CRM usage. Although there were clearly some areas for improvement, it appeared that they had only considered their online presence to the extent of assigning it to staff-member to do in their spare time, and as such were missing any real digital strategy.
Pragmatically targeting the low-hanging fruit
We generated a roadmap to cover the two-and-a-half weeks which focused on discovery. We would have been happy to present them with synthesized research in the form of deliverables such as competitive analysis, insights, personas and demographics, but wanted to leave the small company with something they could take away and implement for the sake of quick-wins.
Not putting the best foot forward
Doing an evaluation of their home-grown website was our starting point; we wanted to see what story their website told without pre-conceptions. We logged a website with a T-shaped information architecture whereby the primary information was hidden 3 levels deep. There was extensive usage of industry jargon, an absence of calls-to-action and it was hard for both of us, as laymen, to determine their story or value proposition. Interestingly, their services contained an array of under construction pages and was 36 items long despite their tagline: ‘water treatment specialists.’ We made some suggestions and set them aside for later:
- Make the CWT home-page clearly state what the company offers and answer users key questions so they aren’t frustrated and leave immediately
- Re-consider which services CWT should prioritize in line with their competencies and business goals
- Upgrade case studies in a digestible & modern format to better reflect CWT’s long-standing reputation.
- Change content structure and re-write copy in plain language, going as far as developing content guidelines
- Re-jig information architecture to be flatter
- Generate a consistent visual look and feel and make design responsive
Attributes of a succesful water treatment consultancy
A competitive analysis helped us locate patterns, industry standards and value differentiators for key players in the surrounding market. There were a few core pages that CWT had not addressed which were present in all of their competitors websites, including case studies and news/blogs. The presentation of past projects was also a major point-of-difference, something that their primary competitor did very well. Lastly, we learned that a few competitors had client portals to manage projects and keep businesses updated on their work.
Stakeholder & Client Interviews
Getting to the insights that drove ideation
Michelle and I hosted two interviews with key stakeholders, at the CWT office, after developing interview guides that targeted the business, industry, company structure, services, projects, clients & key goals.
City Water Technology is a specialized consultancy whose website does not reflect their extensive project and service history. With the Managing Director taking a step back, consultants will have to fill his shoes as representatives of the company.
We asked CWT to put us into contact with some of their past and present clients for interviews, which we performed over-the-phone due to large travel distances. We sought to understand why their relationship with CWT was so positive and where it fell short, how client interactions with the engineers played out, CWT's process and deliverables, and finally, how they make their business decisions when in need of consultants.
In the small water industry, it’s about name and face reputation; in the case of unknown’s, potential client’s have to quickly & credibly judge the match between their current (usually urgent) need and a company’s capability.
Features & Implications
Client insight: Potential clients use websites to judge and make decisions that mitigate personal, organizational and community risk, particularly when a company is unknown to them. The bidding and quoting process is costly and time-consuming; when allowed, users are looking for a reason not to seek multiple quotes.
Prioritize website for sprint, emphasize core projects, services & what it would be like to work with CWT.
Business insight: Although Bruce’s relationships drive 90% of business, he is planning on stepping back and placing more emphasis on engineers for relationship management.
Business insight: They get a lot of work from companies needing to meet standards because Bruce contributes to publications and thought leadership e.g. the Good Practice Guide.
Client insight: The water industry is a small name and face driven industry; client’s need to be able to identify and understand the people they will be working with as well as their experience, process & reputation.
Client insight: Companies in this area tend to have their own sources for reputable information which helps them stay up-to-date, however thought leadership and contributions in the form of conversations, whiteboard sessions, workshops and papers is seen as invaluable and noteworthy in the water community.
Engineer & Staff Profiles
Out-link to blog where all staff can build their thought leadership (Medium/LinkedIn)
Business insight: Reputation & history of brand is not reflected in the website e.g. high credibility projects like the Sydney desalinization plant.
Client insight: Potential client’s need to quickly determine credible project experience of an unknown company.
Client insight: Potential clients are looking to satisfy a current and specific need; when browsing a website, they have to be able to quickly identify that a company has capabilities, expertise, reference projects and key people who can fulfill that specific need.
Business insight: CWT are willing to meet and give information to anyone who comes in; conversations, presentations and hosting workshops lead to business.
Client insight: Business is often conducted via networking & recommendations. These are supported by free advice, honorable sharing of business & solid communication
Client insight: Favours transparency, honesty, sharing of business, being personable and having clear written and verbal communication skills set CWT apart.
“I will tap Bruce’s mind from time to time.”
Client Engagement Process Overview
Business insight: CWT have a progressive culture; flat hierarchically & try to empower staff (winner of gender diversity award & young engineer of the year)
Promote Values, Culture, Awards & People
Business insight: The ideal situation is hands-on on-site work, blending in with the client.
Client insight: Following on from engagement, they need an understanding of process next-steps
Tailor Calls-to-Action & weave into process
Hypothesis: We believe that re-designing the website for quick determination of past projects, engineer reputation and CWT niche expertise, within the context of client needs, will minimize unfamiliar client’s perception of risk and reduce the need to seek multiple quotes to qualify consultancies.
Using stakeholder workshops & impact-effort matrices to determine MVP
We used two methods to determine a vision to minimum viable product; first, we mapped our ideas and implications from research on an impact-effort matrix and finally created low-fidelity mockups of modules in Balsamiq for a prioritization & feedback session with our point-of-contact for the project.
Information Architecture & Modular Components
An integrated and self-referential content strategy
Due to time constraints we ran an open card sort based on the ranked features internally, though it would have been ideal to conduct this with stakeholders and industry clients. During this process I noticed an opportunity for content to be integrated across modules throughout the website, such that projects, skills & people could be linked and referenced on their requisite pages. This would better enable CWT to promote the names & faces of their staff, show off reference projects and highlight their specialized skills in an interconnected way.
We suggested a tagging system with 3 categories, but had to consider issues that may arise:
- What if an engineer leaves CWT? Either remove/hide their tag or de-emphasize them by greying them out/changing their status.
- What if no currently employed engineers worked on a project? Engineers with overlapping skills could be shown in that place – but this distinction would need to be clear to users.
- What if a service or skill no longer has a competent engineer? Either set skill levels (competent / master) or determine if it’s a current strength or area you want to expand in and train or hire.
Giving the high-impact features form
With a total sprint duration of 2.5 weeks, we were able to perform primary and secondary research, ideate an array of concepts, whittle them down to most impactful and achievable and then present a medium-fidelity solution with detailed documentation and justification. At a high-level, our solution represents:
- A shift from quantity to quality in representing services & case studies
- Taggable modules that reference and support one another, importantly building the profiles of the engineers who will form the relationships that make business happen.
- A way for potential clients to quickly evaluate if CWT can meet their current, and often urgent, need.
Service Need-Finding Tool: Groups services under straightforward industry, outcomes-based, categories (Risk Mitigation, Optimisation, Process Design, Innovative Practices), giving user a broad view of CWT’s capabilities while highlighting those related to their need. These are tied to summaries and calls-to-action.
Case Study Timeline: Showcases CWT’s extensive project experience and ties into the need-finding module to reflect the services being sought by the user. It would cross-reference content from other modules and display notable engagements, successful outcomes, skill expertise and involved engineers.
Expertise & Approach: Provides a concise, branded summary of the company, breaks down CWT’s water treatment expertise into three key pillars (process engineering, optimisation assessments, management systems) and gives users an idea of their client engagement approach. It’s an opportunity to focus on areas of competence as well as promote services CWT might want to branch into.
Our Experts: Builds the profiles of engineers and other staff in the organisation, empowering them as experts who are accessible to manage their client relationships and projects. It also acts as a base to link individuals to skills, case studies, research and contact information.
Book-a-Workshop Module: A dedicated module that enables users to book workshop meetings with CWT engineers. This idea is dependant on CWT formalising workshop format & content (whiteboarding or lunch-and-learn’s).
Impact Visualisation Module: Aggregates stats and visualises the impact of projects. E.g. work on Orange City Council plant = CWT helped X houses receive clean water. This infographic module is dependant on CWT’s ability to consolidate key data.
Location-Specific module: Use geo-targeting to showcase state-based news & engagements, such as research papers or projects, to clients across different markets. This idea is dependant on CWT having enough state-relevant content (beyond the eastern seaboard).
Testimonials: Seek positive reference quotes from clients to act as validations for the user need to mitigate risk and “look good.”
Handing it over
Providing direction, next steps & a phased implementation plan
Understanding that our client didn’t have a strong grasp of next steps, we laid out an implementation plan which covered development, content and provided some research-based visual design options that they could take forward themselves or with a developer.
Visual Design DNA
A survey to define visual design direction
We surveyed clients & the CWT team for their subjective emotional response to neutral bipolar descriptors (such as warm / cool) when “considering the look and feel (they) would like to experience when learning about a water treatment consultancy for the first time.” This helped us create a visual design DNA and 3 moodboard options that could influence their visual style.
Some additional suggestions
Sharing some things we noticed along the way
- Client Engagement: Consider the investigation into better utilisation of CRM ‘Clarizen.’ Consider formal client engagement processes or training for engineers, so consultants can more effectively manage relationships.
- Tenders: Leverage re-structured content from website redesign and use as formatted company content in tenders where applicable. Consider tender writing training.
- LinkedIn: Re-publish (or share) research and thought-leadership content on LinkedIn (instead of Facebook). Leverage re-structured content from website redesign and use on company page (e.g. ‘Our Expertise’ content).
- Search Engine Optimisation: Consider consulting a specialist on SEO for better discoverability: industry keywords, cross-links & references.
View our documentation
This project was a great foray into UX client work; I felt we really added value, to an area CWT was a bit lost in, and were able to identify some digital pathways that could affect their bottom line. The managing director, Bruce Murray, closed our stakeholder interview by saying how refreshing it felt to be thinking strategically again, and at the end of the handover presentation our point of contact, Audrey Knickerbocker, thanked us and said ‘let’s do it.’ Both were willing to continue working with Michelle and I, but other commitments prevented that occurring. This feedback was really motivating for me and reminded me that the focus for my career is likely going to be on innovation areas in an agency setting or as a freelancer, where I can make a relatively big impact in a short time.
I also took away a few key lessons that I will carry forward. We benefitted from setting client expectations up front, doing documentation alongside our work and working to each other’s strengths. Michelle taught me a lot about client relationship management & building a presentation deck, and I lead some of the investigative questioning. Both of us were aligned on our interpretation of the research and bounced really well off each other throughout the ideation & design phases. It was genuinely fun & intellectually stimulating working with her.
Update: Since working on this design project, CWT have launched their new website which illustrates the themes of our idea, but in a more technically achievable way. Check it out.