Sweating the small stuff

Details matter. Tech glitches, so called “Fat Finger Mistakes,” and other user interface details may be more important to retirement plan enrollees than if those same details and glitches occurred on any other tech interaction your employees had.

Details matter in technology.  As a person perceives the stakes to rise on whichever technology they are currently using their attention to those details will also rise. Take, for example, the tale of the MQ-8B, an unmanned helicopter with various special options created for use by the U.S. military which now holds the unfortunate claim to fame of having a self-destruct sequence that can be initiated by first hitting the space bar too many times.  People were more concerned about this glitch than if it happened on something that wasn’t a flying robot capable of catching on fire. This relationship is why tech glitches, so called “Fat Finger Mistakes,” and other user interface details may be more important to retirement plan enrollees than if those same details and glitches occurred on any other tech interaction your employees had.


As a plan sponsor you most likely can control important elements on the administrative side of retirement plan enrollment including, for example, ensuring that the employee’s name is correct, that their eligibility for enrollment is accurate and that when the date for enrollment opens for those employees, they are actually given access to the plan.  Mistakes involving those details usually involve humans and careful attention to systems and business processes can help employees feel that those aspects of enrollment will work.


On the technology side of enrollment, employees may be less sure.  The interaction between device users (computers, phones or any other system that involves software) is called user interface (UI).   Most companies now use web applications, rather than standard software to be loaded onto a computer, to access databases and software. The priority in figuring out the best user interface for software focuses on the web interface and on making that as easy as possible.  Easy, though, doesn’t mean error free. 


One of the most ubiquitous examples of poor user interface in the financial field is the ATM. Users have to move between inputting data or making choices on both touchscreens and side panels, their cards may be returned or retained inconsistently between systems, and often adding more than one request to an interaction can send a user straight back to the beginning of logging back into the system. ATMs are theoretically easy to use, but not always user-friendly.


UI experts have made lists of recommendations for to new application developers. An audit of your current retirement system software or database based on those recommendations could help spot errors, flaws and details that might be keeping your employees away. Key recommendations include the following.


Make sure the terminology on the software system makes sense to your average employee. Many tech designers will differentiate database fields in a manner that is easiest for the designer to spot, but might not be easiest for your employees to use. This also includes avoiding error messages that send horror into the hearts of the end users with warnings about crashes and fatalities.  Experts also suggest being clear on when the error is a server or database one versus one that involves input from the user. Amazon has even gotten clever about this and started replacing server error messages (errors caused by Amazon) with pictures of Amazon employees’ cute pups.  


Make the onboarding instructions clear from the start. Some applications and software are so limiting in their choices for onboarding that the end user feels they are too complex.  Experts say that reducing the number of options for end users in setting up a software on demand program can make the end user feel more frustrated by too few options if those options aren’t clearly explained.  Instead, they urge designers to find a mix of help tools and clear options.


Ensure that the pages users see are visually easy to process. That may mean headlines or larger words for categories. It may also mean avoiding pages that are only text or too text heavy. However, too many graphics or too bulky of a graphic can effect loading speeds for users on some computers. A simple but eye catching visual and pages with clear headlines may be a good balance.


Finally, nearly every expert agrees that online forms that have to be populated by the user must retain the user’s input if there is an error. Horror stories of users spending an hour to fill out forms and fill in the blanks that were wiped clean when the user neglected to type in their social security number properly abound.  Clearly, this is a universal pet peeve, and one that should be relatively easy to spot-check.

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