In a world where the digital user experience is do or die, any mistakes around front-end design and development can cause financial services organizations to lose customers and revenue opportunities. While there is certainly a time and place for off-the-shelf technologies (such as for internal processes), the customer-facing experience should not be one of them.
The apps digital users interact with are an outward representation of a company’s brand. When a financial services company leverages off-the-shelf software to sell to or serve their customers, they’re communicating a brand of sameness, mirroring dozens or even hundreds of other organizations that offer nearly duplicate experiences.
For example, most banks’ digital account opening experience looks identical today. In an industry that’s becoming increasingly commoditized, it’s essential that digital experiences stand out and reinforce your strategic differentiators. The good news is, there are well-established best practices to follow when building this all-important digital user experience to help avoid common mistakes and optimize engagement, adoption and success.
Before beginning the design process, financial services organizations should collect input from other stakeholders and departments, like legal, to identify any limitations. Often, security and regulatory considerations can present a design constraint, especially in a highly regulated space like financial services. This foresight can prevent common blunders, such as hiding terms and conditions, before they happen, saving significant time and headache during development.
Once these limitations are addressed, consider what anchors the design. For too long, banks have primarily created experiences that are system-centric, not human-centric – a costly error. After all, most software that runs the financial services industry was built around business processes and requirements that are irrelevant or confusing to users. Because most systems were built prioritizing those business processes, too many customer-facing experiences today are cumbersome, overloaded and confusing. It’s about time that changes. The user experience should be designed with the customer’s journey at the center, replacing points of friction with moments of delight and simplicity.
Another best practice is to carefully curate what is being presented or requested at different stages of the customer interaction. For example, customers are often required to input information to complete a purchase before they are done exploring their options. This is a leading cause for customer churn and abandonment. Instead, the experience should clearly articulate a value proposition and enable exploration, comparison and consideration to help users achieve their objective on their terms. Furthermore, when the experience is designed with careful consideration of the psychological push and pull in the mind of the digital user, customers won’t just be more likely to enroll or renew, they become more likely evangelists for your brand.
Talking to and receiving input from users is critical to the design process; however, user research tends to require a philosophical shift. Many organizations have a fear of interviewing customers, incorrectly believing that if customers are asked, they’ll leave. However, user input is invaluable. Effective designs account for how the users will interact with the system, including what features and functionality will be used most often. Conducting customer research and incorporating the voice of the customer may be time-consuming and expensive up front, but if done right it often saves money in the long run and uncovers opportunities for new product and service innovations.
It’s also important to keep in mind that design flaws aren’t just common in new products. As a company scales, they frequently fail to prioritize information architecture, or how new content and features are added and organized. Adding new features haphazardly tends to create clunky navigation, fraught with too many tabs and long menus. This significantly impacts the usability of a product, leading to decreased engagement and customer attrition. It’s been shown that 64% of new software features are rarely or never used, and a lot of this can be attributed to poor design. Rather than exhaustively including all user paths in a single navigation menu, companies should carefully consider how time saving features or key information can be displayed in the context of use, at the moment of need and without pulling the user away from the task at hand.
It’s time for financial services organizations to optimize their differentiators through custom design and development. It’s the only way to set your company apart in an increasingly competitive landscape that is rapidly replacing physical customer journeys with digital ones. Heeding these common design flaws and leveraging best practices can significantly increase digital user engagement and secure a competitive advantage that lasts.
Tim Hamilton is founder and CEO of Praxent, a fintech design and engineering partner to financial companies.