3 Tips for Customer-First Design

By Mark Kilpatrick

Customer-first design drives digital banking success.

Let’s face it: for today’s bank, digital banking is table stakes. Consumers expect to be able to use their phone, laptop, or tablet to handle their banking anytime and anywhere.

These expectations make it all the more important to offer digital banking that doesn’t just tick the box, but also differentiates your bank from competitors. A digital banking service that’s only “good” doesn’t cut it anymore. For customers, your digital banking service must delight users in its robustness and ease of use. For you, it must encourage customer engagement and build loyalty that increases the lifetime value of your customers.

Digital banking encourages your customers to further adopt self-service. The convenience is great for them and it’s great for you too, because it replaces costly, labor-intensive branch activity and gets customers out of your branches. Better yet, it places control directly in the hands of your customers.

However, getting customers out of your branches is a double-edge sword.

It appeals to your sense of economy, but with less face-to-face interaction, you’re also sacrificing what may be your greatest strength—the touchpoints and interactions that make your bank special and win the hearts of customers.

That’s a lot to give up. And it leads us to a critical question: Is there a way for digital banking to improve upon the traditional face-to-face interaction between bank employees and customers? The answer is yes—and the key is customer-first design that fills the void left by the loss of human interaction. It’s all about creating a positive experience for customers that keeps them engaged and coming back.

How do you design a positive customer experience? Anyone who has tackled this understands it’s complicated, but if forced to pick my top three recommendations for customer-centric design, here’s what I’d suggest:

1. Give customers a reason to love your digital banking service.

This may be heresy, but most customers don’t find banking fascinating. They just want to do what they need to do and be done with it. This means they want to spend as little time interacting with your digital banking service as they possibly can. Fair enough, but this doesn’t generate loyalty.

You need to give your customers reasons—in addition to banking functionality—to visit your digital banking service regularly (hopefully, daily or even multiple times a day) and stay on your app longer. Digital banking must be a launching pad that gives your customers access to the banking services they need and also gives them the “extras” they like—for example, online social engagement, deals, and discovery. If these seem at odds with banking functionality, take some time to speak to millennials you know about the importance of online social interaction and discovery in their lives.

Banking is the heart of digital banking, but it’s the meat and potatoes of what you’re offering. Don’t forget to build in in the sizzle that keeps customers coming back.

2. Design for mass personalization.

Millennials are known as the “me” generation, but it’s not just millennials who expect services tailored to their needs, preferences, and where they are in their lives. The desire for personalized service crosses all generations of customers. If you’re offering or contemplating offering a digital banking service that doesn’t allow you to personalize the features and functionality you offer to your key market segments (e.g., millennials, savers, small businesses and the mass affluent), you’re not listening to or fully understanding your customers. And, you’re missing out on the benefits of market segmentation.

Digital banking design must promote meaningful interactions between customers and their banks to build loyalty and extend the trusted relationship from the physical brick-and-mortar realm to the digital realm. You position yourself to accomplish this goal by understanding who your customers are and creating targeted feature sets that support them in building their own digital banking experiences.

3. Eradicate customer pain points.

A customer-centric digital banking service must anticipate and solve the actual pain points your customers experience, aligning service features with points of friction. If it doesn’t, you’re not addressing their needs, so why bother?

The distinction of “actual” pain points is an important one. (And, don’t forget, pain points are likely to vary among your market segments. What may be a pain point for a millennial may not cause a baby boomer to bat an eye—or vice versa.) Avoid the error of believing you know what your customer segments are experiencing. Conduct market research, plan usibility testing, and really dive deep into your customers’ world. Pair this with existing internal data and conservative assumptions, and rapidly iterate alternative solutions. Test, analyze, develop—repeat. Your efforts will yield insights and opportunities to improve your service in ways you’d never imagine.

In an industry where digital is now a requirement, it’s important that banks build feature-rich products designed with real-world customers’ needs and wants in mind. Only then will banks break through the barrier to reach a whole new world of engagement and brand affinity—making digital banking a pathway to increased lifetime customer value and profitability.

Mark Kilpatrick is CMO for Urban FT, a provider of white-label digital banking platforms. Kilpatrick is an industry leader in developing and marketing consumer-driven user interface designs for mobile applications and websites.