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Exceeding customer expectations in financial technology

  • Posted on March 28, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 4 minutes
fintech customer experience

The journey towards exceeding customer expectations requires awareness, imagination and perseverance. That is true for any industry but comes with unique challenges when developing technology solutions for the financial services industry.

Awareness – who are your customers and what do they want?
Awareness is the starting point when it comes to exceeding customer expectations. Who are your customers and what are they looking for? These seem like simple questions, but the reality of what it takes to meet customer needs and wants is more complicated. According to Peter Drucker, we are in innovation territory. In the 1980s, Drucker identified as one of seven sources for innovation: incongruities between what customers want and what customers have. Financial institutions provide complex, intangible products. It is easy to make assumptions in regards to how these products should look or function without properly determining what customers want.

And yes, typically, all customers want is a smooth, seamless experience that gets them to their specific goal -- the quicker, the better. For a trading system, this may be the basic ability to facilitate a trade, a competitive price, and for the system to be easy to use and provide the trader with recommendations based on previous inquiries. However, technology is ever-evolving and so are customer expectations. Features that may delight customers today may be expected by customers tomorrow. Since technology is an ever-present aspect in most people’s lives, expectations will sooner or later shift and customers will expect their financial application to offer the same features and functionality as unrelated applications. The only way to understand what your customers are looking for is to listen to their feedback, solicited through interviews or questionnaires.

When looking to interview your customers, identifying the right people may present another challenge, given the number of players in the financial industry. Because the capital markets are highly-regulated markets, there are multiple stakeholders -- buyers, sellers, clearinghouses, regulators, credit raters. Key to great design is focusing on the customer’s needs, but oftentimes the customer is one of many users -- and the interests of the customer will most likely not be the same as the interests of the regulatory body. Where a customer may want to facilitate their trade quickly and easily, the regulatory body may require a level of due diligence that deems the expedited timeline impossible. Ultimately, the interests of all stakeholders compete to be reflected in the same application experience.

Awareness starts with clearly marking the difference between customers and users, and performing due diligence in identifying what customers want. As much as industry observations may be helpful, ultimately, it is important to listen to the voice of the customer to identify pain points.

Imagination – how can you see what isn’t there yet?
Once we understand the customer and their needs and wants, we can apply this feedback and start correcting issues. This is also the time to imagine or reimagine products. Typically, it pays to be bold at this stage and outline new solutions and new ways of thinking without getting overly concerned with the feasibility of ideas. The easiest way of approaching the creation of a new technology product is with a team of designers and technologists. They have the skillset to shape ideas and bring them to life.

There are many methods and processes that are available to help financial institutions navigate this stage – such as envisioning (an approach to draft out a vision for a new product) as well as specific methods like design thinking, lean UX and using the Kano model to categorize features. Design-led thinking in particular gained a lot of traction in the last few years, as it is a systematic, iterative approach that focuses on challenging existing assumptions. It incorporates a variety of processes such as context analysis, problem finding and framing, ideation and solution generating, creative thinking, sketching and drawing, modeling and prototyping, testing and evaluating.

Another way to prompt imaginative thinking is to consider recent technical advances. New technologies may create new possibilities or trigger new ideas and enable us to imagine solutions that were not within reach before. Consider, for example, the advances that have been made in cloud computing and machine learning that enable new ways of interpreting all the data that financial institutions aggregated.

Of course, imagination is only a first step. Realizing a solution comes with new challenges and possibly compromises.

Perseverance – how do you work within given constraints?
In the financial industry, exceeding customer expectations is also an exercise in perseverance.

The financial industry was quick to see the value and efficiency that technology could bring. They were one of the first adopters of mainframe computers and have relied on technology to expedite check and transaction processing since the 1950s. This tenure lends banks credibility when it comes to technology, but also means that their enterprise technology can be a patchwork of legacy systems.

Many global businesses, banks included, evolved locally from a technology standpoint, relying on software specifically designed to meet local needs and priorities. Thus, leveraging the latest technological advances may not be possible without replacing legacy technologies. And while the introduction of new technologies unlocks the potential for more holistic, institution-wide digital transformation, this may come at a high cost. It also means that the path to the products we imagined may not be an easy or straight one; we must consider firm dependencies to existing oft-outdated technology.

Despite the obstacles, banks must seriously weigh the value of tech consolidation in creating one unifying experience. Without that consolidation and upgrades, legacy systems will only restrict the performance and experience of a new product. Depending on the solution or the specific use case, working towards a new or improved product may happen as a gradual shift towards the new experience (planned via a roadmap for example), or it may happen as a calculated jump to a new technology (for example in cloud computing).

As much as it pays off to be bold as we imagine a future product, perseverance is required to turn that imaginative vision into a reality.

Crossing the finish line
In the highly-regulated finance industry, banks and their teams must distinguish between what customers and end-users desire, and what regulators and other stakeholders require. Firms must also conduct thorough due diligence and research where current technology may limit new creation or functionality.

At the heart of successfully designing a smooth, seamless customer experience sits a deep awareness of customer’s (and any other users’) needs and expectations. It is the core that enables us to navigate the path between being bold and imaginative, and working through the realities of technological constraints. Combining awareness, imagination and perseverance is key to success.

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