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For Customers, UX = XOXO

Strategically Speaking
Apr 9, 2014

Kevin Moland Author: Kevin Moland,

In the early 1990’s, the owner of the small commercial bank where I served as the Data Processing Officer decided to shake things up a bit by removing a relatively popular head of operations and replacing him with the Vice President of Marketing. Marketing! As seasoned operations managers, my peers and I settled in for the train wreck we knew was coming.

But then, something incredible happened.

I remember the first meeting with our newly crowned leader. Sitting in his glass-walled office, looking out over the couple dozen employees in the operations center, the following conversation ensued:

New Boss: So, who waits on customers when they come to the Customer Service counter?

Team: The interns and junior members of the group.

New Boss: Well, who knows the most and could help the customers most effectively?

Team: The senior staff, but they’ve been here longer and they don’t have to wait on customers anymore.

New Boss: So, when customers come, we don’t send the people who could help them the most. Instead, we send the people who can help them the least?

He looked at us. We looked down at our shoes. And then everything began to change.

Under his guidance, we began to put a premium on real customer service and on the people who engaged our clients at the front line. We became much more interested in what our customers had to say and, based on survey results, we began to analyze and improve every area that involved direct customer interaction. After a year, our operations staff began leaving for jobs on the teller line or at the new accounts desks because our entire organization had come to value (and compensate) those with the skills to provide superior face-to-face customer service.

I thought about those events recently while reading a series of articles about managing the online user experience. With online services becoming a more frequent touch point for customers and members, it’s important for financial institutions to consider the level of customer service embedded in their electronic channels. If you want to give your customers and members a consistent, positive impression of your organization, you have to extend your penchant for service to your technology products, too.

In software circles, UX (User Experience) is the new buzzword. Driven primarily by the smartphone and tablet revolution, users now expect more effective and engaging online services. "User-friendly" has always been a goal for technology vendors, but thanks to the remarkable capabilities inherent in today’s smartphones and tablets, the bar for online engagement has been pushed dramatically higher. This is especially true in the financial services arena, where products are highly commoditized and customer service is one of the few—if not the only—legitimate means of distinguishing your organization from its competitors.

So how can banks and credit unions be sure their technology-based offerings provide the same high level of customer service as their people? Since most community institutions rely on vendor partners for these services, the more pertinent question could be how can you be sure your technology partners care as much about your users' experience as you do?

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to determine whether or not a current or prospective vendor is likely to provide an optimal experience for your users.

1. Is this vendor dedicated to customer service?

It's important to remember that UX is just an online extension of good, old fashioned customer service. If your vendor provides a poor customer service experience for you, how likely are they provide a top notch online experience for your customers or members? Vendors that place a priority on customer service, including a willingness to interact directly with your clients as part of a first-level support program, are far more likely to meet those clients' needs as they design and improve their products.

2. When asked about UX, does the vendor maximize or minimize its importance?

You can often determine from conversations with its product managers or executives whether or not a particular vendor "gets it" regarding UX design. While you can't rely on lip service alone to gauge a vendor's commitment to providing an excellent user experience, it could be a red flag if a company doesn't verbalize their UX commitment well when asked about it specifically.

3. Most importantly, do a vendor’s recent and upcoming releases provide evidence that UX is one of their primary product themes?

Take a look at a company's recently released products. Do they exhibit evidence of insightful UX design? Ask about their product roadmap. Since most roadmaps are built around a handful of primary themes, you should be able to tell if UX is one of those themes by determining if a meaningful percentage of proposed enhancements demonstrate an effort to improve the user experience. You may even want to ask who a company relies on for UX expertise. Because it's an emerging field, many companies—even large ones—rely on industry experts to help them optimize the UX. If a vendor’s reps just say, "Oh, our developers are pretty good at that kind of thing," chances are, they aren't.

At the end of the day, the most important thing you can do is to let your vendors know that you care about UX. Vendors understand that what's important to you has to be important to them, too. If you speak up, your UX focus will eventually become their UX focus. You’ve worked hard to make your customers and members feel loved and appreciated in all their interactions with your company. If you want them to keep feeling that love, be sure you focus on UX when evaluating new or existing technology partners.

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