Yesterday I called one of my banks to get help making a small transfer. It should have been an easy exchange, but the entire process required me to answer a slew of personal questions, speak with four customer service representatives and repeat the same information seven times. I felt like I had been on the phone for days.
Sadly, this type of customer service is the norm at most banks. Not every system at every bank is poorly designed. But in general, plenty of people feel rattled by their banks' digital tools, calling centers and in-branch experiences. It's not that people hate their banks; it's just that they don't really feel anything toward them.
But banks have the opportunity to change these attitudes by distinguishing themselves as the financial institution that's easiest to use or offers truly unique and exceptional customer service. While these kinds of changes have to come from within an organization, design can help the banking industry achieve this goal.
Design isn't just about adding a logo or making an app look beautiful. True user experience design can fix the way systems work in order to deliver experiences both digital and analog that can repair banks' relationships with their customers. It's certainly what they should set their sights on if they want real engagement from customers, instead of us just settling for them.
The first thing to remember is that banking experiences don't exist in a bubble. Customers compare them to the experiences they have with other businesses every day. Last week, for example, I ordered a pair of boots from Zappos, the online shoe retailer. When the package arrived, I found I'd received the wrong pair. When I called, the woman on the phone was genuinely apologetic. She immediately sent me the correct size along with a $20 gift card. I hung up loving Zappos and secretly hoping they make more mistakes on my orders in the future.
This positive experience stems from the fact that Zappos has very deliberately set the vision for its brand and internal culture. Its mission is to deliver amazing service, embrace change, and to make its company fun and a little bit weird. All this has helped it become a company that delivers a carefully curated experience to customers. This experience defines its brand it is the brand really and makes people love them.
Most banks lack the specificity and commitment of Zappos' brand vision, which is evident in the tools they deliver. Without a specific personality or value set associated with a given bank, customers choose them based on the practical features like the number of ATMs the bank has in their area. These considerations, while logical, don't pave the way for banks to keep customers long-term. Instead, people stay with their banks mostly because it's a headache to switch, thinking of them as nothing more than a commodity.
T-Mobile offers another great model for banks. Like banks, mobile phone carriers are often considered a commodity. But T-Mobile has drastically shifted its strategy away from the standard two-year contract to ones with open and flexible terms branding itself as the "Uncarrier."
Now T-Mobile has jumped headfirst into banking, creating a bank-by-phone business to tap into and support the market of millions of unbanked and underbanked customers. T-Mobile is in a good position to disrupt the financial industry: it has the platform, the customer base and the brand position as the company that's on the customer's side.
Some banks are already catching on. Former Google designer Daniel Makoski went to Capital One last year to be its vice president of design, and the bank acquired the design and user experience agency Adaptive Path shortly after. Scott Zimmer, Capital One's head of digital innovation and design, recruited Makoski. Zimmer has said that the products Capital One plans to develop "all center around people's relationships with their money. It's something we're trying to heal, this gap between how important money is, but there aren't enough tools for [people to understand it]."
This kind of innovation can deliver real meaning. Not only can technology enable mobile wallets and peer-to-peer lending, it can help banks stand behind a vision and rethink their baseline approach to offering simple, effective tools and services. Bank services should address people's real, everyday concerns: how much rent can I afford? Am I saving enough? If I put an extra 5% of my income into retirement, what would that mean in 30 years?
Innovation is about more than flashy wearables and driverless cars. Sometimes the most powerful innovations involve pushing complexity to the background, re-establishing and activating a company promise and putting people at the center of the process.