Thirty years ago, people had a bank manager who knew them by name and by circumstance and who had the autonomy to make decisions on an individual basis. However, with the advent of internet banking over the past 25 years, financial institutions have shifted their focus from the individual to the automated. Bank managers have become business managers, decisions are made at a policy level, and exceptions to the rule no longer apply.
If we’re no longer treated on a customer by customer basis, can banks ever be customer-centric?
The bank’s online presence has quickly becoming one of the major ways a user forms their opinion about the brand of their current bank, and about other banking providers. The online experience is therefore central to attracting and retaining the customer base; if people struggle to do what they need to (whether that be make a transaction or apply for a loan) then they will become quickly frustrated and look elsewhere for another provider.
The impact of user experience is also financial. Consider as an example the effect of streamlining experiences online and how that can create a reduction in the amount of face to face/telephone support required by customers – providing a quicker response to the customer but also reducing cost for the bank.
And it’s not just banks who need to consider user experience more than ever. The finance sector as a whole is being encouraged, particularly by Government emphasis on Big Society and the moral responsibility of finance institutions, to focus more on the customer. It seems the traditional methods employed by the finance sector simply won’t cut it anymore, whilst a user centred approach is the only way to succeed moving forward.
That said, the finance sector has already started to make steps in becoming more user centric. A current example of this would be the Natwest Customer Charter and Barclays focus on ‘Life Made Easier’ – but are their marketing messages in line with their internal processes and the experiences their customers have in the real world?
We’ve been briefed on a number of projects recently across banking and financial services clients who want to gain a better understanding of their user’s needs to improve the user experience. Our recent work with Barclays saw us undertake focus groups on their behalf to understand user’s complex opinions around accessing help online. The goal here was better user experience which would, in turn, increase the proportion of users self-serving and reduce the number of telephone calls to the customer support team. The benefits here were not only to the customer, but to the bottom line of the company.
Another client (covered by an NDA) brought us on board to analyse and improve the complicated Information Architecture of a division of a major bank’s website. By analysing the data from card sorting exercises, we were able to propose new navigation systems which simplified customer’s journeys through the site and made the brand more appealing and engaging.
So what should banks consider when thinking about their online presence? Here are a few of my thoughts:
1. Improve mobile functionality and design:
Mobile devices such as iPhone and Android apps have been developed by some banks over the past couple of years which further automate the relationship between the individual and the bank, reducing reliance on telephone banking (with real human beings!) to check balances or see recent transactions. If banks don’t want to be left behind in the future, they need to keep up with the curve and dramatically increase not only the functionality of these apps, but also the amount of investment from banks into the user experience strategy and execution.
2. Focus on retention rather than acquisition:
I log into online banking a couple of times a week, but in all honestly the only part of the homepage I look at is the top right corner where I know I’ll find the log in link. I’m sure there is other content on the homepage which might be of interest to me, but I’m afraid it’s lost under the attempts to get me to sign up for a loan, mortgage, mobile phone insurance or a new ISA. By making the homepage more relevant to me as a user and decreasing the obviousness of the cross selling would increase the time spent looking at something other than my bank balance, and might actually make me more likely to think about opening that savings account.
3. Find the right tone of voice:
People don’t want a bank who’s trying too hard to be wacky. That should be left to the Innocent Smoothies bunch. They do it well, and it suits their brand. Equally, we know that banking, and the language used to talk about banks can be a bit, well…boring. There, I said it. APRs and small print, although very important, are rarely awe inspiring. People want our banks to be professional, but they also want to be understood, and empathised with, which all too often, is a difficult line to walk.
4. Don’t let internal politics affect the UX:
All too often we are bought on board to re-architect sites spanning several stakeholder groups, all of whom think that the services they offer are more important than everyone else’s. The current architecture has often been ‘Frankinsteined’ with new products and services being added to a particular part of the site because of which stakeholder group is responsible for it, not because of where this content would intuitively go. Effective sites can cut across internal politics to structure content in an intuitive and user friendly way.