Yesterday's Bank Mobile App Won't Cut It Anymore

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Despite massive investments in product management, user experience design and engineering capabilities, financial service firms continue to struggle with mobile engagement. What is cutting edge in banking is often commonplace in other mobile apps.

Consumers' relatively lukewarm perceptions about their banks' mobile apps appear to be driven by the unique and compelling experiences they are having with other app-based services, like Uber and Seamless. We call this the "customer app-athy principle," where mobile experiences have to evolve at the same pace as the most popular smartphone apps just to be considered good enough.

With more than 1.5 million apps on Apple's App Store, the standard for great personalization and user experience is not coming from other financial service companies. Rather, service industries and small startups are setting new expectations about digital experiences. So to avoid customer app-athy and to boost mobile engagement, financial service companies need to elevate their mobile experiences in five ways:

Make it happen on my time

In the on-demand world, customer service happens at the speed of clicks. Whereas same-day service was nearly impossible just a few years ago, same-hour service is becoming the emerging standard. Postmates, for example, allows users to order pretty much anything — from dessert baked by Dominique Ansel's legendary bakery to a new iPad from the Apple Store — and have the item delivered in half an hour.

As consumers come to expect quick results, banks need to elevate their standards for timely responses. Email responses with turnaround times as long as 24 hours are no longer acceptable, and well-established features like click-to-chat — which let a customer tap inside of the app to prompt a conversation — need to become more widely available in mobile banking apps.

Deliver hyper-customization

Consumers can customize the smallest of details on many services. FlyCleaners, an app-based laundry service, allows customers to choose any pickup time between 6 a.m. and midnight, any type of fabric softener, and even different methods of drying, for instance.

By contrast, customization options with financial services apps are often too simplistic. What little that can be tailored, such as basic push notifications and alerts, are often simple executions enabled by the phone's operating system rather than crunching transaction data to serve up helpful information that the customer wants.

Acknowledge the customer value

Concierge-level service through mobile apps can now rival the service of an exclusive hotel. Some services, like TaskRabbit, will buy groceries or stand in line for tickets for time-constrained customers. More premium services like Magic+ will perform more aspirational duties, including helping the user meet a famous celebrity or plan a wedding.

As a result, financial services mobile apps must do a better job of acknowledging the customer's value. Someone who spends $500 a year in the digital world can now receive the same features and functionality as a platinum credit card holder who obtains superior customer service and offers for spending $100,000 a year in the analog world.

Be personalized in real time

With the smartphone and a native app, companies can have access to a wealth of information about the user, including geolocation and phone behavior, which allow for real-time personalization of services. For example, a hungry customer who uses the Seamless restaurant app receives a personalized combination of restaurants to select from based on the customer's exact location and time of day. He can also track the up-to-the-moment status of his order.

With transaction data, financial service firms should emphasize real-time personalization as a significant mobile engagement opportunity. While some credit cards have started to take advantage of location offers, the level of personalization needs to more substantially combine information from the phone with data about spending and investing habits, such as 'I buy a lot of shoes' or 'I have a mortgage.'

Treat the payment like a non-experience

With any service, like a restaurant meal or a resort visit, seeing the amount owed and paying the bill is not the most compelling part of the experience. That's why Uber makes the payment experience a non-experience. The Uber customer just leaves the car, and the fare is automatically paid in the background without any pomp and circumstance. Instead of continued focus on improving the payment exchange, Uber has emphasized building new service experiences to deliver more value to the customer. For example, UberPool lets you ride with strangers and split the cost.

Financial service companies must constantly think about how to drive mobile engagement through the development of new features in their app to improve the overall experience.

Gordon Hui is vice president of strategy for Smart Design, a design and innovation consultancy.

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