A burger–like your banking software–can only be enjoyed if it’s effectively delivered.

One afternoon, following a lengthy morning at a technology conference, I found myself eagerly awaiting a ground lamb and feta cheeseburger. From my vantage point at the counter, I watched as the chef seared the burger, toasted the bun, assembled the sandwich and then plated the food; my excitement was palpable. By the time the chef called for a server to transport my burger from the service line to the counter where I waited, my hunger had reached an almost unmanageable level.

And yet, there my burger sat, cooling on the pass, unserved. All that work, all that handcrafted goodness I had watched him so carefully create just sitting there steaming away for lack of a second hand to carry out the routine task of actually delivering the food. It was then that our eyes met, and he must have seen something that spoke to him as a chef, as his next move was borderline miraculous: he walked around the pass and handed me the burger himself. I nearly sobbed with gratitude. He had stepped up to serve me himself, refusing to allow existing processes, traditions or culture to rob me of the optimal enjoyment of my meal, clearly communicating his concern for his customers and his passion for his work.

In banking, in software, in anything one does really, leaving the burger to grow cold on the pass is unforgivable. To an end user, software is one pixel deep – it begins and ends on the screen with which they’re interacting. Yet, that thin window into your brand, your people, and your business is critically important, and deserves more attention and more effort than we as an industry have given it. With our newest release of software, and the delivery of a Unified User Experience (UUX), Q2 has addressed this failure head-on.

Great experiences are continuous, and the result of their creators recognizing and respecting the intent and context of their audience. Q2 achieved our goal of unifying the way our software looks, feels and acts across the browser, tablet and smartphone, by recognizing and respecting the desires of our end users – FIs and account holders. Great experiences reward end users by providing the right features at the right time in a consistent fashion. By delivering retail, small business and commercial features across all three screens from a single platform, we had accomplished our objective. Great experiences should evolve as the tastes of their end users evolve. Our approach to design embraces the evolution and extension of the experience within the product platform, as well as further integration of downstream, back-end technologies. This may be our platform’s greatest attribute.

UUX isn’t perfect and we’re not done, but as an experience, it’s a tremendous step in the right direction. With the help of our customers, partners, and employees we’ll keep evolving and improving this new way of reaching the people our customers serve. Cheeseburgers shouldn’t be left to grow cold on the pass, and we don’t think software should either.

User experience: What is it and why all the hype?

“Experience schmicksperience.” There is no doubt in my mind that this phrase has been uttered, or at least thought, by many a banking executive in response to a member of their staff expressing the need for an improved online account holder experience. Yours truly has witnessed a few such reactions first-hand. As one who believes strongly in the value of a quality user experience for online banking users, I’m hopeful that a fairly recent event will convince the skeptics who disregard user experience. But first, what exactly is user experience?

 

According to the Nielsen Norman Group—pioneers in the field of evidence-based user experience research, training, and consulting—user experience (UX), “…encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” Carrie Cousins of Design Shack—an online locale that covers all things web-design related, defines user experience as “…how a person feels when interacting with a digital product.” Cousins adds that UX encompasses many other factors, including but not limited to: “…usability, accessibility, performance, design/aesthetics, utility, ergonomics, overall human interaction and marketing.”

 

While some folks find it necessary to distinguish between usability—how things work— and user experience—how things feel, most lump the two terms together when discussing the totality of an end user’s digital experience. Plainly put: user experience concerns how things look, feel, and operate. This concept tends to be abstract and difficult to quantify, which is why it doesn’t fit neatly into the CFO’s spreadsheet. It’s hard as heck to quantify it; hard as heck to truly appreciate; and hard as heck to sell to bankers who are already paying a bunch for their digital channel efforts every month. So how did it become such a big deal, and why all the hype? Believe it or not, there’s science behind it.

 

One of the earliest and most interesting studies around UX was conducted by the UK Design School between Dec. 1993 and Dec. 1994. Researchers tracked the share prices of publicly traded companies who had won awards for their focus on design and UX, and then compared them to various indices such as the FTSE 100 and the FTSE All Share index. They found that the design-focused companies out performed all others by more than 200 percent. And that was over the course of a five-year bear market, a three-year bull market, and the beginning of the recovery in 2003; the superior performance of the design-led companies persisted throughout.

 

Intrigued by the findings of the UK study, in 2006 researchers in Canada created a UX fund of their own, comprised exclusively of companies well-known for their UX prowess, such as Google, Apple, and Netflix, and promptly invested $50,000. Their original plan was to sell after one year, but when they realized a nearly 40 percent return in year one, they simply couldn’t sell; four and a half years later, the fund had matured 101.8 percent! These two studies kicked off a wave of UX studies around the globe, as more and more business leaders began to grow curious. U.S.-based Watermark Consulting conducted a study from 2007-2012 that found that the top ten leaders in customer experience—based on Forrester Research’s Annual Customer Experience Index— outperformed the S&P with close to triple the returns, at a cumulative total of +43 percent. In spite of a growing mountain of evidence in support of UX investment, skeptics remain.

 

Which brings us back to that “fairly recent” event I referenced earlier. On Oct. 2, 2014, Capital One– yes, that Capital One– acquired San Francisco-based Adaptive Path. Why was this so significant, you ask? Because, Adaptive Path and the folks they employ are considered by many as the gurus of UX. The huge-font verbiage that adorns the Adaptive Path corporate home page makes it very clear what they do and what they believe: Great businesses are built on great experiences. We make those experiences happen. If you explore their website further, you’ll encounter such statements as, “When Adaptive Path was founded (2001), UX (user experience) firms didn’t exist…” Not only are they the gurus of UX, you could also say they invented the space. And Capital One just acquired them – lock, stock, and barrel. If you’re someone who provides financial services to consumers and you haven’t been taking all this UX stuff seriously, it’s officially time to begin doing so–others are taking it very seriously. It can mean the difference between winning and losing.

What a gaming conference can teach FIs about user experience

I recently escorted my son and several of his friends to PAX South, a three-day convention celebrating all things gaming. The most lasting impression I came away with was that this event exists first and foremost to serve the broad community of gaming enthusiasts; considerations of commerce and enterprise are subordinate to the experience itself. As a result, PAX events nationwide have earned a large number of loyal and raving fans.

 

So, what does a gaming conference have to do with community banking or the digital channel?

 

PAX demonstrated a complete commitment to their audience. In addition, there are several other attributes of the show that I believe contribute to its popularity. It is these attributes that should be remembered when cultivating a community whose primary engagement is online.

 

Content

The content of PAX focuses exclusively on gaming and its attendant culture, and varies widely from immersive (PC, console, mobile and tabletop games) to spectator-oriented (panels, tournaments, concerts) to traditional (game developer and creator interactions with fans and fans’ interactions with each other). This range of content style and depth makes participants at all levels of fandom and gaming experience feel welcome and relevant. Perhaps most importantly, thanks to PAX’s dedication to their constituency, gaming aficionados like myself need not worry about becoming bored.

 

Community

The tone, language and design of the experience itself speak to the community in subtle but powerful ways. The rules of the event are written in clear, unornamented English (e.g., “Don’t harass anyone”). And unlike most technology-enthusiast-oriented shows (E3, Auto Shows, etc.), PAX explicitly bans “booth babes,” one example of many that speaks to a culture geared toward encouraging women to participate fully in the gaming community. The event staff are dressed recognizably, but informally, as are most exhibitors and presenters. As an attendee, you get the distinct feeling that even the people here who are “working” the event share in the culture and excitement of the community’s love for gaming.

 

Experience

PAX is certainly a tremendous platform for commerce, but again, commerce is secondary to the experience itself; it’s only present where it best serves attendees. The open booths invite attendees to play and discuss games and then make purchases if they so choose. With a standard badge, all of the content is essentially included and the “conversions” that occur after panels or in the exposition area are all attendee initiated. It would be possible to attend PAX, spend nothing beyond the cost of your badge, and have an incredibly rewarding day. By my estimation, however, this would be a rare occurrence, as most attendees were very keen on acquiring products they had tried or that reinforced and proclaimed their participation in the shared culture. Ironically, I think the fact that the experience comes before commerce, ultimately drives more commerce than if it were the other way around.

 

An event like PAX is the real-world, offline equivalent of an online user experience. It’s the convergence of an enormous number of online behaviors such as interactive gaming, message boards, and myriad content consumption from the likes of YouTube or webcomics. The event bridges the gap between the virtual experience and a physical, in-person experience in a fascinating way. There are tremendous lessons to be learned in the design of the experience, cultivation of the community, and integration of the commerce that funds the experience itself.

 

It has become popular to characterize the millennial generation as distracted, always online, detached from one another. Based on what I witnessed firsthand last weekend, I would contest every aspect of that view. If we want to learn how to reach them, we need to learn about the things that they love and why, and the way that PAX integrates their online and in-person experiences is a powerful model. To serve any community it is critical to understand its culture and values— I saw a tremendous display of both at PAX South.

Defining Your Customer Experience Leads to Loyalty

Let’s face it, defining a superior customer experience is a tricky prospect. Everyone knows what “customer” means. The confusion arises from the word “experience.” What does that word mean in the context of providing financial services? Is it 24-hour support? Does it mean products work as advertised and your account holders are happy – or just not complaining? What exactly constitutes an “experience”?

A few years ago, Harley Manning at Forrester created a definition of “Customer Experience.” He noted an experience must come from the perspective of the customer and have three components: 1) be useful (deliver value), 2) be usable (make it easy to find and engage with the value), and 3) be enjoyable (emotionally engaging).

This is a pretty good definition, however, I would summarize superior customer experience this way: Superior customer experience occurs when a company or an institution consistently exceeds customer expectations, leaving them with a feeling of delight.

Most businesses – including financial institutions – aim to provide superior customer service. That being said, the definition of “superior” is often times defined by the company, rather than its customers. The problem is, the essence of “customer experience” is individual and emotional. The key, then, to providing this experience is to create a business that focuses on delighting each end user.

A huge factor in this endeavor is that consumer expectations of their FIs are now driven by their non-financial brand experiences with services such as Netflix and Facebook, who offer applications on any device, anywhere, at any time. Customers now expect a unified experience between their smartphone, tablet, and online banking services. This experience not only has a consistent user interface and navigation, but it is optimized for each specific device. A tablet-first design is also critical because it provides both access to the services your FI offers and enables customers to swipe, touch, and tap intuitively in an engaging way.

Beyond the “any” access strategy, becoming aware of all of the ways that an account holder comes into contact with your organization is necessary. If you are a typical financial institution, customers can walk into a branch, call you on the phone, see your ads, read about you in the newspaper, go to your website, talk about you via social media, access virtual support, open your statements and other snail mailings, talk with the CEO at Kiwanis, and more. Have you planned for a great experience to be the logical outcome of your account holder’s interactions or are you just hoping it will happen?

Make a specific organization-wide focus to change the interactions you have with your account holders at every touch point, with a focus on creating an experience, built over time. Your strongest asset is your people and they are human, so they will make mistakes. However, if you compile a storehouse of superior experiences with your account holders, one bad event will not deter from their overall emotional response. By investing in delivering a positive emotional response from your account holders – consistently delivered from every touch point – you will come closer to acquiring the one trait that you can no longer buy or generationally expect, loyalty.

The Whole of UX Design: Greater than the Sum of Its Parts

Not so long ago, one of the biggest challenges for web application designers was creating intuitive, consistent experiences across multiple browsers. Once smartphones became ubiquitous, the focus shifted to touch-friendly controls and responsive layouts in order to provide similar experiences on PCs and smartphones. Today, however, with the mobile device market exploding to include tablets, phablets, glasses, and smartwatches, the competition to produce software offering innovative, multi-device experiences has reached a fever pitch, and the challenge has become far more vexing.

Today’s UI/UX designers must look at multi-device design holistically—considering not only screen sizes, touch zones, and consistency between devices, but also the who/what/where/when/why/how of device usage. As designers, developers, and product owners we must commit to broadening our focus on user experience. Ignoring the full picture of how users interact with their devices is analogous to deciding at the beginning of a test that you won’t answer the last five questions – producing an A+ isn’t even a possibility.

As Google’s Senior User Experience Designer, Michal Levin, points out in her bookDesigning Multi-Device Experiences, 86% of consumers use their smartphones while using other devices. Because smartphone use is often rushed and subject to interruption, users are likely to perform shorter tasks or stop in the middle of their tasks and try to resume them later. A good phone-oriented design will give priority to tasks that users are most likely to perform on phones, and offer ways to save those tasks for completion in the future, on that device or another.

I was fortunate to attend Nielsen Norman Group’s Usability Week in San Francisco this past June, and during the “Scaling User Interfaces” session, presenter Raluca Budiu mentioned that users often admit during usability testing that they would never perform certain tasks on certain devices. I thought it was a powerful statement. Given the number of factors that differentiate devices—from screen size to portability to privacy (we know that tablets and desktops are often shared among family members while phones are used privately)—it behooves us to survey our users and analyze data around which tasks are likely to be performed on various devices.

Doing so enables designers and developers to apply energies otherwise spent forcing round pegs into square holes, towards optimizing the experience on each particular device, providing users not only what they desired, but delivering it in a way that is better than they could have imagined. Not only does simple responsiveness fall short in facilitating the device specific goals of the user, it also fails to address other areas of the cross-platform experience. Serving up all your desktop content to phones negatively impacts load time, even though users are unable to see all the loaded content within the given screen real estate.

Additionally, as Aurora Bedford discussed in Nielsen Norman Group’s “Visual Design for Mobile and Tablet” session, the ideal placement of frequently used controls varies between devices and even between operating systems. For example, since our thumbs are typically near the bottom of iPhones when we’re holding them, it is recommended that commonly used controls be placed at the bottom of iOS mobile applications. However, to avoid accidental taps of the device buttons on Android, it is recommended that frequently used buttons be placed at the top of the screen.

To further complicate matters, the main theme in Levin’s Designing Multi-Device

Experiences is device interoperability; i.e., we must consider how users’ devices interact with one another. She points out that our mental models as designers are often stuck in the “consistent across devices” mode. While consistency across devices is integral to improving usability, increasing usage, supporting brand identity, and boosting the perception of a professional application, it is only a fraction of the whole picture. It’s equally imperative that device designs are also continuous—that users can abandon halfway completed workflows on their phones and pick them up again later on their desktops or tablets.

The game changer, she asserts, is the creation of designs that are complementarythat enable devices to interact and work together to heighten the user experience. She used the example of the Scrabble app, where players sit around a tablet which serves as the game board, while the individual users’ phones contain their letter tiles. So how do application designers tackle the daunting challenge of creating consistent, fast, user-friendly, innovative, continuous, complementary experiences across all devices?

There is no silver bullet. We can, however, make huge advances by analyzing the device specific

data we have today, which leads to informed decisions on which features to highlight on various devices. We can survey our users on their device-oriented habits and behaviors. We can use progressive disclosure to reduce load time and cognitive overload on small devices, while still offering the content available on larger devices. We can perform usability tests at the wireframing and prototyping stages.

Perhaps most importantly, we can open our minds to the big picture of device usage and realize it’s so much more than it was ten, five or even two years ago. If we’re able use research and education to anticipate the needs of our users a few years into the future, we have a fighting chance in the race to develop innovative technology…that’s also delightful to use.