19 December 2014
Rob van der Haar
Rob van der Haar

The brand experience and user experience alliance

The necessary step towards customer experience excellence

This is a plea for a tight cooperation of brand experience (BX) and user experience (UX) professionals in the financial sector. It’s my conviction that such an alliance contains opportunities for financial organizations to improve their customer experience in general and their credibility in particular.

Transcript of a presentation (in Dutch) given at the Emerce eFinancials 2014 conference (16 December 2014, Amsterdam)

The game of trust

As you might know, in team building sessions ‘The Trust Game’ (slide 2) is a popular exercise for measuring trust. Your trust in your co-workers is challenged by falling backwards. Colleagues who are trustworthy will catch you (and those who are not will let you fall). Customers in the financial sector are in a similar situation. They have put their financial futures into the hands of banks and insurance companies, in the forms of insurance, mortgages, and savings. These customers want the organization to deliver what they promised: to catch them if necessary. But as a result of unsuitable and complex financial products, the manipulation of interest rates, and complex agreements, the financial sector is undergoing crisis of trust, faith and credibility.

Just recently (slide 3), our Minister of Finance warned banks not only to care about stress tests or buffers, but also to work on soft qualities such as trust and reputation. A first major challenge for many in the financial industry is to regain the trust of their customers.

Customer focus

Many in the financial sector have already concluded that the customer must be in the center of their operations. That’s more than just providing better customer service or launching a promising marketing campaign. It’s about having a genuine interest in customers and providing engagement, connection and inspiration, and ensuring customers experience it themselves. If not, the credibility of finance will decrease even further.

Of course, a beneficial effect of putting customers and their experiences at the center of your operation is that you can be more successful financially. Research has shown (slide 6) that customer-centered organizations have a higher market value than organizations which are not customer-focused.

Human-Centeredness

Informaat has a track record in experience design and consultancy (slide 9). We operate in a field which has been human-focused for decades. We have been practicing human-centered design and development of (digital) products and services through the application of disciplines such as human factors, human-computer interaction, and user experience design. More recently, we see a growing interest in customer experience. Our playing field has therefore extended significantly, requiring us to work in a multi-disciplinary approach across the silos of our client organizations. But why is that?

Customer experiences are complex by nature and influenced by a multitude of factors. They are the outcome of all the moments of contact (a.k.a. touch points) of a customer with an organization. For example: with a brand, a campaign, a product but also with a helpdesk or a tweet. And customer experiences are also shaped by things others say about your organization. In the end, it all boils down to a simple question: what’s the feeling of customers in customers that you want to evoke and leave behind (slide 11)? And that feeling is obviously one that is as positive as possible. Creating such positive experiences requires orchestration.

Organizations perform all kinds of activities to influence customer experience (slide 12). First, there are customer-facing activities, such as branding, marketing, and the delivery of products and services. Second, there are internal factors such as culture, employees, or customer understanding. These are not directly aimed at customers, but they do determine the quality of the brand experience and user experience.

Excellent customer experience and customer experience excellence

To realize excellent customer experiences, organizations must aim at customer experience excellence (slide 13), which implies that:

1. They know which facets of the customer experience to influence.
2. They know which facets to control and explicitly select those which influence customer experience positively.

When customer expectations change, these organizations work in a consistent, goal-oriented and systematic manner to further optimize their customer experience.

But because our concern is focused on the significant challenges that financial institutions face – such as trust and customer focus – it’s important to know where to start.

As far as we are concerned, activities related to brand and marketing (BX) and to products and services (UX) need to be addressed first. These activities will have a big influence on credibility in the customer experience. If you promise more than you deliver, disappointment occurs and trust of your customers suffers. The other way around is also not good to sustain trust. I’ll illustrate this with three examples the financial sector can learn from.

Examples of imbalance between promise and delivery

The first (slide 15) a familiar example to explain the difference between brand promise and product delivery: the hamburger. With a beautiful, stylized picture of a hamburger a well-known fast food chain creates the promise of its product. But when you actually buy a hamburger it looks quite different (slide 16). The difference is often so big that I don’t understand why people eat at these places at all. It might be acceptable for fast food chains, but not for all organizations. Take this hamburger as a metaphor for an investment insurance and you’ll get a different story.

A more serious example (slide 17): Nokia often got into problems with the imbalance of promise and reality. The company had a strategy to replace its digital compact cameras with smartphones. With its so-called PureView, Nokia bet on image quality as a unique selling point. In this particular case, the image stabilization technology OIS. In their advertising, it was suggested that the specific smartphone was good enough to shoot the commercial with. However (slide 18), on the internet people quickly found out that the commercial was not shot at all with the smartphone camera, but with a professional camera, which was visible in the reflection of a window. In online media, the credibility and integrity of the Nokia brand were questioned. The resulting apology was a very painful one, considering the position the company was in at that time.

In the previous two examples, the promise exceeded reality significantly. Examples in which it is the other way around are rare but known (slide 19). The brand perception of Motorola is robust, boring and not so innovative. Its products have an almost military resilience. But in 2004 Motorola launched a thin, innovative and sexy-looking mobile phone which became a huge success, the Razr. As a result, the brand image of Motorola improved, its market value increased by 70% and luxury fashion brands such as D&G wanted to be associated with Motorola. But this success could not be sustainably integrated in its product portfolio. After three iterations of the Razr, customers lost interest and moved to other brands.

These three examples show that an imbalance of brand/marketing and products/services doesn’t benefit trust, faith and credibility. But who can restore this balance? As you can read from the title of this post, I see the alliance of brand experience and user experience professionals as a possible solution to repairing this disjunct of promise and delivery.

The relation between UX and BX

Both UX and BX operate in the outer circle of our CX Model (slide 22). They are close to the customer, can realize changes quickly and therefore have a significant impact on customer experiences. To establish this alliance it’s also handy they have some things in common (slide 28).

UX as a practice is involved with the design, development and delivery of products and services, whereas BX is concerned with brand and marketing. UX is user-focused, BX brand-focused. UX creates product value, BX brand value. UX aims to make products attractive, BX distinctive. UX wants products to be used for real, BX wants to connect customers to the brand. Furthermore, both focus on experience, are comfortable with design and apply creativity to problem solving. They have so much in common that’s still a mystery for me why they don’t work together. But what kind of cooperation must it be?

In order to increase credibility and trust, the cooperation of UX and BX must be strategic, tactical and operational. I’ll explain how this can take place (slide 30).

The customer experience model and framework

To realize excellent customer experiences, organizations need to start orchestrating all the factors which influence that experience. We call this capability customer experience excellence. But these factors have a different horizon and a speed of change. It’s much easier to modify a product or a campaign than to change a company culture or a technology platform.

In order to deal with such complexity, we created our CX Framework (slide 31). These are the factors influencing the CX from the previous model, including three perspectives: strategic, tactical and operational. This makes it a general, recognizable and usable model. We have applied this analytical model and it has helped us to adjust our UX activities alongside other activities within the CX playing field.

These (slide 32) are examples of activities and elements in the framework, grouped according to their different time horizons and objectives. The framework identifies opportunities for cooperation and alliances to improve customer experiences. For the purpose of this post, I’ll only focus on the upper factors of the framework: UX and BX.

Three perspectives on UX and BX

Within the strategic perspective, there are activities which can be coordinated within the alliance. In practice, we see this happening in the area of customer journeys. But if we have to make a selection for starting a strategic alliance, we’ll select Principles (slide 34). An example of these are ‘The Seven Principles’ of the Dutch supermarket Jumbo, addressing price, service, range of products, freshness, speed, etc. Jumbo has chosen to communicate these to their customers, so customers can identify them as the promise of the supermarket. Indeed, it would be nice to see a financial institutions state such a set of experience principles so clearly.

From a tactical perspective (slide 37), we notice that the alliance of UX and BX cooperates in the area of identity. Digital products and services must fit the brand identity. But if we have to identify a starting point for a tactical cooperation between both disciplines, it’s the Roadmap. The experience roadmap is an integral plan for UX and BX on how to execute the principles they identified. In such a roadmap, the balance of UX and BX activities is important. For example, when one of the experience principles is ‘Personal service’ you first have to address your brand experience before customers expect and accept your personal services. With a roadmap you can also establish coordination with other departments and disciplines, such as IT. Therefore, create a visual and understandable roadmap of future customer experiences. It’s hard to find examples of a roadmap from specific organizations but I’ve found one example of the results of a proper roadmap (slide 39).

It’s not really a roadmap but a timeline of the Dutch internet service provider XS4ALL. This company was founded by the hackers community Hacktic, established in the 1990s in Amsterdam. This community provided the first public internet access. Although XS4ALL was acquired by a traditional telecom provider (KPN), they still were able to keep their anarcho-technology identity. After all these years, these roots are still in the DNA of their products and services. Customers are offered more technological capabilities than with other providers. And their customer service employees still have a broad and deep expertise in technology which their customers appreciate very much.

Within the operational perspective (slide 40), UX and BX create mockups or teasers of new propositions or features. Here we see the integration of UX and BX as critically important. In this perspective, it’s important to coordinate your promise and (upcoming) delivery. You can do this to work in a disciplinary fashion during execution. So, don’t ship products and services which hurt your credibility and do have the courage to make Go/No-go decisions.

Google’s self-driving car (slide 43) still has to prove how it has integrated UX and BX. While the discussion of who’s responsible when an accident occurs is still active, Google created a prototype car without a steering wheel. The promise is ‘Google brings you safely from A to B’ with smart technology. It’s obvious that the integration of UX and BX in this case is of major importance.

Concluding remarks

Now, imagine you initiate this alliance of UX and BX. What should you expect as the outcome (slide 44)? Principles will support you in making customer focus a reality and create a foundation for credibility of the customer experience. The roadmap assures that you can develop your credibility in a sustainable way. And integration guarantees that your credibility is not jeopardized.

This is my plea for an alliance of UX and BX which will inspire the next step towards customer experience excellence.

About the author

Rob van der Haar was one of the first students Interaction Design at the HKU University of the Arts (Utrecht). From 1995 on, Rob worked as a designer and design manager in various organizations, such as Philips, TNO and Nokia. Rob is now a member of the management team at Informaat, responsible for design strategy and delivery. In this role he advises organizations on their execution and governance of experience design activities.

Customer experience (78), CX excellence (8), User experience (53)

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