Sales Tax

QuickBooks Online - Intuit

Note: additional features not shown pending launch

Background

When I first joined the sales tax project it was in a poor state and after two years of little progress, it was being considered to have it winded down. The project had stalled and the designer working on the project had requested to be on a different project. This was around the time I joined Intuit and was assigned to the new team that was being put together. We rallied and kicked it into high gear to help our customers who deal with the burden of sales tax every day in their small business.

Customers had been stuck with the old experience which involved typing in sales tax rates and recording their payments in QuickBooks when they made a tax payment. Most small businesses were stuck doing this all by hand. Tracking sales tax collected, spending hours investigating tax laws (and again when they changed), printing and mailing forms, all together taking hours each month.

The sales tax project involved integrating a 3rd party tax engine (who we later acquired when the project was deemed successful) and creating a brand new end-to-end experience. From setting up, tax calculations on invoices, tracking returns that are due, and soon e-filing their returns through QuickBooks.

Team

I worked closely with my copywriter and product manager. I was the lead designer and was assisted by a visual designer periodically. I also had a lot of help from my fellow designers in peer reviews and discussions, including my global tax team.

Time Frame

The designs presented here represent my work over the past year, which was launched in December 2017.

Process

At the start of project, little customer research had been done. So I worked with the research team to set up 10 customer interviews (via video) and an additional 10 user tests (via usertesting.com). Aside from better understanding the customer and their issues with sales tax, we discovered four important things.

1. Confidence was critical - Because of the subject matter, the consequences for getting things wrong in sales tax are high. Fines, bankruptcy, and even jail time are all possibilities. This meant that users were happier with a longer setup experience than shorter one. It also meant that when certain steps (like filing) were too simple and quick, user's felt nervous and trusted our system less. (This was observed by our global designer's tests as well.)

2. Our pricing was wrong. - We have a very talented and professional pricing team that had come up with the pricing. However, during every single one of the user interviews I did, users were unanimously confused with our tiered pricing structure. In addition, when they finally figured our base price their reaction was strongly negative. This interested me. Although we had a small sample size and the research conducted by the pricing team had thousands of responses, I thought it was worth investigation. Digging into the research I found that while the initial research was sound the final conclusion on price and pricing structure was a major leap. I presented this and the clips of our customers reaction to the pricing to the pricing team and got buy in from leadership to change it.

3. Trust needs to be built - Lastly, we learned that while our new system is very powerful and useful, many customer just aren't ready to immediately quit the old way. This meant that we had to support the old system of typing in their own rate and build up trust in the new system by always showing our work and by proving our expertise.

We continued to make customer face-to-face time a priority and spoke to customers on a regular basis and tested basic usability via usertesting.com.

Challenges

Sales tax is a very difficult subject matter with over 40,000 tax laws in the United States and over 15,000 tax jurisdictions (meaning you and your next door neighbor could be required to charge different rates). Rates can change by location, time of year, price, what you're selling, where your customer lives, and more.

The other major challenge was customer misconceptions about sales tax. With the complexity of sales tax, its no wonder so many small business charge the incorrect amount of tax. This is a challenge because although it might be working for them now, they have turned to us and expect us to do it right. We had to strike the right balance between letting them do what they think is right and protecting them by showing them they are wrong. Educating users, establishing our expertise, and showing our work was critical in building trust in our calculations.

Working with an overseas team has also been a difficulty. I spent many late nights on calls with the team to work out the details and make sure the experience was the best it could possibly be. I also brought together the global sales tax team on my own initiative to grow consensus on the experiences we were creating and to help each other by sharing learnings.

The last challenge with this project has been the short timeline and the large amount of work needing done. Being the only designer on the project I had to keep track of many different flows and generate many screens while insuring the quality our customers expected. 

Success

Turning a failing project with almost no design work completed, into a launching a fully functional and solid experience for our customer in one year was a major accomplishments. It took many late nights and early mornings to make it happen. There were many more challenges than I wrote above and I am so proud of the work my and my team have been able to launch to customers.

It is still early days but the new tax experience has already been well received. We launched it at QuickBooks Connect our main event in the year. We've had gasps as well as "oohs and aahs" from small business owners and accountants when we demo-ed it to them.

We will be measuring our success by tracking setup/migration completion rates, % of customer's overriding out amount, number of care contacts, and number of users opting in to e-filing.

(Note: this section will be updated when metrics are both statistically significant and released to the public.)

Areas for Improvement

First on our list is to improve the set up experience which was completed before I joined the project. It remains the top customer care contact point for sales tax. We had learned so much about our customers and the subject matter over the course of the year that there are many ways we can help improve that part of the experience. In addition, I have worked on the migration experience in which many of the learnings from that can also be used in the improvement of setup.

The next major area of improvement is finding additional ways of building confidence in our tax engine. This means thinking even deeper and experimenting with our invoicing experience. I know we have a lot of room for improvement and I'm excited to test different approaches. 

Other areas include increasing consistency and usability in the user interface patterns. This involves working with our patterns team and taking a holistic review of our end-to-end experience to make it more cohesive.

Lastly, I am excited to explore better ways for customers to zero-in on the correct tax categories for the items they sell. There are hundreds of options and even when you know what you are looking for it can be difficult to know what you are suppose to choose. I already have started on a few concepts to solve for this and I am excited to dig in and find a solution that gives our customers 100% confidence and accuracy.