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Usability Testing Redesign at TIAA-CREF: Unexpected Results. presented by Deborah S. Bosley, Ph.D. Center for Plain Language Symposium November 7, 2008. Here’s how some people think… . Consider this …. Simplicity | Credibility | Advocacy. Simplicity.

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usability testing redesign at tiaa cref unexpected results

Usability Testing Redesign at TIAA-CREF: Unexpected Results

presented byDeborah S. Bosley, Ph.D.www.theplainlanguagegroup.comCenter for Plain Language SymposiumNovember 7, 2008

simplicity credibility advocacy

Consider this…

Simplicity | Credibility | Advocacy



Many customers have to understand the financial information well enough to explain it to someone else.

Readers think that the more complex written information is, the less respect they had for the writer1

33% of senior citizens miss out on benefits, services, and money because application process too difficult

1Daniel M. Oppenheimer. “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity:

Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.” Applied Cognitive Psychology. March 2006.



“Trust remains the most ‘essential’ quality for a financial services firm, outranking performance.”

70% of Americans: “I don’t know whom to trust anymore.” 1

TIAA-CREF Trust in America Survey: investor trust drops: 2005 Trust in America Index -- 10.8%; 2004 -- 13.2% 2

TIAA-CREF’s trust quotient is high: “Rollover to another company? I wouldn’t think of it.”

1 J.Lukaszewski, ed. Trust, consumer study. Golin/Harris International Chicago, February 2002

2 Insights: Lost Trust has Real Impact, Tim Lane, Vice President, TIAA-CREF Client Services



“If a company advocates for its customers, they will reciprocate with their trust, loyalty, and purchases -- either now or in the future.”1

“Customer Advocacy provides customers with open, honest, and complete information…truly representing their customers’ best interests, essentially becoming advocates for them.”1

“Advocacy strategies have been emerging in a range of industries including the financial…”1

1 Urban, Glenn R. The Emerging Era of Customer Advocacy, MITSloan Management Review, Winter 2004

minimum distribution is

Minimum Distribution is…

Fed requirement that individuals who turn 70 ½ must

receive at least a minimum amount of income from the most tax-favored retirement plans | Traditional IRAs

begin MD by April 1 of the year after the year in which the person turns 70 ½ or retires, whichever is later

Individuals may be subject to a 50% tax penalty if they do not receive required distributions by the deadlines.

why communicate

Why communicate?

Make participants aware of potential distribution requirements

Help participants receive the required amounts of income and avoid tax penalties.

Deepen and strengthen participant relationships

desired outcomes

Desired outcomes…


Simpler documents branding opportunity happier participants more competitive

For Participants

Simpler documents less confusion feel better happier participants stay with TIAA-CREF

2006 client experience

2006 Client Experience …


understood MDO letter was important

tended to contact TIAA-CREF because

confused and concerned

would call concerned that they hadn’t complied

unclear about the timeline or next steps

wanted sense of

control | comfort

with simplicity

emotional state

of anxiety – IRS


2007 approach

2007 approach…

Value Proposition

Personal, objective consultation for specific needs, free of charge, from longstanding retirement experts

Key Proof Points

Noncommissioned consultants; among first firms to offer options that automatically calculate and annually pay out required amount

Call to Action

Encourage contacting TIAA-CREF consultant via phone to address the participant’s specific situation



Tested 13 participants

Four in 65+ group

Nine in 40+ group



used a “talk aloud protocol”

encouraged to fill out forms

asked questions

videotaped interviews

took notes during interviews

noted patterns of responses

counted certain responses

areas of attention

Areas of Attention…




forms and processes


privacy and security



“I don’t understand the underlined passage.”

“Need to read it one more time. I think I understand.”

“You don’t have to take it all out? You can still be working

and get it?”

“What if you turn 70 1/2 and hadn’t done something?”

“If I don’t retire, do I have to do this?”

What must you do next after reading the letter? 3: call | 1: do nothing

What are the consequences of not responding to the letter? 4: penalties



“Lifetime retirement income? Not sure what that is.”

“Minimum Distribution Option…don’t know what that is…don’t know what the ‘option’ is.”

Do you plan to receive what the letter refers to as "lifetime retirement income?” 3: didn’t know what that meant | 1: yes

forms processes

Forms, processes…

“Wish this stuff about all these dates were in a table so it’s easier to read.”

“What lead time do you need?…three months prior to when you’ll need the income?

What, if any, follow-up communication would you expect after receiving this letter?3: a reminder | 1: nothing




called (the primary purpose) but because they were confused, not because they knew they were supposed to

understood the importance of the letter, but not necessarily what to do about it

were not clear on timeline and dates

different approach

Different approach…

Transformed message by offering guidance

and consultation

Developed simple and direct content with

minimal legal | tax language

Tested again pre-launch to fine-tune

what we learned

What we learned…

Make the point of the letter the focus of the letter

Eliminate all information that can be more easily conveyed on the telephone

Use plain language strategies

Be helpful, urgent but not threatening

what we did

What we did…

Transformed message by offering guidance and consultation

Developed simple and direct content with minimal legal | tax language

Tested again pre-launch to fine-tune

unexpected results

Unexpected results…

As a result of the revised letter

increase in number of positive calls

positive participant experience

increase in transferred assets(surprise!)

plain language adds value

Plain language adds value…

raises profile in the market-place

distinguishes you from your competitors

gains and retains customers

meets customer needs

increases profit