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October 18, 2023

Unleashing the power of Customer Experience: designing for Client needs and expectations

Sarah Kocianski

Open Finance Community Leader at Qorus

Reading time: 7 min


Speakers from across the financial services industry recently shared insights into how companies in their sector can deliver the stand-out customer experience that’s vital for success in today’s digital age.

Financial services firms are racing to match the quality of the customer experience delivered by the likes of tech giants Amazon, Apple and Meta.

Banks, insurers and other providers of funding realise they need to provide clients with an outstanding customer experience. Unless they delight customers with readily accessible, personalised and intuitive digital offerings they will quickly be overtaken by more responsive competitors. What’s more, they’ll miss a host of new business opportunities that require companies to secure a close understanding of customer needs and aspirations.

But how can financial services firms revitalise relations with their customers? How can they deliver the high-quality customer experience that’s essential in today’s digital age?

Answers to these questions were shared during a recent online conference organised by the Open Finance Community of Qorus and Objectway, a software company that serves the financial services industry. Speakers from a variety of companies discussed how to develop and deliver a stand-out customer experience. Here are some key takeaways:

Involve all internal stakeholders

Customer experience projects that don’t involve all internal stakeholders often fail, warns Roger Portnoy, Chief Strategy Advisor at Objectway. Many companies, he says, make the mistake of just focusing on their clients and staff who engage with them when they look to improve the customer experience.

It’s critical to engage all stakeholders in the value chain. That includes people in operations, compliance, risk control and governance, notes Portnoy.

He adds that companies should bolster inhouse resources by pulling in external experts who can provide specific skills. Such expertise is likely to include design and visualisation, user experience testing, systems integration, omni-channel marketing and content creation.

Objectway boasts an impressive record in the design, development and roll-out of customer experience projects. The company, founded in Italy in 1988, has worked on more than 250 customer experience projects in nearly 50 countries. Details of Objectway’s customer experience approach and methodology are contained in the accompanying article.

treat customers as human beings

Financial services companies are directing considerable resources to promoting their products and describing the benefits of their offerings. But they frequently fail to connect with customers. Often the reason they come short is because they don’t recognise that their customers are human beings and not just consumers, says Emel Çuhacı.

It’s vital that financial services providers understand the human emotions and impulses that drive customer decisions, argues Çuhacı.

Vice president of customer experience and conversational banking at Emirates NBD, Çuhacı specialises in the application of neuroscience and neuromarketing in financial services. She advises institutions to build closer relations with customers by demonstrating how they improve peoples’ lives.

When we talk about selling a mortgage what we are doing is enabling a customer and their family to live a better life. And when we sell an insurance package, we are helping the customer feel safer and be happier because their family is also safer, says Çuhacı.

Drawing on academic studies of human behaviour, Çuhacı says five key traits of the human brain influence people’s decision-making. An understanding of these traits is important for the development of a successful customer experience. According to Çuhacı, the human brain is:

  • Self-centred: When communicating with customers don’t focus on products or their features but rather concentrate on how the offering is going to benefit them.
  • Responsive to contrasts: To convey a message effectively contrast situations, numbers and outcomes.
  • Receptive to tangible entities: The human brain wants to touch, smell, taste, hear and see. Financial products are abstract concepts, so it’s essential to present product information visually.
  • Motivated by emotions and memories: A customer’s memory of past experiences and the feelings they aroused will influence their future decisions. To overcome the effects of past bad experiences, it’s vital to deliver powerful “wow” moments that can restore positive perceptions.
  • Focused on the beginning and end of experiences: Onboarding experiences and communications with departing customers need to be outstanding to retain customer loyalty and reduce churn.

Combine design thinking with lean and agile principles

By combining design thinking with lean and agile principles, financial institutions can enhance their digital innovation, says Tracey Williams, Senior Designer Director at Absa

Williams oversaw an extensive overhaul of the customer experience that the South African bank delivers to its home loans customers. The overhaul substantially improved customer satisfaction, increased the retention rate of applicants and boosted the performance of the bank’s home loans business.

We reduced the application process from 40 minutes to 10 minutes, cut nearly 100 fields from the loan application system and enabled the bank to offer customers instant mortgages, says Williams.

Absa’s customer experience project team used design thinking to better identify and understand the problems experienced by its home loans applicants. It then applied lean principles to focus its design, development and testing. Finally, it used agile concepts to manage the quick migration of its prototypes into working products.

Williams recalls four lessons the bank learned from this customer experience project.

  • Gain a full understanding of the system so that problems can be properly remedied. A narrow focus on part of the system could result in a solution to one problem creating other problems elsewhere. Furthermore, such an approach could obscure further opportunities to improve innovation and enhance the customer experience.
  • Clearly identify the customers whose problems are being addressed. A broad focus can dilute the effectiveness of the solution.
  • Test early and test often. A hypothesis-based approach, which tests and validates prototype solutions, encourages collaboration and removes external biases.
  • Set a vision. The project’s vision statement should be easily understood, inspirational, directed towards the future, focused on the customer and distinguish the product from competitor offerings.

Align customer experience with business strategy

A powerful customer experience can help financial services firms generate strong business growth. But when this customer experience is aligned with a company’s business strategy the results can be outstanding.

Conrad Ford, Chief Product and Strategy Officer at Allica Bank, says the customer experience the company delivers is at the core of its business strategy. And together they have propelled Allica to remarkable success. Revenues at the fast-rising UK neobank soared 534% last year, pushing the start-up into profitability in the second half of 2022, while its customer service ratings continue to impress.

Allica’s business strategy is to deliver outstanding banking services to what it calls established SMEs. These are small businesses that employ at least 10 people. The market offers significant revenue opportunities but tends to be neglected by the big banks. The requirements of established SMEs are too complex for consumer banking but don’t have enough value to warrant corporate banking services, says Ford.

Allica has developed an operating business model and proprietary technology platform that meets the specific banking requirements of its target market. The bank needed to design a customer experience that showed its commitment to building relationships with clients and also differentiated the company from competitors, says Ford.

The customer experience designed by Allica highlights four key features of the bank’s business strategy.

  • It strives to be a lender that seeks ways to say yes to customers instead of searching for reasons to say no.
  • Its relationship managers are encouraged to listen to customers rather than hide from them.
  • It provides innovative products such as current accounts that reward customers instead of penalising them.
  • It uses technology to foster closer relations with customers instead of making them more remote.

Study how consumers interact with digital services

Digital trailblazers such as Netflix and Spotify are setting the standard for companies looking to deliver a high-quality, on-demand customer experience. The digital services they provide offer an impressive blueprint for financial services firms eager to build closer ties with their customers.

The first step we took when designing our new home banking product was to take a good look at how people were interacting with digital services. What stood out was the exponential growth in the popularity of on-demand entertainment platforms. They were quickly becoming second nature for their users, says Gianvito Toscano, UX and QA lead at Banca Widiba.

Toscano says Banca Widiba, an Italian neobank with a reputation for innovation, used insights from its study of consumers’ interaction with digital services to guide its design of a new home banking experience. Four features in stood out:

  • Strong visual impact
  • Modular
  • Dynamic
  • Progressively personal

Banca Widiba incorporated these features into its digital on-demand home banking experience.

We want to provide our customers with tools that are not only easy to use but are also highly relevant and able to deliver a financial experience that is unique and adaptable to different situations, says Francesca Fichera, Brand Manager at Banca Widiba.