Improving the Customer Experience in Banking: It's simpler than you think

Banking And Financial Messaging


Brian McLaughlin

Jan 28, 2019

As banks battle valiantly to win the primary customer relationship, going head-to-head with opportunistic fintechs, it’s clear that victory is almost always tied to the quality of the customer experience. Thankfully, improving the customer experience in banking is far simpler than most banks think. It is possible to give business customers the superior experience they expect from all their digital interactions. Banks can monetize that customer experience by delivering more services. It’s completely feasible to acquire, deepen and grow highly engaged and profitable customer relationships that are anchored in payments and cash management. There’s just one catch: doing so requires going beyond the far too simplistic suggestion of just making banking solutions “easier to use.” No doubt, “easier to use” sounds nice and it certainly seems simple enough to accomplish -- but what does it mean?

The reality is, not much. Its ambiguous advice that does little to actually help banks reverse the fact that the industry is losing billions annually as the average SMB spends hard cash on solutions from non-FI providers. The vagueness of the discussions taking place around improving the customer experience in banking only adds to the problems banks face. Throwing around terms like “easy-to-use” might give the appearance of providing banks with concrete advice that they can take action on, but “easy” is a relative target to aim for. Easier for whom? What’s considered easy by a finance executive at a large corporation would be baffling to the owner of a chain of bike shops—both of whom are customer segments that banks need to create useful cash management solutions for if they hope to be competitive. So what can financial institutions do to meet this mythical “easier to use” benchmark that everyone is talking about? They need to know the secret. The same secret that fintechs have used to power their own success in winning the hearts, minds and wallets of SMBs and other organizations who are just looking for a little help managing the financial aspects of their business.

The secret is to understand the behaviors of the customers you’re trying to attract and retain and develop banking solutions tailored to support those unique behaviors. Yes, business payments are complicated. Sure, there are all sorts of rules and regulations you have to follow and they all have to match up with the complex database structures you’ve designed. And all the nuts and bolts of the back end systems are fun and interesting to the technologists behind the scenes who designed them – but the reality is, no one else cares. And they shouldn’t have to. Think about the lights in your home. Every light switch and light bulb is interconnected by a labyrinth of multi-colored wires that have been skillfully laid out in a precise pattern to provide electricity to the entire house. These wires are energized by a power plant which then, through a complex infrastructure, transports this energy to buildings and rooms within buildings that ultimately enables lights to go on with the flick of a switch.

Do you care about any of the complexity that’s taking place in that scenario? Do you need to see the infrastructure that powers your lamps? The answer is likely a resounding no. And neither should you have to pass a power utility infrastructure exam in order to turn on a light. You simply want the lights to do what you expect them to, when you need them. That’s the definition of “ease-of-use” – removing unnecessary complexity. The same type of simplicity should hold true for banking solutions. Customers just want to make payments. The fact that the technology behind payments is complicated shouldn’t be a burden they have to bear. They shouldn’t even be aware of it. And yet historically, financial institutions persist in designing clumsy, overly complicated digital banking solutions that reflect the inner workings of the bank, rather than the needs and behaviors of the people who are using them. It’s a problem that stems from a fatal flaw in far too many innovation processes – dismissing new ideas just “because” (fill in any old reason, like “because we have to have a button there”) instead of asking “why not?”

Take, for example, an AP clerk and the owner of a chain of bike shops. It’s an AP clerk’s job to make payments. He lives and breathe the business payment universe, understands the ins and outs of all the different payment types, why things are set up the way they are, etc. As an AP clerk, he comes to the table with a level of knowledge that makes him a prime candidate for a cash management solution that allows him access to a deeper level of complexity within the system. He fundamentally understands the ‘power grid’ and how to use it. The owner of the bike shop, on the other hand, doesn’t have that same level of knowledge. Her behavior isn’t driven by a desire to make payments – the need to make payments is just a byproduct of doing business. Based on that, the bike shop owner has simpler expectations of a banking solution: how fast will the payment be processed, how much will it cost to make the payment and can it be stopped if needed? She doesn’t know about the power grid and doesn’t want to be forced into dealing with it.

She just wants an easy way for the payment “lights” to go on. For banks to beat fintechs at their own game, they’ve got to understand the different behaviors that drive each audience segment, and it starts with asking “who is using the product and what are they going to do with it?” Acknowledging this is the first step to making the UI/UX decisions that will help you develop a solution that’s truly useful to the people who need it. Is the experience clear of clutter, such as information that isn’t relevant or necessary? Are the most common functions easy to find. Are you using language that’s appropriate to the knowledge level of the use, like “payee” instead of “beneficiary?” None of this is to say that upping your digital banking game and creating digital banking solutions that crush the fintech competition is easy. It’s difficult to make something easy. There’s a lot that goes into it, and banks are going to have to work hard if they want to win. It just doesn’t have to be as challenging as it’s been so far…as long as you understand the secrets.


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Brian McLaughlin

Brian McLaughlin is a business leader who specializes in finding innovative solutions to the complex challenges of today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape. He is Chief Experience Officer for Bottomline Technologies.
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