There are millions of digital products around us, but most of them do not have their own face, and have no story, all of which makes them boring and confusing. How can we change this situation? Unfortunately, there are no magical killer features
to do so, as others may think. It is more important for us to breathe life into financial services by adding soul to the digital product. Customers deserve humanity, understanding, care and human-centered design.
The best experience comes with a soul
Emotional experience, human-centricity and responsible consumption have become a social trend in today’s digital world. People deepen the quality of life through mindful living, finding happiness in common things and prioritizing genuineness and authenticity.
Therefore, customers want businesses to act sustainable, inclusive and socially responsible. Modern consumers value experiences over things.
Advanced brands use technology to humanize and improve the quality of interaction with the product.
But, digital functionality alone is not enough to delight the inner child; it requires nurturing attention, emotional support and engaging entertainment. We often feel frustrated when interacting with digital products. This is not because they do not help
us solve our problems, but because we do not feel the human touch behind it, which makes us feel lonely and empty.
How did products manufactured by Apple, Nike, Mastercard or Dove become iconic? What’s their secret? Of course, they have stunning designs and are extremely user friendly and well crafted, but there is something more that makes them special─something that
sets them apart from the crowd of competitors.
Apple unleashes our creativity despite the fear of standing out from the crowd.
Nike unleashes our courage to achieve goals we believe in, despite resistance from the world at large.
Mastercard unleashes our desire for priceless experiences, despite the efforts and money involved.
Dove unleashes our real beauty and self-esteem, despite the pressure of adhering to standard beauty stereotypes.
These brands’ messages touch our hearts because they address our human side and inspire us. They perceive customers as humans and treat them in the most humane way possible.
Products with soul allow us to feel differently, thus creating a completely new quality of customer experience. The only way to reach this level is to establish a deep emotional connection with customers and make them feel special.
At financial UX design agency UXDA, we say - to improve the customer experience we need to add soul to finance.
How can you add soul to your product?
Delightful customer experience in financial services does not come just from the use of colors, icons and button placement in the interface. The experience is the result of a design that makes a meaningful statement throughout the customer journey in accordance
with the beliefs of the brand and desires of the clients.
You can’t touch the heart of your customers, if your product doesn’t have a soul. A product’s soul is not something mystical as it might appear to be. There are certain criteria that differentiate products with a soul from ones without one.
Unfortunately, digital technology and data-driven services often tend to treat customers like numbers. This should not be allowed, because people feel it. Prove that your business is more than just making a profit. If we take care of our customers, which
many financial products lack, we can move the financial product from the world of numbers to the world of humans.
Giving back to your community and the environment are no-brainers, when it comes to building your product’s soul. The best way to show people the human side of a company is to run a responsible business. It must be committed to benefiting society, by making
a positive impact on technology, people and the planet.
Tesla empowers sustainable living despite the dominating global oil paradigm.
The NY Times empowers the ability to recognize the truth in a medium dominated by fake news.
The Body Shop empowers natural goods fair trade, by enriching community and nature in a world where exploitation has become part of the supply chain.
We value these products for appealing to our humanity, for allowing us to become the best version of ourselves. Technology can help brands to expand this humanity through global accessibility, instant support and personalization.
According to the Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper Commissioned By Braze, 57% of consumers said they
would be more loyal to a human brand. Human brands enjoy a 19 percentage point boost in how likely they were to be “loved” by customers, outperforming non-human brands by 20 percentage points on “likelihood to recommend.”
Consumers are 17 percentage points more likely to make a purchase or use a service with a human brand and are 22 percentage points more likely to be satisfied overall with a human brand compared to a non-human one. Еmotional indicators, including “responsive,”
“friendly” or “thoughtful,” provided some of the strongest drivers to consumers’ perception that a brand was dealing with them in a human way.
According to Deloitte in this era of heightened consumer expectations,
being “customer-centric” is no longer enough. Building resilient bonds of loyalty means weaving the real inputs and data from customers into the why and how of what your company does and is.
Having a purpose is not just a reflection of product values; it’s a challenge to improve something─experience, people or even the world.
People love products that strive to be more. Let’s take a look at companies that are disrupting industries. They dedicate their work to creating unique, authentic and meaningful products. The soul is closely related to the purpose and value the product brings
to the customers.
In the digital age, things are changing extremely fast. The fastest growing Fintech products have reached millions of customers in just a few years, while traditional financial brands have taken decades to do so.
- Wise delivers money without borders, saving on fees;
- Revolut brings freedom with a sustainable alternative to traditional banks;
- Chime provides accessible banking that makes a profit with customers, not from them;
- Nubank exists to free people from the bureaucracy of the financial system;
- Klarna makes shopping smooth and frictionless for the consumers;
- Finally, our designed BELLA Loves Me is a conversational banking app powered by love in a numbers-driven industry.
We are used to the financial industry being cold and lacking soul, but the aforementioned disruptors have proven otherwise. They brought higher purpose and care to their customers, thereby finding a place in their hearts.
Challengers are not afraid to show customers who they are and what they stand for. The highest customer-centricity you can go for in financial services design is a soul-driven financial product─one that really makes the world a better place for living.
Don’t be afraid to stand up for something.
According to Havas’ global Meaningful Brands® 2019 research, 77% of consumers buy brands that share their values. Meaningful
brands that are viewed as making the world a better place outperform the stock market by 134%.
Accenture Strategy’s global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers found that 62% of customers want
companies to take a stand on current and globally relevant issues like sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices. The closer a company’s purpose aligns to their own beliefs, the better.
Fifty-two percent of respondents have indicated that they prefer brands that believe in something greater than just the products and services they sell. This is also confirmed by a study
by New Paradigm Strategy Group & Fortune, which found that 64% of the US population believes that the company’s primary goal should be to “make the world a better place.”
In today’s highly automated digital world, products with soul have a special appeal. They make emotional connections part of their DNA. By speaking to customers as friends, human-centered services take precedence over ruthless cost optimization (that leads
to robotic interactions).
To establish an emotional connection, we need a product to stand out in customers’ hearts. This requires an emotional touch that resonates with customers’ values and beliefs.
Ninety-four percent of Americans say brand empathy is now more important than ever, according to the study, “The Empathy Imperative: Consumer Percepts On Brand
Empathy Through Pandemic.” In addition, consumers with an emotional connection to a brand have a 306% higher “lifetime value,” meaning they stay loyal to the brand for an average of 5.1 years compared to 3.4 years, and they are more likely to recommend
brands to others (71% vs. 45%), according to Motista.
Get to know your customers as best you can─what they like and what they don’t: events, places, brands, TV shows, blogs, services, etc. It is important to understand their surroundings in order to connect on a personal level and understand what is important
to them. We need to go beyond general target data and resonate with the audience based on the beliefs you both care about. This is how product ambassadors are born.
According to Motista research, emotionally connected customers generate lifetime
revenue nearly six times that of highly satisfied customers. Credit card customers who feel emotionally connected spend 46% more annually than those who are just highly satisfied, and their lifetime value is eight times higher.
Every financial institution wants a highly satisfied customer, but in today’s competitive environment, that’s no longer enough,” explains Scott Magids, CEO of Motista. “Our research shows that, across all categories, an ”emotionally connected” customer generates
52% more annual value than just a “highly satisfied” one.
Stories not only entertain us, but also teach us by providing both role models and danger warnings. This helped people survive throughout evolution. Stories include myths, legends, old wives’ tales, Hollywood blockbusters and even the story of that guy next
door who got sick after consuming mushrooms.
Our consciousness is constantly trying to organize the chaotic information around us into some kind of easily understandable story.
A Story helps us find the right answer and deliver it in an easy way. For example, Google has the answer to everything─algorithms and data; Apple has design and creativity (“with creativity you can change the world, and we give you tools for this”); Nike’s
answer lies in the power of personal achievement that encourages us to become the winner in life; Red Bull empowers life with adrenaline, making every moment count. This answer becomes the main value they provide to the customer, and all the communication
and products build their story around this.
Once you have defined your brand essence, you can construct a powerful story that ties the brand and product assets together and fills them with human experience and imagination. Such a narrative will direct and support company growth for years, sharing
your purpose, values and personality in a clear and emotionally engaging way. Especially during the pandemic, 70% of consumers said brands should boost positivity and share uplifting stories, according to Twitter
research, because people live through stories and want to feel the vibe and get more dopamine.
Who is the main character in your product story? This is not about your product. The hero is your customer, and the product is just an ally, like Yoda for Luke Skywalker.
We are under attack by the clones. Thousands of soulless digital products lacking personality create an ocean of sameness around us. To bring to life a product that has personality, we need to dig deeper and discover the true essence of a financial brand.
Personality is a set of emotional characteristics through which users perceive a product. For example, customers feel that trustworthiness (83%), integrity (79%) and honesty (77%) are the emotional factors that most align with their favorite brands, as indicated
by a Deloitte study.
Products that are assembled from functions that are defined from marketing reports about abstract consumers are unlikely to evoke an emotional reaction. Every tiny detail should express the authenticity of the product. Language, design, layout, style, architecture,
functions and others should reflect the brand’s true identity.
According to Stackla research, 86% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding what brands
they like and support, but 57% of consumers think that less than half of brands create content that resonates as authentic.
Iconic brands don’t use boring templates and copy faceless corporations’ designs. Their products and communications are aesthetically pleasing, unique and in line with design best practices and trends.
Be different and authentic to transfer personality through stunning product design, which expresses the values of the company.
McKinsey tracked the design practices of 300 publicly listed companies over a five-year period in
multiple countries and industries. They interviewed and surveyed senior business and design leaders, collected more than two million pieces of financial data and recorded more than 100,000 design actions. As a result, McKinsey found that companies from top
Design Index outperformed twice as well in terms of revenue and total return to shareholders.
In every business, there are pitfalls that destroy the motivation of a team. In the most successful digital startups, we see that the founders had such a powerful and engaging vision for the product that it made the entire team passionate and motivated about
it despite the obstacles.
Steve Jobs said, “People with passion can change the world for the better.”
Today, many are striving to understand what users will like and create a product for them. And, this is right, but only after you have started with yourself. When you make a product for yourself, at least one person is already excited─you! And, in the human
community, any movement always starts with one passionate visionary.
If we look closely, we can find a simple formula: the product vision must be so inspiring as to sustain the passion of the entire team.
It doesn’t matter who you are — an employee of a Fintech startup or a bank product owner — your attitude toward the product is critical. If the owner does not passionately believe in the product, no one will believe it. You need to align the external customer
experience with the internal passion. You can put your soul into the product and bring it to life, but you need your team to believe and sync with this passion to keep and expand this life.
It is not easy to bring such a passion to life. Despite the fact that digital is performed as a data-driven business, users evaluate everything through emotions.
Behind a product with a soul, there are always passionate people who fill the product with their energy. A passionate team is highly efficient and adaptive. According to Deloitte
research, more than 90% of passionate employees feel confident when facing any technology disruption, easily figure out how to acquire new skills or tools if needed and achieve a better understanding of a problem or situation, regularly challenging their
assumptions and considering what else is possible.
Sometimes we see how the actions of the company do not correspond to its statements, and this frustrates customers. For example, in a beautiful ad, a company talks about caring, but its mobile app is terrible, its support team is arrogant, and its managers
are indifferent. Talking about the soul and establishing an emotional connection is meaningless in this case.
To create the best product with a soul, it’s extremely important to ensure consistency in everything you do according to purpose.
Salesforce data shows that one of the biggest threats to a company is fragmented and uncoordinated products, services
and business processes. This is especially true for large companies, as it creates a chaotic and unsatisfactory user experience. Seventy-six percent of customers expect consistent interaction between departments, but 54% say that sales, services and marketing
teams generally do not seem to share information.
Often, it’s because products lose sight of their path over time. They pile up dozens of functions and lose priorities. They are losing sight of their users, thereby losing sight of the market. They pursue many uncoordinated goals at the same time and try
to solve too many problems. This blurring of focus dilutes the essence of the product and weakens its soul. Lucidpress State of Brand Consistency Report found consistent
branding can increase revenue by 33%.
All elements of your service, both external (communications, product design, visual style, user interface, support, etc.) and internal (business processes, employees, back-office software, operating principles, etc.) must be focused on a singular purpose.
According to a Claranet study, 43% of UK financial organizations cite centralizing customer data as a key challenge
to improving the digital user experience, and also as a key barrier to creating a consistent experience across all channels. This was validated by Forrester,
finding that top challenges to delivering a good CX are internal struggles: the lack of a cohesive strategy across teams (48%) and silos of various CX operations and functions across the organization (38%). At the same time, ensuring a seamless experience
through all channels is a top priority for 42% of consumers, according to a study by Wunderman Thompson.
Conclusion: Customers pay more for the best experience
The more people’s expectations grow, the more they make purchase decisions based on the customer experience (CX) they get. The study conducted by Forrester
Consulting on behalf of CSG shows that there are four major consequences of failing to deliver a positive CX:
- Decreased customer retention (60%)
- Decreased sales (57%)
- Loss of company revenue (57%)
- Poor brand image (50%)
Financial companies follow digital trends, and, according to a Deloitte global benchmarking study of
318 banks in 39 countries, 34% of banks implemented fully digital processes (product opening, etc.) during the pandemic. This is still too small, so the window of opportunity remains wide open. And, hundreds of new Fintechs slip into it every year.
Everyone sees that moving to meet customer needs has a high potential for business performance, especially in the long term:
- 80% of customers now consider the experience a company provides to be as important as its products and services. (Salesforce)
- 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. (Salesforce)
- 65% of U.S. customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than advertising. (PwC)
- 42% of customers would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. (PwC)
- 32% of all customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience. (PwC)
As Rishad Tobaccowala, “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data,” the book’s author said:
"Companies and CEOs were tilting more towards the data, which I call the spreadsheet side of the business. They were ignoring the story side of the business — the values, the purpose, the talent, the culture. Companies fixating on the spreadsheet eventually
ended up doing poorly in terms of revenue and market capitalization."
Alex Kreger is the founder of the award-winning financial UX design agency UXDA, which has added soul to
banking and Fintech digital products from 35 countries. As a recognized expert in digital product UX strategy and customer-centered design, has published more than 100 articles on this topic in Forbes, Financial Brand, Finextra, UXPlanet, and Muzli media.
Alex developed his own financial UX design methodology based on more than a decade of experience creating human-centered digital products.