Great customer experience will win through for online auction sites

When COVID 19 lockdowns began across the world, auction houses found themselves better equipped than most businesses for the months ahead. Though in-room auctions ground to a halt, many were already operating online-only sales, whether they were selling antiques, cars, property or everyday items. Switching 100% of their business to the digital arena may not have been easy, but at least some of the necessary systems and expertise were in place.

Meanwhile, millions of people confined to their homes and neighbourhoods were looking for ways to entertain and occupy themselves as well as work remotely. Business held up. Some auction houses found new customers. At London’s Sotheby’s up to 50% of bidders taking part in online sales since 1st March were first-timers. And being away from a PC proved not to be a barrier for high-value goods, with 50% of bids being placed via mobile devices. Meanwhile eBay saw a surge of new sellers as small businesses raced to get their stock online and people tried to replace their high street shopping with online sources.

Customers probably expected a few glitches as auction houses moved entirely online at short notice. But this goodwill won’t last for long. As with all industries, new tech-first players will emerge to rival the traditional businesses that began in the physical auction room. Now, as things get back to our ‘new normal’, it’s those businesses that continue to innovate and put the customer – both bidder and seller, private individuals and trade customers – at the heart of what they do who will be the long-term winners.

Refining and enhancing the user experience

Buyers and sellers want the same as all online customers – fast, efficient and satisfying ways to achieve their goals with fewer clicks and less effort. They want to feel reassured about the safety and security of their transactions. And they want to move seamlessly from laptop to mobile to PC, with an end-to-end digital experience. Good UX design builds trust by engaging with both sides of the human psyche: fulfilling the functional, utilitarian needs of an auction site through logic and order while considering the emotional side of every interaction to create a sense of reward and empowerment.

Because both buyers and sellers need to be registered on most auction sites the onboarding process is key. Registering has to be simple and satisfying, without asking for the unnecessary or intrusive details that cause customers to drop off before they’ve even begun using the site. Allowing customers to skip over some questions, or even better saving them for later on in the journey, creates a better experience early on and a more natural feeling of ‘getting to know you’.

Meanwhile, new technologies can power everything from better valuations and price predictions supported by AI to data analytics that can target potential buyers and chatbots that take the load of customer service staff.

With new customer experiences, test, test test is the rule. UX and CX practitioners will follow best practice but every audience is different and there’s always more to learn in order to optimise experiences and get the best possible results.

Recreating the buzz of in-room auctions

As the threat from COVID dissipates, physical auctions will return – in sectors like property and the motor trade there’s always likely to be an audience who loves the thrill and the theatre of the auction room. But livestreaming is here to stay, providing a channel for those who having made the switch would still rather make their bids remotely as well as opening up new audiences.

High-quality livestreaming can give a good sense of the physical experience, with the auctioneer conducting proceedings and prompting individual bidders just as in real life. It’s another area where a great user experience and reliable performance across a multitude of devices and browsers is key.

But digital auctions can also offer new possibilities, with experiences that you just wouldn’t get in the real world. US digital auction site Bring a Trailer includes comment threads on each car auction. This feature is enjoyed and actively used by its audience of dedicated car enthusiasts, as the seller answers questions and the BaT community discuss their experiences of the model in question.

Finding new ways to disrupt established auction sectors

As in every other sector, traditional auctioneers need to be constantly ahead of the game, thinking up the new business models that will prevent them from being out-manoeuvred by new tech players.

StockX are one of the new breed disrupting an established market. Launched in 2016 ‘the world’s first stock market for things’ is changing the game for people searching for rare trainers, designer handbags and other collectibles, smoothing out the customer experience and dealing with some of the pain points of eBay and other auction sites. A single product page for each item means buyers no longer have to navigate search numerous listings for the same thing. Nor do they have to worry about fakes. Goods have to be physically authenticated by StockX before the business releases funds to sellers and sends on their goods to buyers.

StockX’s founder believes it better reflects the true market value of goods at any given time. Sellers can either set an Ask price, hoping for a matching bidder, or they can sell immediately to the highest current bidder. They don’t even need to create a listing – anyone browsing the site can click to sell and send on their goods to be authenticated. With advantages for both buyers and sellers t’s easy to see why in just a few years StockX has become a billion-dollar company.

The year that kickstarted change

In some ways, 2020 has been good for auction houses. They needed to move fast, accelerating change in a way they could never have anticipated. Now the basics have been dealt with, businesses aiming to lead their sectors in the years to come need to hone their customer experience and continue to innovate for an online future – even if there’s still an excited crowd taking their seats in the physical auction room.

The BIO Agency can support auction businesses by creating trusted online experiences that customers find meaningful because they balance utilitarian and hedonic needs. Drop us a line at makesomething@thebioagency.com if you’d like to talk to us.

EXPERIENCE PERFORMANCE MODELLING (XPM)

The digital age has brought us more and more data, as well as increased computational power to be able to process and analyse it. The newer and more popularised areas of Data Science tend to be in the realms of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Analytics, but there are many types of Data Science that have been historically useful in business for much longer.

Statistical Data Science has been used by businesses for decades. For example, regression analysis helps us to understand relationships between variables, and can be used to forecast and make smarter decisions for pricing strategies, inventory management, understanding supply and demand, operations management and so on. What we hear less of, is its use towards the improvement of Customer Experience (CX); even though CX is recognised as the most important competitive battleground of business. 

Speaking to business leaders from across industries, we have found that the top challenges with CX Transformation or Innovation are; (1) understanding where to focus change, (2) meeting customer and business goals, (3) getting buy-in from C-Suite decision makers, and (4) sticking to budget.

In light of these challenges, we at The BIO Agency have spent the last year building a framework to improve the success of CX projects; by combining our expertise in Data Science with Behavioural Science and Consumer Psychology. We call it, Experience Performance Modelling, or ‘XPM’ for short. 

Our XPM framework helps customer experience projects by focusing ideation, and forecasting the impact of ideas on goal metrics.

This article gives an overview of the fundamentals of this framework, but please get in touch if you want to fully understand the unique way in which we use advanced statistics and psychology, or to see a demo of XPM in action. 

Focusing Ideation

In a world where resources are increasingly finite, we need to take a focused approach towards improving experiences, whilst aligning both business goals and customer needs.

What I mean is, we don’t want 100 okay-ish innovative ideas, we’d rather have 20 exceptional ones that we know are going to impact what matters most. Doing that will give us the most bang for our buck.

Step 1 – Identify Goals

So the obvious first step is to define what the ‘bang’ is – What is the goal and related metric we are trying to drive? Referencing your organisation’s Measurement Framework should give you the answer; common examples include customer satisfaction score, retention, Net Promoter Score, revenue, etc.

If you don’t have a Measurement Framework, we recommend building one (it’s one of the first things we do on many projects).

Step 2 – Hypothesise goal drivers using consumer psychology

We then need to hypothesise what is driving that goal metric – this is often done by using market analysis and customer research – but a useful way to theme goal drivers is with Consumer Psychology and the theory of Utilitarian vs Hedonic consumer needs.

  • Utilitarian products and services are purchased for their practical, functional uses.
  • Hedonic products and services are purchased to fulfill emotional and sensory needs – feelings of pleasure, fun, enjoyment.

In reality, a product or service is rarely just one or the other. Fewer people would buy a luxury watch (an item bought to inspire hedonic feelings of power or wealth) if it could not tell the time of day (its core utility); and many traditionally utilitarian services (e.g. banks, telecomms, etc.) are now trying to address hedonic needs to create more brand loyalty. 

The point is, when creating hypotheses, we should consider goal drivers across both Utilitarian and Hedonic aspects of a service.

With a broad research question like, ‘What aspects of the online retail experience drive customer satisfaction scores?’, we can create hypothesis examples for each:

Needs CategoryReseach QuestionHypothesisNull Hypothesis
UtilitarianDoes order delivery time impact customer satisfaction scores?Customers who have fast order delivery times will have high customer satisfaction scores.There is no relationship between order delivery time and customer satisfaction scores.
HedonicDoes the enjoyability of the shopping experience impact customer satisfaction scores?Customer who enjoy the shopping experience will have high customer satisfaction scores.There is no relationship between an enjoyable shopping experience and customer satisfaction scores.

At this point, they are nothing more than hypothesese. We do not yet know that they affect customer satisfaction scores, and the relationship strength will certainly differ.

Step 3 – Collect and analyse data (the Data Science bit)

Once all of the above has been defined, we are in a position to collect data from customers using a quantitative survey with numerically based questions about our goal metric and hypothesised drivers.

Using a number of statistical modelling techniques (including advanced forms of regressions analysis) we can analyse survey responses to identify the strength of relationships, benchmark performance, understand driver groupings and compare customer segments.

Most importantly, knowing which aspects of a customer experience drive business goals allows us to confidently focus CX transformation efforts.

Using the previous example, even if both ‘order delivery time’ and ‘enjoyable shopping experiences’ are correlated, if we have finite resources then we would focus on the one that’s most correlated.

Now we can ideate new business opportunities with the confidence that we’re focusing effort in the right place. I’d call that a very useful application of Data Science!

But wait. Once we have addressed the first challenge and ideated in our focus area(s), we still won’t know the real impact of those ideas on our goal metric. Will our ideas increase performance by 3%? 10%? 42.57483%?

This becomes our second challenge. If solved, we can create a very strong case for change.

Forecasting Impact

Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all approach, and we need to consider a number of things to decide on the best forecasting method. Having said that, below are some worthy examples of how we have previously tackled the problem.

Option 1 - BIO’s Statistical Models

Statistical Data Science can once again help us when we are dealing with particularly  innovative ideas. We, at BIO, have developed a statistical model which uses the data collected when focusing ideation (discussed above) with further research and a set of assumptions to forecast the impact of different combinations of ideas.

  • Best used when forecasting customer satisfaction metrics (e.g. customer satisfaction scores, Net Promoter Score, retention).

Option 2 - Business Casing

A traditional and effective method is to use your company’s financial data and use robust assumptions from research to develop a detailed financial appraisal.

  • Best used when forecasting financial metrics (e.g. revenue, net present value, internal rate of return, return on investment, payback period).

Option 3 - User Testing

Building a Proof of Concept or Minimum Viable Product in combination with user testing techniques (e.g. proposition testing, A/B testing, multivariate testing) can become very scientific if done correctly. Results can be used extrapolate results and understand impact.

  • These can be used on both customer satisfaction metrics and financial metrics.

Option 4 - Historical Data

Of course, if there are applicable data sets from similar transformations, then analysing and forecasting with that data is another great way to understand impact. 

  • These can also be used on both customer satisfaction metrics and financial metrics.

Regardless of which method is most appropriate, what you end up with is a number of innovative ideas and the knowledge of what the real impact will be on the customer experience and business goals. 

To finish things off, the forecasts can be combined with other criteria to prioritise, group and roadmap; giving you everything you need to confidently plan impactful change.

We think there is great power in introducing this kind of methodology to focus your resources, forecast real impact, and make data-driven decisions to achieve greater success.

Make customer experience decisions with Data Science now

Today, more than ever, external forces are pushing businesses to their limits. To survive, organisations need to adapt services for progressively higher customer expectations, but with increasingly finite resources.

Don’t let your transformation projects fail. Find focus and understand the impact of projects before you invest.

Talk to us if you want to know more about how you can confidently make impactful change, or to discuss our Experience Performance Modelling (XPM) framework in more detail.

#BLM- We are taking action

#BlackLivesMatter is not just a hashtag trend, it’s an organized movement appealing for the end of systemic racism. 

It’s time all organisations thoughtfully consider how our brand and our leaders support the Black community and how we step forward with commitment to end injustice. Whilst statements are one thing, they are no substitute for action. 

At BIO, we recognise that we have the responsibility and privilege to do more, so we are taking the following steps to foster a more diverse and inclusive future:


1.) Revisit our inclusive recruitment guidelines. We are committed to widening our candidate search and building a diverse talent pool to leverage the skillsets of Black Experience Designers

2.) Review our 3rd party suppliers to ensure alignment with BIO’s core values of diversity and inclusion.

3.) Organise internal education sessions for employees on matters of race and class to keep our teams informed and well-rounded. 

4.) Create a book club for employees in which they can safely read and discuss important literature about race and class.

5.) Explore issues of diversity in our industry and ideate how we can break the cycle as a key player.

6.) Engage local non-profits, community centres and academic institutions to offer mentorship and consultancy services, free of charge.

7.) Design/consult on websites for Black business owners free of charge. 

Above all, we know we can do more to drive real change in our company, industry and beyond to foster a more diverse and inclusive environment for all. A diverse workforce is key to our company’s lasting success and we will stop at nothing to ensure it.

Gamification is dead, long live gamification

Games have power

From Tetris dominating the computer age, spawning a host of imitators and becoming a psychological phenomenon in the process, to the ancient board game Go being used to train and test Artificial Intelligence.

Power to engage, excite and enthral people.

It is little wonder then that throughout history gamification, the use of game mechanics – competition, rewards, quantifying player/user behaviour – in non-game environments has consistently been explored and utilised. Originally by accident but growing ever more deliberate with time.

Arguably the first concrete example of gamification arrived in 1908 with the formation of The Boy Scouts and their iconic achievement badges. However the way we think about it today really exploded onto the scene in 2010 when, amongst other things, Jane McGonigal gave a TED Talk titled “how gaming can make a better world”.

The premise is simple. 

By the time the average student leaves school, they have spent as much time playing video games as they have in the classroom but playing games doesn’t end there. Across the workforce, averaged over all age groups, people play the equivalent of a working day a week – and it’s going up.

It is not only understandable, but almost expected that product designers should want to tap into this potential. After all, what product wouldn’t benefit from the same commitment, passion and motivation that games instil in their players?

For almost all of the 2010’s “gamification” was a rallying cry from boardrooms to design studios with no problem too big. Poor engagement? High drop off rate? Low sign ups? Not enough cross sell? Gamification was part of the answer.

The problem is, as many are beginning to realise, gamification typically works very well in the short term followed by significant drop off in effectiveness thereafter. To understand why this might be the case, we must explore what we are trying to “game” – a user’s motivation.

Motivation

A high-level understanding of motivation many of us have is that it comes from one of two sources:

  1. Extrinsic – That behaviour is driven by external rewards such as money, fame, praise etc.
  2. Intrinsic – That behaviour is driven by a desire to do so for its own sake and personal reward

By thinking about motivation in terms of extrinsic vs. intrinsic you would be forgiven for believing that gamification is a sure-fire ticket to success. After all, with this model all motivation is of equal value and gamification is feeding the extrinsic type.

However, reality, as always, is somewhat more nuanced.

Credit: Amy Bucher SlideShare

Self-determination theory, a cornerstone of modern-day psychology, shows us that motivation needs to be thought of as a continuous spectrum with extrinsic and intrinsic the extremes at either end.

This is where the problem lies with 2010’s iteration of gamification. 

Viewing motivation as a simple intrinsic vs extrinsic dichotomy makes it appear to be easily manipulated, and so designers placed emphasis on understanding how to gamify an app, product or service rather than understanding why they weren’t getting the traction they expected. 

What this did is supplement, rather than create, an environment that encourages the development of autonomous motivation. Rewards and game-elements are powerful precisely because they work with the user’s core needs and desires. Adding points and goals to a product that is misaligned to these simply misses the point. 

Yes, it works for a short time, but soon enough the user gets frustrated, stops, and crucially doesn’t come back. 

To demonstrate how powerful this can be, consider this research paper from Stanford University in 1973. They asked children aged 3-4 who liked drawing to come to their nursery where half were told they would receive a reward for drawing and half were told nothing. 

How much time do you think each group spent drawing?

Those who did not know a reward was coming spent 16.7% of the time drawing.

Those who knew spent almost half that, at 8.6%.

Now, to be clear, it is not the offering of the reward itself, but rather doing so in a way that added pressure and ultimately removed the intrinsic value of drawing for the kids. The simple act of offering a reward in the wrong way is enough to destroy motivation.

Getting it right - Strava

The ideal case study of a product which really gets this right is Strava. As of February 2020, they have an active user base of 50 million athletes and 3 billion activity uploads. Rather than developing an app and adding gamification on top to drive engagement, Strava understood their users – semi to hardcore athletes who want to push themselves 1% further each day.

Instead of a short-term gimmick, segments (effectively personalised timing points), points, power curves, community and more all work together to push athletes harder and faster. Gamifying at Strava not only pits users against each other, but also users against themselves – talking directly to their core need.

Game Design > Gamification

All of this is to say that designers should absolutely be looking at games to enhance their products. However, the era of bolting game elements onto products after-the-fact is over. 

In its place, needs to be something holistic. More like a game than gamification. 

There are five key factors to consider when building an engaging product.

  1. Goals – They are the defining features of games, but you can’t just have any goals. They must be concrete, achievable and rewarding, as well as being aligned to the customers broader need. 
  2. Emotions – Games are complicated constructs that go far beyond making people “happy” or “content”. The range of emotions is vast, and designers need to be specific about what emotions they’re designing for, as well as designing to relieve.
  3. Controls – One of the key differentiators between software and games are the controls. They are simple and immediate, getting a user exactly where they want to go.
  4. Toys – The best games use toys as a core component, enabling users to have fun on multiple levels from playing with interesting, stand alone components to being able to reconstruct products to work for them.
  5. Flow – Flow is the experience of complete absorption in the present moment, encouraging a user to persist in and return to an activity because of the experiential rewards it promises. Structuring the product around a roust flow that matches user skill with the challenge they face is key.

The 2010’s iteration of gamification is dead. 

By using a more complete understanding of motivation we can unlock the potential of game design to design, structure and build products that are compelling on a fundamental level.

If you need advice or support understanding your users, implementing gamification or simply thinking more holistically about your product or service, get in touch.

COVID-19: The Time is Now to be a Digital Anthropologist

COVID-19: Change is Afoot

Right now, we’re living in an unprecedented time of global uncertainty due to COVID-19. The virus is an outside force, a new entrant shifting human behaviour across the globe.  Global quarantine and social distancing measures are keeping people indoors, fundamentally changing the ways in which they interact with each other and the world around them. 

Remote conferencing (both personally and professionally) has become widespread, shopping behaviour has left entire product categories in the dust, automated and contactless experiences are now in demand across sectors. And these trends are the obvious tip of the iceberg. The common thread? Interactions of all kinds are now taking place online. Sure, some of them have been online for decades, but others are relatively new to digital worlds. The virus has been a catalyst for seismic changes in the digital landscape, not due to a sudden wave of technological advancement but due to a radical shift in human behaviour. 

To understand the reasons behind this shift in human behaviour, we must first understand humans. But how?

Tackling a Human-Centred Problem

Let’s begin by exploring the scientific discipline of anthropology. 

Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures, both past and present. It investigates how cultures come into existence as well as how they develop and evolve over time. Ultimately, it deconstructs us humanoids, exploring the exact problem statement currently being posed by COVID-19:

“How are humans currently interacting with each other and the world around them?”

The answer, unsurprisingly, is layered.

There are a handful of established fields within anthropology, each exploring this question from a unique perspective. Socio-cultural anthropology studies patterns of human behaviour and cultural meaning. Linguistic anthropology studies how language influences social life. Biological anthropology studies the biological developments of humans and archaeological anthropology, or archaeology as it’s more commonly referred to, studies the human past through material remains. 

These fields emerged over 100 years ago, working to piece humans together in a way that makes sense; in a way that allows researchers to draw invaluable conclusions about our past, present and at times, our future. 

But a relatively new field within anthropology came onto the scene in 2012 and it may hold the answer to the above question. We already have some idea of how humans are interacting during this pandemic, but this new field may help us understand why.

How Digital Anthropology Can Help

The field of digital anthropology is in its infancy. It only really took off post-2012 when Media Researcher Heather Horst and Anthropologist Daniel Miller released the first edition of their book aptly titled Digital Anthropology. Aggregating insights from a number of global research initiatives studying the impact of digital on humans, the book aims to answer the rather ambitious question ‘What does it mean to be human?’ in the context of digital.

It unpacks how humans interact in digital worlds and how that behaviour changes over time due to technological advancement, globalisation and other outside forces (e.g. COVID-19). It also explores how these behaviour changes quickly take root and become commonplace. 

While most cynics argue that digital worlds deteriorate our humanity due to the immaterial, supposed inauthentic nature of digital, Horst and Miller argue the opposite. Digital worlds actually extend our humanity; extend our definition of what it means to be human. 

Digital worlds are not any less authentic than nondigital worlds – they’re just another arena we interact in. The only reason we fetishize predigital culture as a ‘site of retained authenticity’ is because it’s what we’re used to. Humans have evolved over 5,000 years, in the absence of digital. We’re still adjusting to it; still making sense of how it fits into our lives. But that fact alone doesn’t make digital worlds any less authentic than nondigital worlds. As we’re seeing during COVID-19, digital is allowing us to express our humanity in new and different ways not previously available to us, perhaps making us appear vastly more human than before. 

You may be a bit wary of this notion, so I’ll rely on an insightful anthropological study to substantiate my point. 

In 2011, Communications Professor Mirca Madianou and Daniel Miller initiated a study about transnational families. The study followed middle-aged, Filipina domestic workers residing in London and how they kept in contact with their children back in the Philippines. These Filipina domestics were predominantly deeply suspicious of digital technology, only purchasing their first computer or learning to type a couple of years prior. However, when it came to keeping in contact with their geographically distanced children, they adamantly relied on video-enabled communicative technologies. They didn’t do so for reasons of vision, or ideology, or ability but for reasons of necessity. They depended almost entirely upon digital to remain in contact with their children – to effectively remain mothers. Madianou and Miller argued that digital didn’t make these mothers less human, it just extended their definition of what being human meant. Without digital, the backbone of these mothers’ identities would deteriorate entirely.

During COVID-19, we’re seeing similar behaviour on a mass scale. Most people aren’t currently using digital for reasons of vision, or ideology, or ability but for reasons of necessity. They need to keep in touch with their loved ones. They need a stable income. They need access to essentials. They need to maintain a good mental health. These intrinsic motivations have been the same since the dawn of time, since humans began evolving 5,000 years ago. COVID-19 hasn’t shifted these motivations. Rather, it’s shifted the ways in which we pursue them. And right now, digital is the arena in which we’re pursuing them most heavily.

With this invigorated focus on necessity, established digital behaviours are changing and new ones are cropping up altogether. Entire industries at the mercy of disposable income are collapsing as a result and the ramifications will be long-lasting. With fear of subsequent outbreaks and further economic downturn, the changing digital behaviour of customers is a trend we can expect to continue into the foreseeable future.  

As Experience Designers, it’s our job to stay on top of this shift in behaviour. We may already understand the basics of why it’s happening, but we must work to map where it’s headed. Only then can we continue to design experiences that accommodate this shift in behaviour and drive people toward their intrinsic motivations.

It’s pivotal, now more than ever, to put ourselves in a Digital Anthropologist’s shoes. Ask the questions:

  • What does it mean to be human?
  • How are people behaving in digital worlds, not for reasons of vision, or ideology or ability, but for reasons of necessity?
  • How do we design experiences that allow people to seamlessly pursue their intrinsic motivations during this time of change, uncertainty and fear?

The answers may surprise you.

What You Can Do Today

Whether you’re a one-man or one-woman show, a small business or a large corporation, COVID-19 is presenting you with a unique opportunity to more deeply understand the people who are interacting with your business – your customers. Their behaviour is radically changing, particularly in digital worlds. Key interactions across sectors are being uprooted and reimagined entirely.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by this fact, but there are simple steps you can take today to stay informed and stay ahead of the curve. Stay on top of burgeoning digital trends, see how your competitors are re-positioning themselves in the market, send out a survey to your customers, pick up the phone for some 1-to-1 feedback. Do what you have to do to keep people at the heart of what you do. Be a Digital Anthropologist.

Business as usual isn’t going to cut it. Your customers are locked inside. And day by day, they’re changing. 

Talk to us, as we all prepare to enter a brave new world.

Dear banking sector, don’t let this crisis go to waste.

As with many quotes passed around the internet, the true intent behind the oft-repeated line in the title is a little more nuanced than what initially meets the eye.

“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Rahm Emanuel

As the former Mayor of Chicago (2011 – 2019), Chief of Staff to Barack Obama (2009 – 2010) and Senior Advisor to Bill Clinton (1993 – 1998), Rahm has encountered more than his fair share of crises.

His advice, to never let one go to waste, anchors around the principal of using it to enact dramatic change. Change that, perhaps, was already on the cards but seemed too difficult, unnecessary or politically unpalatable in the past.

We’ve seen crises be successfully used to execute dramatic transformation time and time again, from Beijing using the 2008 Olympics to clean up the city air to Denmark’s largest energy company, Danish Oil and Natural Gas, using the 2012 gas price crash to transform into Ørsted, now a global leader in renewable energy.

Obviously, this isn’t the first major crisis for finance. However, 2008 was a question of credit and trust with the solution ultimately being structural. To the average banking customer, over a decade later (particularly those living outside the city centres where neo banks thrive) little has changed.

2020 is a very different crisis.

The COVID-19 crisis is one where, rather than being the instigators, the banking sector can become one of the great saviours. Indeed, as Société Générale CEO Frédéric Oudéa has said - banks will be “the doctors of the economy”.

Now is the critical time.

To date banks have performed admirably. From processing 1.6 million mortgage holidays (as of Friday 24 April) to swiftly freezing fees and enabling interest free overdrafts to those in need. It’s been a financial mobilisation like none before.

However, COVID-19 has laid bare the severity of the limitations within banking operations. Existing processes, where manual intervention papers over the cracks in an otherwise “digital” workflow, have fallen over, with only brilliant scrambling keeping everything in working order.

Not all banks will become the doctors, and others will fall out of favour quickly after the job is done. The true winners will be those which embrace this opportunity of radical transformation.

What the people are saying

For the past two months we have been researching, analysing and speaking with banking customers to get at the heart of what they need - From well-off savers investing in their future to those recently furloughed worrying about next week’s shop.

The one common theme across everyone was their view on banks: Untrustworthy utilities.

The untrustworthy side is plain to see. In 2018 – a decade after the financial crisis – 66% of British adults did not believe banks worked in the interest of society and in the two years since this sentiment has barely changed. In 2020 only 25% of British adults have a “favourable” or “very favourable” opinion of the industry, and the industry NPS averages at -10. The ramifications of 2008 are still being felt, having been burned in the psyche of the populace.

The utility side of the equation is more curious, with the added intrigue of our research telling us that if we solve this, the trust issue would all but disappear.

We decided to dig deeper.

Banks need to be more than utilities

For consumers, banking has been the same for generations. Yes, the apps have become a little bit nicer and the functionality a little bit easier, but nothing fundamental. Nothing to make anyone sit up and pay attention.

It’s a trap that almost all banking institutions have found themselves in. Listening to what their customers want, but not understanding what they need. Or even worse, understanding what their customers need, but not being able to act on it.

What we found is something that is easy to say and impossible to do, without the right set up.

What customers truly need isn’t ultra-high interest savings accounts or 0% balance transfer credit cards, although these products are nice.

What customers need is genuinely contextual insight with a human touch. They need help navigating this strange, unfamiliar world and they want dignity and understanding as they do so.

While we’re still in the process of speaking with customers and refining the insights, the initial themes being uncovered are compelling.

  1. More than 95% of time customers spend with their bank is via mobile apps. How banking institutions demonstrate authenticity and drive accountability through digital channels is critical.
  2. With the exception of the relatively niche market who have embraced the neo banks, customers desire the permanency and perceived safety of a branch. To truly expand beyond core demographics, digital channels must establish the same element of trust.
  3. Transparency and unbiased advice is critical, with 82% of customers we spoke to saying they don’t completely trust advice from their bank, often believing they are being sold something unnecessary. There is an open question on how banks most effectively use data to ensure the best possible outcome for customers.
  4. In the land of the utility, inertia is king. Today every provider is perceived the same, meaning for consumers there is no benefit to switching. Any institution that acts now to build something beyond “you’ve spent too much on coffee” will see a significant first mover advantage.

Each of these are much deeper and broader than listed here. As we progress our research, we are getting a more complete picture on what customer say they want, what they actually need, and understand the difference with greater clarity.

If these themes resonate with what you’re hearing from your customers, get in touch. We would love to explore how to address these together.

What’s next?

COVID-19 is a tragedy, with as yet untold suffering and hardship. But it has also forced banks to confront the fact that normal wasn’t actually working.

Banks must use this crisis to go back to the drawing board. Do the things that at the start of 2020 seemed impossible and begin to rethink, refactor and truly disrupt their own organisations.

As Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put it, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”

Banks need to ask themselves, are you ready up to do the same?

No matter what the answer is, we are here to help. Whether you need ground up structuring of a transformation programme or simply strategic insight at just the right moment.

Talk to us, as we all prepare to enter a brave new world.

Let’s make something happen_

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