Every day consumers are bombarded by an enormous amount of commercial messaging, advertising, sales prompts and calls to action. The tools through which they receive this information have also become more intricate, adding layers of complexity to how they consume information, transact or bank, writes Craig Corte, head of customer experience and design at Barclays Africa.
While technology and connectivity have given consumers much more choice, they have also created an environment in which consumers’ needs can get lost – buried under “innovation” and “mechanisation” being implemented just for the sake of it.
Banking, in particular, is massively complex and banks are notorious for sacrificing simplicity and utility for expanded capability.
Fortunately, this is changing, as more organisations start incorporating design theory into their business development – something that has long been the purview of companies like Apple and Google.
Design theory is a response to the massive amount of complexity surrounding consumers today. It seeks to simplify things into usable, innovative, useful experiences by placing the consumer at the centre of the development and testing processes before putting in place offerings that truly meet customer needs.
It is at the core of the recent revamp of our digital platforms, specifically our new website, mobile app and ChatBanking for Twitter and Facebook, all launched in July, as well as our new online banking platform due for release before the end of this year.

Customer experience by design
Our goal is to use design theory to make banking less complex but more useful, efficient and beautiful. We built a set of design principles in order to create consistency across our business, reinforce our brand, create instantly recognisable customer experiences, guide our decisions on projects and products and ultimately, act as the foundation for everything we do.
We interviewed hundreds of customers, against various personas to deeply understand the problems, issues and frustrations they experience when using our current products. Based on this feedback we built the first prototypes that we believed would address these issues through a redefined banking experience. The prototypes were then put back into testing with customers for further feedback and analysis and again refined based on this data. We repeated this process until we achieved the final products that have now been released into the market.
The idea is that we take customers on a journey with us. We iterate and improve consistently, and build velocity around releasing products. The customer feedback loop and rich customer analytics help us co-create the product our customers want. In every step of the way we include customer traction and feedback.

Lessons learnt
By implementing this approach we have learnt that it doesn’t matter which platform our customers use to interact with us (whether it is a feature phone or a combined experience of apps, connected television, social media and ATMs), the same level of scrutiny and rigour has to be applied in understanding those customers and building solutions both for the customers we have and for the customers we want in the future.
We have also been able to create efficiencies when it comes to product and service offerings, trimming away unwanted and cumbersome capabilities and replacing them with what our customers truly want.
Banks are traditionally bad at discarding what they don’t need. They often build something that no-one uses because it solves a business need rather than a customer one. The end result is masses of complexity but little or no adoption because customers simply don’t understand why they should use that particular product or application. Design theory is the crucial element, responsible for how we will change this.

What it means for business
Design sits between the consumer and the brand. It’s that moment of truth where the consumer confronts the brand promise, and it requires a deeper understanding of what your customers are actually trying to achieve by using your product.
The companies who get this right generally outperform their competitors. Evidence shows that design-led businesses have outperformed their peers over the last fifteen years on the New York Stock Market.
In 2014 the DMI Design Index showed that design-led companies like Apple and Google, maintained significant stock market advantage and outperformed the S&P by an extraordinary 228% over 10 years.
These companies understand that today’s brands are living, breathing entities that reinforce themselves through consumer interaction.
The financial services industry is shifting and we are seeing the emergence of new competitors every day. By implementing design theory across our business we believe we can compete with these new competitors and continue to be the reliable and stable service provider our customers expect us to be. It will make us more agile and lead to a better bottom line overall.
We’ve identified the digital space as the best place to start but over time design theory will begin to player a bigger role in the business and, as we build out capacity and change the way South Africans bank, for the better.