The Mobile Moments Of Opportunity (Or Why Mobile Wallets Haven’t Caught On)

The mobile wallet space continues to evolve. Maybe devolve is the better word.

Square’s Wallet is off the market (if you consider the Apple Store to be the market, that is). Visa’s v.me is off the market (if you consider the US to be the market, that is). Lifelock’s mobile wallet is off the market (regardless of how you define the market).

On the other hand, Amazon just launched its mobile wallet (if you consider a “beta” version to be a product launch, and if you consider what they did launch to be a “mobile wallet”).

Initial reviews have not been particularly complimentary. TechCrunch called it a “quiet debut.” @heathervescent called her interaction with the wallet “BO-RING.” @mdudas tweeted “Amazon released a joke of a mobile wallet product today.” Mike’s beef with the product (expressed in a public tweet) is that “It only stores digital versions of loyalty & gift cards, there’s zero payment functionality.”

A comment from a Bank Innovation article caught my eye:

“The app does not (yet) have the ability to store credit and debit cards, which seems to be integral for a mobile wallet.”

That’s the essence of the issue here. What is a mobile wallet, and what, exactly is “integral”?

***

Regardless of how you define mobile wallets, or what is or isn’t integral, some of the consumer data regarding the concept is perplexing. According to a Media Post article:

“While most consumers (78%) are aware of digital wallets, only about a third (32%) has ever used them, according to the 2014 Digital Wallet Usage Study by Thrive Analytics.”

Let’s do some math here. About two-thirds of mobile phone subscribers (who comprise about 85% of consumers) have a smartphone. That means about 56% of all consumers have a smartphone. If one-third of all consumers have used a digital wallet, then more than half (~57%) of all smartphone owners have used a mobile wallet, if the Thrive study is correct.

But I don’t think it is. That percentage seems way too high. Maybe the Thrive study’s numbers refer to percentages of smartphone owners, not all consumers (note to Media Post: That’s kind of an important distinction).

The Thrive study also found that, among mobile wallet users (however many of them there are), just one-third used a mobile wallet at least on a weekly basis, and just 7% used it daily.

So, regardless of how many mobile wallet users there really are (and I would argue there really aren’t very many)–and regardless of what is and isn’t “integral” to the wallet–digital wallets have hardly become an integral part of consumers’ daily lives. Why not?

***

Data points of one are dangerous, but when I ask my wife–a baby boomer who manages the family’s finances–about her interest in mobile wallets, her response is: “What’s a mobile wallet? What I really need is something to keep track of all the damned gift card and prepaid cards we have. I hate carrying those things around, and when I do, I have no idea how much money is on them.”

Mike Dudas’ critique of Amazon’s mobile wallet — “there’s zero payment functionality” — represents a data point of one, as well.

Neither Mike’s nor my wife’s opinions of mobile wallets are right or wrong. They simply point to the varied needs of (potentially) different segments of consumers. The question is: Which segment is bigger, and will drive the market for digital wallets?

***

My take: Making the payment is not the part of the customer experience that consumers want a digital wallet (whatever that might be) to improve. The mobile moments of opportunity–to improve the customer experience, to add new levels of convenience to the customer experience, to help consumers make better/smarter decisions about how they manage and spend their money–occur before and after the payment.

That is, the mobile moments of opportunity come during consumers’ decision-making process, and in the tracking and analysis of their spending post-payment.

20140723 M2O2In the course of the shopping or purchasing experience, before the actual payment transaction, consumers want to know:

1) Is this the right product for me? That’s why 40% of smartphone owners scan labels and UPC codes in the store while shopping (source: Aite Group).

2) Is this the best price I can get? That’s why about a third of smartphones store coupons on their mobile device (source: Aite Group).

3) How can/should I pay for this? Would putting this on my Amex credit card be better than paying for it with my debit card or some other credit card I have? Do I have rewards points I can apply to the purchase?

After the payment transaction, consumers want to know:

1) How much did I spend on a particular category of product so far this month? Haha, just kidding. Nobody really cares about that. OK, seriously, just kidding about kidding. The history of PFM adoption would suggest that not a lot of people care about this question. I would argue, however, that the low adoption is more a function of the shortcomings of online PFM than a function of low interest on the part of consumers. As mobile PFM evolves, we’ll see more interest in this question.

2) Where are all those receipts for all those products I purchased? That’s why about a quarter of smartphone owners scan paper receipts into their smartphone (source: Aite Group). (I always feel bad for those consumers who do that who shop at CVS–it must take them an hour to scan the receipt from just one visit).

***

A wallet is nothing more than a receptacle to hold things. In modern society, a wallet has evolved to hold things we make payments with. Most people, however, keep other things–photos, drivers license, pictures of their kids–in their wallets, as well. So a wallet doesn’t have to be just for enabling payments.

Shouldn’t that logic apply to digital wallets, as well?

To overgeneralize, there are three factors that influence consumers behavioral changes: Faster, cheaper, better.

Using a mobile wallet to simply make a payment might be faster, but I doubt many consumers see a big difference. And cheaper and better don’t factor in. 

Cheaper and better come from functionality that surround the payment.

***

Bottom line: In the long run, the concept of a digital wallet won’t last. The smartphone is the mobile wallet. The smartphone is the receptacle that holds all the functionality–pictures, personal identification, payment mechanisms–that today’s (non-digital, I probably shouldn’t call them non-mobile, because they are mobile) wallets provide.

The mobile moments of opportunity come from providing capabilities that go beyond simply digitizing the existing set of capabilities.

Advertisements

Why Do Consumers Open Bank Accounts?

More goodies from the EY 2014 Global Consumer Banking Survey….

EY asked consumers who had opened and closed bank accounts in the prior 12 months what their reasons for doing so were. Here’s what EY found:

20140224 EYTrust5

My take: These aren’t the “reasons” why consumers opened accounts. The most prevalent (if not only) reason why consumers open a bank account is that they need or want the product.

What EY captured were the factors that influenced consumers’ decisions.

(Before anybody thinks I’m trashing the EY study, let me admit that I’ve made this mistake–i.e., wording the question incorrectly–many times myself in the research I’ve done over the past 15 years).

There are a couple of other mistakes many of us are inclined to make when seeing survey results like this.

—————

The first is that that we take the most-frequently cited answer (in this case “experience with financial services provider”) and conclude that it was the “most important” factor.

This isn’t a valid conclusion because it ignores that fact that a consumer’s decision to open an account, or select a particular provider is a complex decision that involves the interaction of a number of factors. We (as researchers) can ask consumers how important one factor was versus another, or what number of factors were involved, but I have become convinced after years of doing consumer research that consumers’ stated answers for how they make decisions are very unreliable.

—————

The second mistake we typically make here is not distinguishing between decision factors and (what has come to be known as) the decision journey.

Knowing what factors influenced a consumer’s decision gives us little insight into how that consumer actually made his or her decision (oh, who am I kidding here–of course it’s “her” decision).

For example, were “rates/fees” the first factor a consumer took into account, then evaluated branch locations, and then asked family/friends for advice? Or did the decision process take the completely opposite path?

Again, these are hard things to learn because of our inability to remember every step of the process, as well as our biases towards wanting to be seen as making informed, rational decisions.

—————–

One of the more surprising (to me, at least) findings from the EY study was how few consumers mentioned “information provided by friend or relative” as a factor influencing their decision. This really flies in the face of a lot of research results that have been published.

The lack of impact from family/friend referrals was reflected not just in the factors influencing account opening decisions, but in driving trust, as well. Just 14% of consumers said “stories from friends or relatives” was a reason for having trust in a financial provider.

Given these results, it’s hard for me to see why EY put so much emphasis on the “power of advocacy” in the report. Seems to me that the opposite would be true.

—————

Bottom line: Why do consumers open a bank account? Because they need/want to. What factors actually influence that decision, and how do they actually go about making that decision? I can’t say I’ve seen research that adequately answers those questions.

Maybe The Experience Doesn’t Matter (That Much)

EY (is it not called Ernst & Young anymore?) released its 2014 Global Consumer Banking Survey recently. For a better review of it than I’ll provide here, see the summary on The Financial Brand, or download the report directly.

The report goes to some lengths to establish the connection between the level of trust consumers have in their banks and their intentions to refer their banks, as well as to open new accounts.

No argument from me. (Well, not about the correlation or even causal relationship between trust and strength of relationship, that is. As for intention to refer, c’mon people. It’s 2014–it’s time to stop asking consumers about their intentions to refer, and to start tracking their actual referral behavior. You don’t pay your salespeople on prospects’ intentions to buy your products and services, do you?)

According to the EY study, 44% of consumers have “complete trust” in their primary financial services provider (the vast majority of whom are banks). What caught my attention were the reasons why consumers who have “complete trust” do so:

20140224 EYTrust2Source: EY 2014 Global Consumer Banking Survey

The most frequently cited reason for having complete trust? Financial stability. Second most-frequently mentioned reason was a “customer experience” factor, “the way I am treated.” But a larger percentage of consumers cited “institutional stability” factors (e.g., ability to withdraw money and security procedures) than did those who listed “customer experience” factors (like how they’re communicated with, and the quality of advice provided).

I guess the “customer experience” isn’t that important after all, eh? A larger percentage of customers said size of the bank was a driver of trust than the those who mentioned problem resolution or their relationship with bank employees. (I guess size does matter).

Given the results of what drives trust–and the importance of trust in driving customer relationships and buying behavior–it seems out of place for EY to not just title the following section of the report “The experience is what matters,” but to title the entire report “Winning through customer experience.”

According to EY’s study, “customer experience” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

My take: “Trust” is way too complex a construct to boil down to measuring with labels like “trust completely” and “have moderate trust,”

What exactly is it that consumers “completely” trust their bank with, or to do? To “be there in the morning”, and to “have the right amount of money in the account”? Or is it “to always provide me with advice that’s right for me and not just the bank’s own bottom line?” If nearly half of all consumers “completely” trust their bank to provide the latter, they’re fools.

I would like to have seen EY segment the data to see if there were different groups of consumers who place higher emphasis on experience-related factors vs. institutional factors vs. rates/fees. (EY: I’d be happy to do this if you’re willing to share the raw data with me).

The bigger issue here is that the list of dimensions used to identify what drives “complete trust” is not a comprehensive, mutually exclusive set of factors.

But wait: The most frequently-cited reason for opening an account was “customer experience.” Where were the institutional factors like “financial stability” and “ability to withdraw money”?  Why would these institutional factors be drivers of trust, but not be reasons for opening an account?

—————

Speaking of reasons for why consumers open accounts….sorry, Brett King, but I didn’t see “mobile capabilities” anywhere on the list of reasons why consumers opened an account. I guess it’s just not very important. As a matter of fact, very few consumers listed the mobile channel as their preferred channel for a range of financial tasks.

20140224 EYTrust3Source: EY 2014 Global Consumer Banking Survey

Yep, more consumers prefer to make deposits through the call center than through a mobile device. As a matter of fact, a larger percentage of consumers would prefer to buy and sell investments using an ATM than with a mobile device (side note: If I’m ever behind you in a line at the ATM, and you start buying and selling investments, I’m going to kick the crap out of you) (side note 2: when 1% of people say they prefer to do a balance inquire “another way,” what do they mean? Writing a letter and asking the bank to mail them their balance?).

My take: Again, without some segmentation here, the top level results are deceiving.

I’ve also become very skeptical about “preferred channels” and adverse to asking consumers this question. First off, it means nothing. Second, it misses a reality about consumers’ experience: The preferred channel is the channel that is most convenient to use at any given moment.

—————

Bottom line: The most important takeaway from the report, however, is the second “opportunity” defined by EY: Help consumers make financial decisions.

I’ve written on this blog that “the next wave of banking competition is competing on performance. That is, who best helps the customer manage and improve their financial lives — and not who has the best rates or fees, or who claims to have the best service.”

If your bank or credit union is helping consumers make better financial decision, it won’t matter how large your institution is, or the location of your branches.

Is Bank Customer Service Really THAT Bad?

Carlisle & Gallagher published research looking into consumers’ experiences, attitudes, and perceptions regarding banks’ customer service capabilities. Overall, an excellent study with solid data and sound conclusions. 

The deck prepared by C&G is titled Are Two Calls Too Many in the Eyes of the Customer? reflecting the firm’s conclusion that first-call resolution is critical to customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

My take: I don’t dispute the findings of the study, but I do think that some of the data may be misinterpreted.

—————

Bank Marketing Strategy (written by my friend Jim Marous) covered the study in a post titled Bank Customer Service Still Stinks (read it when you’re done here). As Jim points out:

“One of the impediments to customer satisfaction is that more than a third of consumers surveyed by C&G did not believe their problem* was completely resolved. Of the complaints resolved, 72% of the problems required two or more interactions, with close to 30% requiring 3 or more interactions.”

Very interesting data.

But there is that darned asterisk. The asterisk refers to how C&G defined “problem” (see the graphic below).

20131211 carlisle1

The problem here — pun intended — is that customer service isn’t just “problem resolution.” It includes responding to inquiries regarding transactions, and providing information regarding products when asked about it. 

Excluding these interactions may result in underestimating banks’ first-call response rates. 

—————

There is another factor that may skew the results. Intentionally, the study did not include a representative sample of consumers. Half of the respondents have US$100k+ in household income (imagine how well off the country would be if 50% of HHs earned more than US$100k a year). 

The implication of this concerns the complexity of the problems the sample of respondents have had, versus the overall population. 

It’s quite possible that higher income consumers have more complex financial lives, and may therefore have more complex “problems.” 

Is it reasonable to assume that banks should resolve highly-complex problems on the first call as often as they should on less-complex interactions?

Again, the study may be underestimating banks’ first-call response rates.

—————

Bottom line: In no way do I mean to disparage the research (or Jim’s blog post). I don’t dispute the conclusions. But I do think it’s unfair to make a blanket statement that “banks’ customer service still stinks” based on data that isn’t representative (in this case, intentionally) of the overall set of interactions. 

In fact, one could argue — based on the rise in customer satisfaction scores in the ACSI study — that banks’ customer service is improving. 

Remember, though, that I said that “one” could argue that — I didn’t say that I would argue it.

The Problem With Banking Experiences And Transformations

If you don’t know who Joe Pine is, shame on you. He wrote two of the best management books ever published, Mass Customization and The Experience Economy.

Along with my praise, however, comes a little critique.

He recently published a white paper titled Beyond Products and Services in Banking, in which he writes:

“No industry has more commoditized itself over the past three decades than banking. Banks pushed people out of branches to use automatic teller machines in order to reduce personnel costs. They pushed them out of branches – the one physical space where they could actually control the experience provided to customers – to use telephone response systems, again in a bid to save money. They pushed them out of branches and onto the Internet to further reduce transaction costs. That’s no way to create a lasting relationship.”

Joe goes on to describe how banks can (should?) move beyond commodities to services, experiences, and ultimately to transformations through customization (see chart below).

experiences transformation banking

My take: There are some problems with Joe’s assertions. And although I know the construct of moving from commodities to services to transformations will appeal to many in the financial services industry, it’s not a doable path in today’s economy.

—————

Let’s start by scrutinizing some of Joe’s statements:

“Banks pushed people out of branches to use automatic teller machines in order to reduce personnel costs.”

True to a certain extent, but the convenience of accessing an ATM at 11pm when branches have been long closed hardly makes ATMs the job-reducing villain that Joe makes them out to be (didn’t Pelosi use the same ridiculous logic recently, as well?). 

In fact, I’ve found very little evidence that ATMs actually reduced personnel costs. One 1994 study from a Florida State University professor concluded:

“ATMs have expanded in number from 2,000 to 90,000 over the last 20 years, substantially increasing consumer convenience in the delivery of deposit services. The cost reductions expected to flow to banks from the substitution of ATMs for banking offices have not been realized.”

“They pushed them out of branches – the one physical space where they could actually control the experience provided to customers – to use telephone response systems, again in a bid to save money.”

Not to defend the IVR customer experience, but if all you wanted was your account balance, getting it from an IVR system sure beat getting dressed, getting in your car, driving to the branch, finding a parking spot, and waiting in line at the bank branch (just to have a teller inform you that you have $6.27 in your checking account)..

Another part of this statement might not hold water, either. Positioning the branch as the “one physical space where they could control the experience” is an odd statement. What other physical spaces were available to banks?

And why is “controlling the experience” so important?

Remove the word “physical” from that sentence, and then I have a real issue with it. I would argue that human-assisted interactions are less controllable than digital interactions. If banks wanted, or needed, to “control” the experience, than what better platform to do so than the Web where every interaction and transaction would be executed as designed?

“They pushed them out of branches and onto the Internet to further reduce transaction costs. That’s no way to create a lasting relationship.”

Once again, I’d argue that convenience trumps reduced transaction costs here.

Summing up the “pushed out of branches” by concluding “that’s no way to create a lasting relationship” doesn’t cut it. Most of the research I’ve seen (and done myself) points to two factors causing short-term relationships: 1) Levying of fees, and 2) Poor service. Nobody gives “they made me use ATMs, the phone, and the Internet” as a reason for why they left their bank. 

And “poor service” isn’t really about the superiority of branch service over the service provided in other channels. It’s about bank policies that customers perceive as unfair or disadvantageous to them.

—————

Over the past 15 years, bankers have convinced themselves that banking has become a commodity business, so Joe’s white paper finds a very attentive audience.

The construct of how to “de-commoditize” banking by moving from commodities to services to experiences to transformations will certainly appeal to many bankers. And kudos to Joe for finding a way to even move beyond “experiences” which he, himself, was instrumental in making part of the business lexicon.

While it’s an appealing concept, it doesn’t work in real life.

To quote the white paper:

“Mass customizing a service can be a sure route to staging a positive experience. If you design a service that is so appropriate for each particular person, a service that is exactly what the customer wants and needs at this moment in time, then you cannot help but make him go “Wow!” and turn it into a memorable experience.”

What does that mean, “mass customizing” a service? Can you give me an example? 

The reality of the banking industry (and I would be most other industries, as well) is that there is a finite number — and a small one at that — of ways to design a service.

—————

The idea of designing a service for each particular person may be technologically feasible, but it ignores a few realities. 

First, is that many consumers don’t know what they want or need, and can’t necessarily articulate those wants or needs. So designing a service to meet a non- or poorly-articulated need isn’t going to produce a “wow” experience. 

Second, the banking industry is highly regulated. Even if a bank wanted to personalize the mortgage application for every individual customer, it can’t. 

I can just see the headlines where some consumer claims discrimination because their mortgage application process was different from someone else’s.

—————

Most importantly, however, Pine’s hierarchy fails because not all consumers need experiences or transformations. 

The construct is akin to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with physiological needs at the bottom, and self-actualization at the top. Somehow, I don’t imagine the people living in the slums outside Rio de Janeiro as being particularly concerned with self-actualization. 

In the US. some banking consumers may want or need “experiences” or “transformations,” but many are perfectly happy (given their life stage, income level, etc.) to receive “services.” And for many of the unbanked, a commodity banking product would do just fine, thank you.

Ironically, the idea of “customizing” each level of Pine’s hierarchy actually ignores the specific needs of consumers, and how banking consumers can be segmented.

—————

Why Bank Branches Suck (And Why The Branch Of The Future Stuff Is Nonsense)

Chris Skinner recently published a blog post titled Banks designed for humans, not money in which he argues that:

“Branches are banks’ retail stores but were designed for money. They were designed to handle physical forms of cash and cheques, as secure transaction centres. This is the core challenge of why everyone thinks branches will disappear. Because they are not retail stores engaging the brand community but transaction centres run like some administration process.”

In imagining — in Chris’ words — “how the branch experience becomes a retail experience fit for 2013 and beyond,” he identifies a few examples:

  • Washington Mutual (Occasio) and Umpqua removed teller counters and opened the dialogue over a face-to-face table form.
  • Caja Navarro and ING Direct instigate “community engagement” (Chris’ words) by having open house sessions. Caja Navarro offered evening classes in their stores including hair styling and flower arranging, and ING Direct offered sessions where anyone could just ask questions like: “how does a mortgage work?”
  • Umpqua allows branches to be booked in the evening for cocktail parties or business meetings.

My take: These are all interesting examples of alternative (and creative) uses of branch space, but do little or nothing to prove that the branch is an economically viable (i.e., profitable) way of doing business for banks.

—————

In his post, Chris cites a Bloomberg article that appeared shortly after Apple launched its retail stores:

“Jobs thinks he can do a better job than experienced retailers. Problem is, the numbers don’t add up. I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake.”

Bet that guy wishes he could take those words back.

But the important point is why he was wrong. So-called “experienced retailers” were experienced at selling consumer products (clothing, jewelry, shoes) — not technology products.

At the time of Apple’s launching of retail stores, there were two frames of reference: 1) How existing retailers sold consumer products, and 2) How existing technology companies sold technology products. Apple stores didn’t fit either frame of reference, and hence, geniuses like the one at Bloomberg wrote them off.

—————

Apple reinvented the way technology products were sold. (It took a couple of tweaks, they didn’t get it right on the first try). What Apple has got right, regarding the sale of technology products, is creating a retail experience that is:

  1. Visual. People want to see the product.
  2. Tactile. People want to touch and use the product.
  3. Informative. People want to talk to store reps who know about the products.
  4. Advocative (I made that word up). People want reps who will recommend products that are right for the customer, not just for the store.
  5. Lean. The buying process if fast, with a minimal number of steps. No waiting in cash register lines. Fast and lean.

Apple stores are successful because — for the most part — they succeed at accomplishing these five things. And it doesn’t hurt that the products Apple sells are products that consumers consider to be very important in their personal lives.

—————

This is why bank branches suck: They don’t accomplish these five objectives (yeah, I know, if I flip-flopped #2 and #3 we could say that branches aren’t VITAL. I hate stupid acronyms).

Granted, banks are handicapped here.

It’s tough to “see” and “touch” most financial products and services. You used to be able to touch a checking account — i.e., your checkbook — but nobody does that anymore, and you didn’t get that until days after opening your account anyway.

And, for the vast majority of consumers (at least here in the US), although money is really really important to us, our choice of financial products and providers isn’t. We spend more time figuring out what restaurant to eat out at on a Saturday night than we do which bank we do business with.

There is, however, no excuse for why banks don’t meet the informative and advocative hurdles.

—————

This is also why the various “branch of the future” concepts fall short: They don’t do anything to reinvent the way financial products are sold.

The branchlet concept is great — as are the hair styling, flower arranging, yoga classes, and cocktail party ideas. But they only address the efficiency (cost) side of the coin, not the effectiveness (sales) side.

Chris was spot on in describing the branch as a “transaction centre run like some administration process.” Hair styling and flower arranging classes, however, is just lipstick on a pig. 

Chris was also spot on in suggesting that banks should “combine the two worlds: the retail store and the remote experience.” But I’ve yet to see a “branch of the future” concept that does that. Most BOTF concepts bring more technology into the branch, but few (if any) do anything to integrate the branch experience with the remote experience.

—————

Banks (and credit unions) have two huge hurdles to overcome in order to make branches profitable:

1. Redefining how financial products are sold. Sitting down at a desk with someone who may or may not be well informed about the products, asking me personal questions about my finances that I have no interest in sharing, talking about they may or may not be right for me….it’s a crappy experience.

2. Getting more people engaged in the management of their financial lives. Chris talks about “using stores as a method of building a sense of community around your brand.” It works for Apple because people really care a lot about their choice of smartphones, PCs, and music devices. You don’t get brand engagement without product category engagement.

There’s a chicken-and-egg situation with this last point. If I’m not engaged in the management of my financial life, why would I go into a branch to learn how a mortgage works? (Unless, of course, there was a free meal there. Free drinks, even better. Offer Macallan 18yo Scotch and I’ll even come in for the hair styling and basket weaving classes).

Apple may have reinvented the way technology products are sold, but the company is successful with its retail strategy because they get people in the door. Ironically, when new products are released, there’s often a line, and people can’t get in. But you know what I mean. 

Flower arranging classes don’t count as a way of “getting people in the door.” Banks don’t have the luxury of having a “cool” product that, when announced, will drive flocks of people to line up at the door. 

—————

The recent consumer research I’ve done (not yet published) suggests to me people are increasingly engaged with their financial lives. Younger consumers are more engaged with their financial lives than older consumers, and certainly more so than older consumers were when they were in their 20s and early 30s.

But the financial services industry has a long way to go before it can talk about branches as a place that fosters a sense of “ownership, belonging, and loyalty.”

—————

Bank Customers Want A Seamless Experience (My Foot)

Foot wasn’t exactly the first body part that came to mind, but I’m trying hard to keep it family-friendly here.

Yet another consumer survey from yet another technology company finds that bank customers want…..wait for it….a seamless and personalized customer experience. And that consumers are even willing to share personal information with the bank in order to get that personalized experience!

Only problem here…well, actually, it’s one of a number of problems here…is that this really doesn’t hold water.

—————

Before I explain what the main problem is here, I should come clean and give you the self-psychoanalysis of what’s bugging me here.

It’s not simply a claim that doesn’t hold water.

It’s two other things: 1) the Questionable Chain, and 2) the potential revenue loss.

Here’s the Questionable Chain:

  1. A technology company commissions a consumer research study which asks consumers questionable questions…
  2. …which produces a bunch of questionable conclusions….
  3. …which finds their way into a questionable press release…
  4. …which provides a questionable argument for why said technology company’s technology should be purchased.

Here’s the potential revenue loss: They didn’t pay ME (or my firm) to do the study for them.

So yes, I have some dishonorable (questionable?) reasons for bashing the research. But that doesn’t mean that what I’m going to say about it is wrong.

—————

I’m not going to provide a link to the research or name the company. You can Google it and figure it out. I’m deluding myself into thinking that if I don’t mention the firm’s name, I can avoid pissing them off.

The headline of the press release reads as follows: “Consumers want a more seamless and personalized customer experience from their bank.”

My take: No they don’t.

Consumers want things to work. Period. But if you must elaborate, they want things to work the way they expect those things to work, when they use them, and where they use them.

And consumers don’t want to have to think about any of it. They just want it to happen. If you really think about it, what they really want is for banks to be invisible.

“Seamless” is a term that implies that there are seams that need to be hidden or sewn together. I don’t want “seamless” pants, I don’t think my wife wants a “seamless” dress. We want clothes that fit and look good.

Same mentality applies to banking. Consumers don’t think in terms of “seams.” It’s true that there are interactions that require handoffs between channels or people within the bank, and yes, customers don’t want things falling through the cracks or to have repeating their problem five times.

But those interactions are really few and far between for most customers. Most customers don’t start checking their account balance in one channel, and finishing it another. Or starting to pay a bill online and then completing the payment on their smartphone.

The concept of channel integration or consistency in banking is misused and overrated.

—————

The other problem with the press release headline is something that is very common among the customer experience transformists: There is no such thing as “the” customer experience.

Interactions between a bank and its customers run the gamut of many different types of transactions and interactions. There is no single “experience.” Washing over the differences in the types, qualities, and importance of the various types of transactions/interactions is fool’s work.

—————

A third problem with the press release: When asking consumers if they would provide more personal information in order to get more “personalization,” what does that really mean?

What are we talking about when we say “personalized” experience and what information is really needed to provide it?

Asking “would you be willing to provide personal information for a more personalized experience” — without getting into more specifics — is simply poor research. It makes for a nice headline, but it’s completely useless, and very misleading.

Let’s explore this for a moment.

How about I personalize your experience on this blog if you provide me with some personal information. OK?

So….why don’t you tell me your sexual fantasies, and the next time you access my site, I will show you pictures of people engaging in those sexual activities.

A “personalized” experience based on your personal information.

OK, sorry. Back to reality.

What exactly is a bank going to do to “personalize” customers’ transactions and interactions? (I’m trying to avoid using “experience”).

There have been lots of attempts to do this already: Use the customer’s name online or at the ATM, customize a dollar amount to be withdrawn at the ATM or the amount to be transferred between accounts, based on previous transaction history.

But those didn’t require additional “personal” information.

I simply don’t understand what personal information I’m supposed to be giving up in order to get a more “personalized” experience that I can’t visualize.

—————

The release also quotes a company exec as saying “Retail banks that succeed in providing a seamless customer experience across all channels to market- branch, mobile, online, contact center- will be the winners of the future. Superior customer experience will be the only long term sustainable differentiator.”

Nonsense. 

A corporate competency to continuously design, develop, and deploy superior products and services can be a sustainable differentiator. And as I mentioned before, customers don’t use every channel for every transaction/interaction, so this concept of seamlessness just doesn’t hold water. 

—————

The rationale for publishing research like this comes down to some combination of two reasons as I see it: 1) To generate publicity, or 2) To align or tie the company’s products to the concept of customer experience.

It may have succeeded on the first point, but I think it does little to accomplish the second.