Kara Kelly heads up the rapidly-growing product design team at CallRail. Today we’ll talk about how CallRail uses human-centered design and customer feedback to take a simple idea and turn it into one of Atlanta’s most rapidly growing and profitable startups.

Before falling in love with UX Design, Kara held a series of odd jobs: from translating for a Korean acupuncturist in rural Nicaragua to guiding tours at a museum of paper-making. Kara loves creative problem-solving, costume parties, eccentric interiors & karaoke-ing terrible 90s songs.

Follow Kara on Twitter


Episode Transcript

J Cornelius: Staying focused on customers' needs is the most powerful way to achieve business goals. Today, we'll talk about how CallRail uses human-centered design and customer feedback to take a simple idea and turn it into one of Atlanta's most rapidly growing and profitable startups.

Intro: This is Design Driven, the podcast about using design thinking to build great products and lasting companies. Whether you're running a startup or trying something new inside a Fortune 1000, tech tools, methods, and insights we talk about will help you create things people love. Now your host, J Cornelius.

J: Welcome back everybody. We are excited to have Kara Kelly. She is the UX lead at CallRail with us today. If you don't know much about CallRail, they are a rapidly growing and very admirable company based right here in Atlanta. Kara, how are you today?

Kara Kelly: Doing great. How about you?

J: Fantastic. It's actually a little bit sunny, so no complaints on my side.

Kara: Absolutely. The weather's been awesome in Atlanta.

J: It has really recently, yeah. I'm looking forward to a little bit warmer weather, but I can deal with this.

Kara: Absolutely.

J: Tell us a little bit about CallRail and what you're doing there, what kind of problems you're solving, how you're going about it, and how you got there.

Kara: Sure. I've been at CallRail for two years. I was the first designer on a team. We do call tracking for data-driven marketers. Basically it's a software that you can track where your calls are coming from and we give you the call analytics on each of your campaigns. Instead of having one number that all of your phone calls are coming in and having to ask people where did you hear about us, we do smart things like cookie people, can show you what pages they landed on, what keywords they used to get to your website, or if they came in through a different channel, like a billboard. I lead up the UX team at CallRail and we do all the designs for the software.

J: Very nice. Marketers could put a different phone number on different channels and they can use that as a way to figure out where people came from and what might be the most effective?

Kara: Exactly. Then once you get to the web, it gets even more advanced, and we just put some JavaScript on your website and can track individual people as they navigate through the site.

J: Very nice. What led you to CallRail? Tell us a little bit about your background.

Kara: Sure. Actually, before Call Rail, I worked at a startup that got acquired by Vonage and became the business department of Vonage. I have been in telecom before this, and then just heard about CallRail through some of our customers. We were actually doing some customer spotlights and one of our customers was talking about how they used call tracking to track their marketing campaigns. I saw that there was a really cool company that did that in Atlanta. I was very interested in joining that team and it's worked out. It's been a fun ride. In the last two years we've grown so much and it's been an awesome experience.

J: Yeah, it's been fun. I've had several conversations with Andy, your CEO, over the years, and it's been really fun to watch the company evolve and grow. On the UX team there, what's your day to day like? What kind of problems are you solving? How are you listening to customers? How do you decide which problems you're going to solve? Walk us through that.

Kara: Sure. At CallRail, day to day differs by the day. We started out with our design team being a little bit more isolated from the dev team and having that phase be something that we all collaborated on. Then we passed it onto the development team to get it done. Recently, probably in the last year or so, we switched over to cross-functional teams. Each team will have a project that they're working on and a designer on each team, and that designer will work with the PO to develop it and fully flesh it out. Make it look good, make sure that we're keeping the users in mind, that we're getting feedback from them, then hand it off to people on their teams so they're collaborating more with the devs. It's been a wonderful process. I think that it's a great improvement for us to really disperse the design between the development team because it gets everyone thinking in that way.

J: Yeah, right.

Kara: It gets everyone considering the customer and making sure that we're staying synced up between design and the development team.

J: Yeah, nice.

Kara: Day to day, it depends on the project, but for the most part, each designer's working on a specific part of the app that has either been requested by a customer or been found out by one of the teams that was passionate about getting an enhancement to the product. A lot of feature requests is what we do from day to day.

J: How are you prioritizing which request you're going to work on or figuring out what's going to be the most important or have the biggest impact on the company or on the customer's usability of the product?

Kara: Yeah. That has been a process as well. We're growing rapidly and I think we're getting to have better and better UX processes. We're actually about to start looking for our first UX researcher, so that'll help a lot with the prioritization to be able to know statistics on who would use a certain feature. At the moment, really we ask our customers regularly what they're looking for and we have success agents that are constantly talking to their clients. We get feature requests from all parts of the company, which I think is pretty neat. Even from the beginning when I started, 19 people, we would all get into a room and say what we heard the customers say, what we've seen online on reviews that we could do better, and come up with common themes and basically prioritize that way. It's always been pretty close to the customer and I think that this UX researcher will put it over the edge with having actual quantitative data driving all of the decisions.

J: Yeah, that'll help because you've got numbers to back up your assumptions, right?

Kara: Right. At this point, it's been more so just what customers have requested, what we've heard a lot of times, what Andy's vision for the product has been. Yeah, I'm excited to get more and more into the common practices of UX research.

J: Yeah. When you're prototyping things, are you sharing those prototypes with customers or is that internal? Can you talk through your prototyping process a little bit?

Kara: Yes. A lot of the time it's internal with the people that are talking to the customers, but more and more so we've been getting into actually showing the customers our product. We've started doing customer advisory summits in Atlanta, and having our customers from all over the US fly in and basically just walk through a day and show them things. We had some user testing that was really great. Some good conversations came out of that. More and more so I think everyone's getting on board and seeing the benefits of doing the UX processes that are out there and have been gaining steam I guess. It's been good.

J: Once you have built out a feature, do you go back and measure the impact of that feature? If so, how are you doing that?

Kara: Yes, more and more so. We have actually set up a program where the product owners will come up with metrics for each of our projects that we can follow up with, and we will tag different buttons or different links that the user we're hoping that they click. Then we'll track them in FullStory, which has been a great tool for us. They're actually a local company in Atlanta as well and-

J: Yeah, FullStory's great.

Kara: Yeah. They've been wonderful for our business to be able to watch people interact with the new features and see if they are able to achieve their goals in the ways that we're hoping that they will.

J: Yeah, and it's nice to hear you think about things in terms of users achieving their goals and accomplishing their tasks because that's the crux of human-centered design or user-centered design. What kind of tasks are common and how do you rate the importance of those tasks or what kind of tools are you using to think through that? Can you shed some light on how you're approaching that stuff?

Kara: Yeah. I think to answer your question, we really want our customers to have the best concept of how their campaigns are performing, and to give them the best insight into how they can change their budget if they need to, to get more leads. That insight is pretty invaluable and everything that we are tracking is to try to make sure that they are achieving those goals. I think with FullStory, it's important for us to see that they know what is going on, that they're able to deduce valuable insight from our reports and from our analytics. Just able to accomplish the tasks that we have for them because call tracking is a little bit foreign to a lot of people.

A lot of times our customers are first time users of call tracking. Some of the concepts are a little more confusing than others. Just the ability for them to pick up on what's going on in the app and make sure that they are setting up their campaigns in the right way. That's one of the main things that we're looking for when we watch FullStory or when we get analytics from the stuff we've made in house for click rates and that kind of thing.

J: Yeah, it sounds like one of the challenges is educating somebody on how to use the application in the first place.

Kara: Definitely. Yeah, and we do get people coming from competitors. That's getting more and more frequent because of the way that our app is set up. We're getting a lot more notoriety on being an easy user experience. That gives people an advantage because they understand how call tracking works, but in a lot of cases, this is a lower price product. It's a lot of small and medium businesses, a lot of startups. They're being educated on call tracking for the first time. It's cool to see them explore that with no knowledge of it before.

J: Yeah. I think you brought up an interesting point is that you've got people coming to you from competitive products because they've heard your application is easier to use.

Kara: Right.

J: Yeah, that's really powerful.

Kara: I think so too and it's a great time for CallRail. I think that CallRail is a unique product because we started out to solve a need of our CEO actually. He was looking for call tracking for his startup business, and he just didn't see the features that he wanted for the price point and for the small business. We brought a lot of those really cool enterprise features down to accommodate the smaller business at a lower price point, and we did it really beautifully and I would think it's the best on the market as far as the user experience.

J: Yes.

Kara: It's been really cool to see us pull our competitors and even the competitors that are in the higher, the bigger markets.

J: Yeah. It's interesting that the genesis of the company was essentially solving a problem that obviously Andy had, but he validated that other people had that same problem, and just the simplicity of solving one problem and solving that problem really well. That building a business around a simple solution to something that a lot of people are struggling with.

Kara: Exactly. I give him major credit for the UX-mindedness of the company from the beginning. Obviously as a potential user, he built it for himself, he was very connected to the type of user that would need this product, which I think helps, but isn't always the case. He was lucky as far as being able to be UX-minded by knowing himself, but he's built a company up around that and I think that that's why we've been so successful.

J: Yeah, I agree. How do you maintain that mindset as you think about adding new features in functionality? Do you go and talk to users or how do you gather what you should be working on?

Kara: Yes. Scaling it is very important, especially as we get further and further from the user type that is the original user type as we get more and more different types of customers. I think it takes a level of humility to step away and say I don't always understand my users, especially-

J: Good point.

Kara: As my user base grows. We have been able to gracefully step in that direction. We're growing our design team, we actually doubled our design team this year, and we're hiring the UX researchers. I think that that's a big step in how we're going to stay connected to our users is just saying... Coming from that humble place of I don't know everything and I want to learn.

J: Right. Yeah, in many cases it's remembering that old adage of you are not the user.

Kara: Yes. Even though we were the user.

J: Right, you were, and-

Kara: Right.

J: As things evolve, you have to make sure that you're staying grounded and staying in tune with what the people who are actually paying you to use the service are requesting and what their needs are, right?

Kara: Exactly.

J: Can you talk a little bit about the process of getting something from an idea through a prototype, and then actually released into production? Are you using design systems, are you using any prototyping or workflow tools or anything like that that helps speed that process along?

Kara: Yes. We are using... The main tools that we use are Sketch and InVision. Those have been really helpful for my design team. We organize everything in Targetprocess. We've moved on from Basecamp towards a Kanban board. Those are the three tools that we use. Our process is once we get an idea handed off to a product owner and designer, the product owner will typically go and gather information. At this point, he or she is doing most of the research, talking to users ideally, sometimes talking to the people that were requesting the feature on behalf of the users. Gathering all the specs and making sure that there's a detailed list of what needs to be done. At that point, they will talk to you, the designer, and the content specialist, and make sure they have an idea of the strategy that's going to be executed for the certain feature. At that point, we do a sanity check with all the major stakeholders, and this is not a design review, so at this point, there's no designs. Maybe a sketch. We get it in front of the major shareholders to make sure that this is the right direction.

J: When you say there's no design, do you mean that there's no color or imagery or anything like that?

Kara: I mean that most of the design details that have been come up with at this point can be communicated verbally. We don't want people to get hung up on the specifics of design, button color, or font size. At this point, we say, "This is where it'll go in the app. This is generally what it'll look like, this is the patterns that it would follow." The real goal is to make sure that we have a good concept and starting point and all of the specs are there.

J: Right. You're proving that or validating that your solution will work before you're even thinking about what it's actually going to look like in terms of color and layout and those things.

Kara: Right. It's really easy for designers to get caught up with the color before the strategy comes in and I like that-

J: Right.

Kara: The designers are there for the strategy part of it. I think that that's very valuable, especially as designers, not to generalize, but tend to be more empathetic and a little bit more in tune with what people are feeling more than saying.

J: Right.

Kara: I think that that helps with the more technical-minded people on the team to really round out the team and have that strategy session between the three: the content specialist, the product owner, and the designer.

J: Yeah, it's interesting that you've got the designer along from the very beginning to make sure that all of the different perspectives that you need to consider or all those different voices that are at the table and can contribute at each point in the process.

Kara: Yes, definitely. I think that that's so important. I think that a lot of companies will engineer the product and then bring design in to give it a face lift.

J: Yeah.

Kara: I think that that's very backwards and we've been lucky enough to not have to deal with that as much. We really keep design at the forefront of everyone's mind.

J: In your previous experience, maybe before CallRail, when you were working on a similar project, did they have a similar structure or was it more of the you engineer something first and then throw it over the wall to the designers to make it pretty workflow?

Kara: It was definitely engineering first. I think a lot of businesses are coming to the point where they're valuing design more at the beginning, but in my past experiences, it's always been, "Here's what we have, here's what we've designed. How do we make this look better?"

J: Right. What have you seen contrasting those two in terms of just speed of getting something done or quality of the end result? How would you draw a line between those two methodologies?

Kara: I love design strategies. As quick as you can involve me, the better for my personal taste. I really enjoy coming up with the solutions to complex problems and doing that through the eye of design. For my personality and for the personality of the designers on my team, I think that it's worked really well that we have valued their input in that way. I think that we have not slowed down the product at all because in my past job, a lot of times in design, we would find a solution that hadn't been come up with just by thinking technically.

I think that designers almost serve as the non-developer set of eyes in this situation because a lot of times developers are very technical-minded and they understand how things work, which is beautiful, but the user doesn't always understand the back end of things. Just having that voice that says, "From my perspective, this is what's going on." It doesn't always line up with the way that it works on the back end. It's nice to have designers there the whole time to keep people in check with what the user really needs and what the user would see when they see a UI.

J: Yeah, that's a really important point about the people who are using the app don't really know or maybe don't even need to know or nor should they, how the back end, how all the logic in the background works. That's not really their concern. They're concerned with accomplishing a task. They don't care what kind of computer hoops that need to be jumped through on the back end to make that happen. They just want to click a button and get a result, right?

Kara: Yes. Sometimes the user goals are way different than the developer's goals.

J: Yeah, totally. That's an interesting thread to make sure that you can accomplish both, right? One of the things that I talk about with our clients is we want to draw a Venn diagram, and in one circle is the user's goals, and in the other circle is the business goals. We want to make that overlap as big as possible, right? We want to try to capture value for both sides in as many ways as possible.

Kara: Right.

J: It's interesting to hear how other companies are approaching that. It sounds like your methodology is really being user-centered and making sure that as you help a user accomplish their goals, then that's going to build loyalty and that's obviously going to mean more recurring revenue and word of mouth and more people on the platform, and so on and so forth.

Kara: Yes. We've seen that time and time again, and I think that the landscape of technology has really embraced that. People are, as far as I can tell from my personal experience, people are buying less and less based on ads and more and more based on reviews.

J: Right.

Kara: We're really entering a landscape where the business goals and the user goals are aligning more and more, so that Venn diagram is coming closer and closer. It's a really cool time to be a designer.

J: Yeah, I agree. There's something else I wanted to ask you about. I had a conversation with Nate over at LinkedIn. He was saying that one of the advantages they've had in using a design system is that it actually helps the morale of the people on the team because it's easier to communicate and it's easier to build things that actually work. Have you seen something similar at CallRail?

Kara: Yes. I think that our support, success, and sales having a voice in the product has been really interesting to see. It wasn't like that at any other places that I worked previously. They really are encouraged to be design-minded and think about solutions to the problems that their prospects or their customers are voicing to them. I think in that way, everyone gets a little bit of the fun job, which is the design of the product. I think that that does boost morale. I think that it gives people a personal investment in the product and we've seen that as far as our employee retention and just overall culture, it seemed to make our overall culture a little bit more vibrant and fun.

J: Yeah, that's an advantage that I guess a lot of people don't really think about, and that using these systems and processes can actually not only make the product better, but make the process of making the product better.

Kara: Exactly, and that in turn makes the product better because people are more passionate about it.

J: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. What's on the future for CallRail? What kind of things are you working on, not just in terms of features for the products, but what's the future of the team and the company? You mentioned you were hiring a researcher. What other things are you looking forward to implementing there and what's exciting you right now?

Kara: I'm excited by our growth and I'm excited about, as I mentioned before, just getting whole new chunks of customers that we never really thought possible and that our original intent wasn't even to serve the bigger businesses or the bigger agencies, healthcare. We've seen people coming over from the old giants in call tracking, and I'm really excited about seeing how our UX team will expand and push themselves to meet all of the needs of all these different user types. We are having a test right now on separating different user types within a customer. Right now what you can do is see all of the analytics on your phone calls, and then also there's a softphone and ability to text within the app that is more of an end user role, maybe a sales person or a support person would be actually picking up the phone.

We're doing a test right now to see about dividing that product, which it seems like people are either using the analytics side or the end user phone side. To see if maybe that really is a totally separate person in a lot of cases. That'll be a really cool test and potentially could separate our product in a really nice way that we can target each one individually.

J: Yeah, that's interesting, and it brings up another point about your audience and how you segment that audience and how you talk about them. Are you using personas or are you using user journeys? What kind of tools are you using around understanding your audience?

Kara: Yeah. We are using personas. I think that that's interesting because of the way that we're growing so quickly. I think that our personas are constantly evolving, but our main personas have stayed the same with healthcare, marketing agencies, and small businesses. Yeah, I think personas have been really helpful for us. The customer advisory boards have been very helpful for us at just understanding the user.

J: Nice. How many different personas are you looking at?

Kara: We actually have seven right now. They are marketing personas, so one of the first tasks that I think a UX researcher would do is amending those to see if we're aligning the same for our product personas.

J: Right. Somebody else I was talking to was mentioning that they don't like necessarily the word personas because that tends to be marketing-driven. They think about things in terms of user journeys because that's more product-driven.

Kara: Right.

J: I'm not sure if you couldn't use a persona for both. I think that's just a matter of how you discuss things internally. It sounds like you're currently using personas for both, but you'd like to break that out.

Kara: Yeah, and I think user journeys is something that we'll look into in the coming months. That seems to be really great strategy. The personas have been nice for us just to be able to communicate across the company on who we're trying to target for specific features and what-

J: Right.

Kara: Kind of person will use it. Really identify this cloud of people that we were previously a little bit more disconnected from as it grew.

J: Yeah, and as the application evolves, you'll be able to refine those or maybe create more of them and really hone in on what somebody is using the app for, and who that person is.

Kara:  Right.

J: Any parting words of wisdom or thoughts for anyone else who might be thinking about using design thinking in their business?

Kara: Yeah. As a joke as part of my bio that I submitted, I talked about all the different jobs that I've had, and it's interesting to see the culture of different companies depending on how in tune they are with their customers and how much they value design. I think that the design driven companies are more fun to work for, not just for a designer, but I think across the board it seems like the culture is more vibrant and people are more excited to work there, and are more proud of the product. I think overall, the world is changing to be more and more accommodating towards better user experience and make the user's goals more of the business goals as well. I just wanted to encourage people that are thinking about diving into UX that it has been wonderful for CallRail and it's continuing to help us grow.

J: Yeah, that's a great point. Somebody wants to learn more about CallRail or about what you're doing over there, what's the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Kara: Absolutely. They can email me at Kara@CallRail.com or message me on Twitter @UXKara.

J: Fantastic. Kara, thanks again for coming on the show today. I really appreciate you spending some time with us. Looking forward to catching up with you again in the future and hearing more about how CallRail is continuing to use UX, and talk about maybe some value proposition canvasses and the impact that's had.

Kara: Absolutely.

J: Thanks again and we'll chat again soon.

Kara: Thank you. Bye.

Outro: That's it for today. Thanks for listening to Design Driven. We're glad you enjoyed the show. Have comments, questions, or an idea that you'd like us to cover? Point your browser to DesignDriven.biz and click Contact Us on the top of your screen. We'd love to hear from you. Tell your friends and colleagues about the Design Driven pod. Post on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or send them an email and tell them to go to DesignDriven.biz or wherever they find their podcasts. Until next time, remember what Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, said: "Good design is good business."