11 Feb 2019

How we design our internal product

We like sharing how we create things at Monzo. Partly because we’re proud of how we do things, but mainly because we hope that it’s useful for other people.

Over the last few years we’ve shared a lot about how we make our customer facing app, but not so much about our internal product. In this post we’ll explain how we design the tooling that lives behind the scenes.

What internal product?

“What internal product?”, we hear you say. It’s true that even within Monzo awareness of our internal product is sometimes slim. Most engineers and designers at Monzo work on the mobile apps that our customers use every day. But almost from the beginning, we also invested in an internal product squad to build tooling to help our customer operations team (or, as we prefer, “COps” 👮‍♀) provide fast and delightful customer support.

Why design matters for internal products

Internal products seem to suffer from neglect in general, and design in particular. Many companies don’t invest in internal product teams and staff use outdated internal tools, or a tangle of internal and external tools that are poorly integrated. This is partly because companies need to prioritise, and often focus on the external, customer-facing product. But for some companies it also appears to be a view that product or user experience (“UX”) design doesn’t matter for internal products. It’s perhaps easy to fall into the trap of thinking that when people are paid to use a product it doesn’t need to be easy or pleasurable to use.

But that misses the point of UX and why it’s so important. Visual design and other ways of making the product ‘delightful’ are important (research has shown that visual design enhances trust and perceived usability) but secondary for most products. UX is primarily focused on the function of a product (how it works), rather than it’s form (how it looks). Designers work to ensure that products are easy to learn and use, efficient to perform tasks, accessible, and that users can recover from errors.

All of these elements are just as essential for an internal product as an external product. Staff can’t (as easily) “vote with their feet” and walk away if an experience is poor. But every second they waste trying to find the right information or perform an action because of poor usability, is money the business loses. We need to make internal products better because staff are paid to use them. An easy to use product also makes it easier to onboard new staff. Which means they’re productive faster, and companies need to invest less time, money and effort in training and mentoring.

Not only that, poorly designed internal products can frustrate staff and make them feel their work isn’t valuable to the business. We also believe that good design, that supports staff to do their best work, can play a part in increasing happiness and morale. Many studies have shown that a happy workforce is more productive. So it’s a win-win situation 😉

How we help our COps help you

The internal product squad (12 engineers, 2 product managers and 1 designer) works primarily on designing and building tools that help COps chat with customers, find information, and perform all the actions that traditional banks might do at their branches. For example, changing your account details or investigating a disputed transaction.

For us, it was always clear why investment in the internal product was vital. Outstanding customer service is at the heart of our business and crucial for our mission of making money work for everyone. COps have a rewarding but challenging job, and the team work 24/7, 365 days a year from Cardiff, Las Vegas, London and remotely. It’s a tough job as our product is constantly evolving, and our customer base is rapidly increasing in numbers and diversity.

We also have big ambitions. Our long-term goal is to support 100,000 customers per COp, which is a lot! Part of this is because we expect our product to be working so well that most of our customers shouldn’t have to contact us for help. We also empower our customers to do a lot of things that other banks don’t — like changing your address or ordering a new card.

Designing and building internal tools that help COps do their best work at speed will help us achieve our goal. Our aim is to design and build tools that will be intuitive and easy to use. Offer up training when needed for continual learning and development. And provide the right information and intelligent solutions at the right time. We talk about using the product to help COps “perform at the speed of thought” ⚡

Why designing our internal product is so rewarding

When I was first told I would be working on the internal product for a moment I wasn’t sure. I was the first designer that would be dedicated full time to the internal product squad, and I had expected to work on the mobile apps which I knew and loved.

But I soon realised that working on the internal product meant I could learn fast, and have a huge impact. Working in the internal product squad is almost like being in a startup within Monzo. It’s a huge and complex product, with a diverse range of users, not just those directly handling customer queries, but also complaints and investigations, as well as slowly the rest of the company.

It’s also incredible to work so close to your users. As a designer, it can be difficult to arrange for research and testing with your users and recreate natural conditions. We work right next to COps, join them weekly to help with customer support, as well as doing lots of shadowing and testing new ideas alongside them. Our COps are also first rate people hired for their intelligence and empathy so it’s amazing to work closely with them 💙

Our main challenge is prioritisation — there’s just so much that we could do to help COps and customers. As a designer, it’s also challenging to work with such a large team of engineers who are incredibly hardworking and fast! We set up daily “design breakfasts” so that we could get more involved in lots of smaller projects that may not be my priority, and we’re planning on expanding the design team.

We have some way to go, but the work we’ve already done shows how much we care about providing game changing customer service, as well as a workplace (and product) that COps are proud to call their own.

Come and join the team

Sound like something you’d love to be a part of? Well, we’re hiring! We’re looking for people to join the design team (including the internal product squad). Take a look at our careers page.

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