Good customer service includes user-centered design. For one digital team at the Department of Veterans Affairs, creating a veterans-centered experience started with one word: explore.
The ExploreVA website provides a single location for veterans and their families to research the benefits that they may be entitled to receive. Benefits include health care, education, employment, and many more services.
VA’s Megan Moloney, Director of Digital Media Engagement, and Josh Tuscher, New Media Technologist, spoke about ExploreVA and the process it took to develop this user-centered, interactive platform.
Getting Started: Providing Information to Veterans
VA’s National Outreach Office was tasked with developing an outreach campaign to educate veterans about their benefits. The digital team’s task was to provide a place to land that campaign. The first iteration was VA.gov/explore, a landing site within the VA.gov structure that launched in September 2013.
The initial site explained the 9 primary benefits areas and gave people information they needed to start the application process. Moloney called it “a front door into the world of exploring your benefits.”
A Redesign with Users in Mind: Explore 2.0
After the initial launch, the team got started on a second design. The goal of the second version was to explain benefits in a more digestible format, Tuscher said. After the second version of the site (“Explore 2.0”) launched in August 2014, ExploreVA became much more customer-friendly, he said.
Additions to the ExploreVA website between Explore 1.0 and 2.0 include:
- An intuitive design to help users easily navigate nine main benefit areas
- More content to further explain various benefit areas
- A video gallery, with 50+ videos and motion graphics that describe each benefit area as well as testimonials from veterans and their family members on their experiences with VA benefits
- A social media sharing portal—the first of its kind for VA—which enables one-click sharing of graphics, videos, and text about VA benefits on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest
- An outreach toolkit, which includes fact sheets specific to benefit areas and target audiences, digital posters, and Web advertisements
A/B testing was conducted throughout the entire process on a variety of elements: apply button placement, testimonial content, and entry/exit pages, to name a few. What the team learned by looking at the analytics, data, and A/B testing informed how the current site was designed, Moloney said.
A/B Test Example: Light Window
One element of the Explore campaign is an email outreach effort that began with the design of a light window to capture subscribers interested in receiving information about VA benefits. Through the tests illustrated below, the email address collection rate increased by 48 percent.
The Explore email list has grown to 1 million subscribers, and Moloney said it is now a powerful asset that enables VA to get information out quickly and efficiently. She also noted that engagement from the Explore email campaign far exceeds industry averages on open and click-through rates.
A/B Test Example: Content and Layout Changes
In another A/B test, the Web content and layout changes below increased application starts—visitors leaving an Explore page to begin the benefits application process—by 33 percent. To date, nearly 900,000 users have begun the benefits application process through Explore.
Going Beyond Information to an Interactive Experience: Explore 2.5
The improvements for ExploreVA continued after the launch of 2.0, with a focus on creating an interactive benefits navigator. An update was pushed to the website in September 2014, so Moloney and Tuscher called the current website “Explore 2.5.”
Additions to the website between Explore 2.0 and 2.5 include:
- A Benefits Navigator tool, which enables veterans and their family members to find out in less than 20 minutes which benefits they may be eligible for
- A digital events page launched in October 2014, which promotes the “#ExploreVA From Service to Success” digital event series, in which VA experts answer questions from veterans and family members in real-time via social media
Adapting to New Policy Changes
Recent policy changes have provided the ExploreVA team with additional information on how users interact with the website. As of March 24th, 2015, veterans and their families are required to fill out a standardized “File a Claim” form, which tells the VA that they intend to file a benefits claim. The form can be filled out electronically or through a call center.
After a section was added to the ExploreVA website about filing the claims, “File a Claim” was trending in the top 20 sites on the public analytics dashboard. The site statistics also tell a compelling story on how VA reaches their audience.
“The ‘File a Claim’ pages received nearly 300,000 visits from March 18 to March 27, 99% of which came from the robust email effort to promote this change in the filing process,” Moloney said. “The campaign used the Explore email list, coupled with other VA lists, to blast more than 2 million recipients through a series of email sends that were designed to heighten subscribers’ awareness of this important update.”
Moloney said the email campaign accounted for more than 80% of ExploreVA traffic during that timeframe and reinforced the power of email as an effective, scalable communications tool for VA.
According to VA’s analytics, email visitors converted at a 31% rate on the “File a Claim” pages (which were designed in keeping with the look and feel of the Explore site), slightly higher than the conversions off Explore benefit pages—28% to 30% for email and search traffic and 20% to 25% for general traffic.
A responsive design enhancement for ExploreVA will be rolled out in the next few weeks. Tuscher called ExploreVA a “litmus test” for where the VA may be able to go with future projects. He also recently led a redesign of the official VA blog, VAntage Point. The redesign was launched in early March, and Moloney said they’ve seen huge growth, in terms of site visitors and click throughs from social media.The technology profile for ExploreVA is available on BuiltWith.