Re-defining the credit card experience to improve engagement and loyalty
My employer, the largest bank in Europe, had been under pressure in a highly competitive credit card market with low loyalty, high turnover, no engagement and negative Net Promoter Score. The strategic plan had been established to respond and re-define the credit card experience with the aim of improving engagement and loyalty. The proposition design team I was a member of was appointed to discover the unmet customer needs, validate a proposition answering these needs, and solve the business challenge.
Starting with extensive market and competitor research as well as stakeholder and customer interviews, we discovered that the main problem customers faced was balancing their daily lives and the fun activities they do with the need for long-term financial planning. This became the focus for ideation sessions that brought together experts to co-design potential solutions for the problem at hand. The design was brought to life with a prototype that was also used for customer research. After further validation, we proposed an experience focusing on rewards and goals.
What we delivered
We delivered a proposition inspired and validated by customers that led to a minimum loveable product (customer-focused MVP), which addressed the main customer problem of planning for longer-term goals while enjoying their daily excitement.
We also provided a long-term vision that will inform the roadmap and proposition strategy for the next two years.
Lastly, we instilled a sense of confidence in our sponsors through our customer-focused process and empowered them to drive the vision forward.
hours of interviews
We were building the solution for a digitally savvy market in the Asia Pacific region, where consumers were always hungry for the best deal. Through desk research, we learned that customers in the Asia Pacific region had an average of 7.6 loyalty program cards in their wallet. However, every customer had a MIP (Most Important Programme) which they usually selected by considering three key factors: easy-to-earn benefits (30%), a good range of rewards (28%), and relevant benefits (28%). We also learned that the Net Promoter Score was on average -5 across seven markets in the region, partly because customers felt that rewards were becoming harder to earn, therefore the programme value was diminishing from their perspective.
Competition research taught us that we were not the only ones trying to tackle this challenge. We started looking at banks and other types of companies to help us better understand how some companies had successfully developed a loyal following. We also learned that new business models are shaping up and many traditional companies are trying to become centralised service platforms to offer a wider line of services (e.g., Grab, DBS, etc.).
We conducted extensive consumer research and organised qualitative interviews with 11 consumers to generate a wealth of insights. We purposely interviewed them in casual and familiar environments, where we discussed their aspirations, frustrations, and how their finance propels them to achieve their personal goals.
To make sense of all the raw information we gathered, we organised and refined the findings on insight cards. Some of the most relevant insights that we found were about planning, playing, chasing, hunting, dreaming, and being busy. For example:
- Convenience beats loyalty. Centralised service platforms like Grab are winning the game and people could hardly mention a brand they were loyal to.
- “Busy” is a mindset. Most people maintained constant business in all areas of life, including checking and comparing deals.
- Instant gratification wins . Most people struggled in balancing the present with the future. In most cases the present won.
- Deal-hunting is definitely a thing. While you don’t want to be labelled as a “cheapo”, savviness when it comes to deal-hunting is something you can brag about.
To ensure that we retained the customer empathy created throughout the project, we developed consumer archetypes (personas) on which we could focus our design moving forward. We found that five archetypes are enough to represent the customer base:
- The Trail Blazer. “My life is a list, I always want to get the latest thing.”
- The Cruiser. “I earn enough not to be worried. I deserve it!"
- The Points Junkie. “Maximizing my lifestyle is not an effort, just a habit.”
- The Lone Ranger. "Never depend on anyone else. Be moral.”
- The Responsible Stoic. “It's hard to indulge without imposing on someone.”
With what we had learned so far, we were in a good position to articulate the customers’ needs. This was arguably one of the most important elements, and the statements had to precisely summarise all the insights. Some of the key consumer problem statements were:
- As Jeff the trailblazer, I spend time reviewing new products and feeding this back to my community because I want to be recognised as an expert in my field.
- As Jeff the trailblazer, I am constantly wasting time using three different rebate platforms for purchase because I have fear of missing out (FOMO).
- As Jeff the trailblazer, I am constantly trying new things to check off my bucket list because I want to live my best life.
- As Lynn the power-deal hunter, I am never able to plan for longer term goals (e.g., family holidays) because every moment is spoken for, and I don’t have time to research.
- As Cecilia the life cruiser, I am dying for golf shoes and am afraid of missing out because I want to get the best deal and feel smarter about my purchase.
There were 12 problem statements in total, and we needed to decide which ones we should focus on.
Desk research helped us not only learn about the credit card market and consumer expectations, but also how competitors are tackling the challenge. The team was impressed by the cultural differences from one market to another.
Through the interviews, we were able to generate a wealth of raw insights that would later help shape the personas and articulate the Consumer Problem Statements.
The Insight Cards were very useful in organising the raw research and articulating some of the life themes shared by the consumers.
The personas helped us retain the customer empathy that we had built, and also instil it in new team members as they were joining.
Consumer problem statement
Defining the problem statements was the most important step, as it set the tone for the activities that followed. We used them as a basis for further validation in the definition phase.
“Make sure you are solving the right problem, before solving the problem right.”
We needed to validate and prioritise the consumer problem statements, and this was one of the most important decisions we had to make. We coordinated quantitative research studies across multiple markets to answer these three questions:
- Are the consumer problems that we identified real?
- How many consumers can relate to them?
- Are they being solved by any other company right now?
Following this research, we asked our stakeholders to assess which consumer problems were most likely to help us achieve the business objective (if solved). This was so that we can have both the consumer and the business perspective. We asked these questions to gain both the consumer and the business perspective.
After collecting the responses from the consumers and from our stakeholders, we ranked the statements and mapped them on a prioritisation matrix. We factored in the size of the population with the problem, as well as the company’s appetite to solve the problem. The consumer problem statement that ranked highest was:
“As a power deal hunter, I am never able to plan for longer term goals (e.g. family holidays because every moment is spoken for).”
This was based on the fact that, on average, in the four countries that we researched 88% of respondents had long-term goals, but 22% of them didn't feel confident in achieving these goals.
Some other interesting findings from the quantitative research were:
- 86% would delay a purchase in order to get the best deal.
- 80% give feedback on products and services regularly, and 42% of them don’t feel rewarded for it.
- 74% feel smart and savvy when hunting for deals, and 65% consider the hunt a hobby.
- 74% put their family’s needs above theirs, and 53% frequently buy presents to show it.
Through quantitative research, we converged upon a data-backed decision for the right need to solve by design.
The prioritisation matrix helped build an overview of the opportunities for our stakeholders to make an informed decision on where to focus moving forward.
Instilled with a feeling of confidence after reviewing the research data and setting the direction, the team was ready to diverge again and identify a solution.
We framed the consumer problem statement into a “How might we” statement, which allowed us to ideate on multiples solutions that could address the challenge. The statement was:
“How might we help customers enjoy their daily excitement as well as achieve their longer-term goal?” This became our challenge for the solution phase.
To start the ideation process, we organised a journey mapping workshop and mapped the user journey as-is (but also in its future state).
The as-is user journey helped the team identify potential gaps and ensure that we also identify the existing capabilities and pain points.
We learned that the current experience was not designed to take into consideration stages like “anticipation” or “advocacy”, which translated into incomplete experiences for customers. Another interesting finding was that, in many cases, customers needed to switch between channels (digital / branch / call centre). This part of the experience was not considered, which for customers translated into a broken experience.
With a better understanding of the gaps, we split into groups and started ideation by journey mapping an ideal experience. We began by drawing on storyboards, and after a few rounds of review and feedback, the teams converged into one storyboard that became the backbone of the future experience.
We further developed the final storyboard into a fully detailed journey map with a rich list of features.
By the end of the workshop, we already had a long backlog of ideas, but we wanted to make sure we diverged as much as we could. Therefore we also organised an “innovation jam”.
For this activity, we only invited colleagues who had very little product knowledge, and we encouraged lateral thinking through various sketching and brainstorming activities.
By the end of the solution phase, we had a long backlog of ideas and concepts, and they were all amazing. Here are a few of them:
- A game that allows users to build and develop cities based on their savings behaviour
- A feature that allows users to integrate credit card and reward points in other ecosystems (e.g., social, health, self-development).
- A “Pinterest-like” board that allows users to be inspired by goals and share their goals with friends
- A dashboard that tracks your financial behaviour and makes suggestions to improve it
But the reality was that we had to select only the one that resonated with consumers. It was time to test them.
"How might we" statements
The method helped shift the participants' mindset from problems to solutions.
User journey mapping
We used this method to assess the gaps in the current experience and ideate on an ideal experience.
Role: Lead facilitator
The innovation jam was a fast-paced, engaging way to generate many ideas all at once. In this case, it helped push the boundaries of the vision.
To test the ideas, we conducted a quantitative survey in four countries, immersing participants in different scenarios and asking them to rate their interest for the suggested options. This allowed us to select only the ideas that have a high level of customer desirability.
Because of the lengthy list of features and concepts, and also the high volume of respondents, we decided to use as little visual support as possible. Instead, we wanted to assess customer desirability only by asking precise questions that indicated their preference. Below are a couple of examples:
How do you prefer to use your reward points, if your bank allows it?
- Convert points into cash (92%)
- Turn points into a savings account (89%)
- Offset past transactions with points (80%)
- Redeem an item from a catalogue (80%)
- Turn points into an investment account (76%)
What do you think is a good way to recognise your loyalty as a customer?
- Use of the bank’s reward program (82%)
- Tenure time as a customer (79%)
- Number of different products held (77%)
- Amount of assets detained (76%)
- Points turned into an investment account (76%)
The results were insightful, even surprising. One of the most interesting insights invalidated our stakeholders' assumption that customers preferred to be rewarded for their loyalty through air miles. Results showed that this option did not even make the top five preferences, even though our stakeholders were convinced that this was their strongest preference.
After analysing the results, we grouped the concepts and ideas from the backlog into four categories:
- Hygiene: High customer expectation, low market differentiation
- Priority: High customer expectation, high market differentiation
- Opportunity: Medium customer expectation, high-medium market differentiation
- Future: Medium customer expectation, low market differentiation
We used this categorization and the quantitative research results to build a unified concept that would solve for the consumer challenge of enjoying daily excitement as well as achieving longer-term goals. The four pillars supporting the concept were:
- A unified loyalty scheme. One source of truth for all customer benefits, instead of a scattered approach.
- Hyper-personalised content. Simplified access to offers that match customers’ lifestyle and personal interests.
- Flexible reward goals. Rewards of customers’ choice, including easy goal setup and progress tracking.
- Gamified recognition. Progression mechanisms to help customers achieve their goals faster and recognise their engagement.
The value proposition was becoming more clear and so was the message that we were sending to customer: “A loyalty experience that encourages you to achieve your goals."
It was time to detail the concept and validate some of the assumptions that had been made so far. To do that, we needed the visual stimulus.
Because this concept was meant to be integrated into the main mobile banking platform of the company, the first step was to understand the existing information architecture and design system. This helped us create realistic visual stimulus and get better insights from the upcoming user research activities.
In partnership with designers and product managers from the mobile team, we learnt about the existing information architecture and designed the concept to integrate with it.
Using the storyboards and the journey maps that the team had built earlier, we created low-fidelity user flows to visualise the solution and fill in the gaps. We then evolved these into low-fidelity wireframes.
We organised six guided customer interviews and used the wireframes as stimulus. We designed the facilitator guide to generate insights that would allow us to validate the concept, but also give us more insights on the assumptions that we were making. Some of the risky ones were:
- Customers would be willing to share personal goals with their network.
- Having the option to redeem a welcome gift in the app would significantly reduce the number of calls to the call centre.
- Customers would use a mobile banking app for deals and discounts.
We used the feedback to refine the concept, determine the minimum lovable product, and create recommendations for the team that would take it forward. It was time to transition the concept.
We used this method to converge by ranking the backlog of ideas. The criterion was customer desirability.
By using low-fidelity wireframes, we were able to visualize the concept in a very short amount of time and provide the necessary stimulus for concept testing.
This method helped us generate additional insights to evolve the concept, but also to identify and validate the assumptions we were making.
The transition happened gradually, as many of the team members were already involved from earlier stages. however one of the big challenges that we encountered was around transferring the customer empathy that the team acquired throughout the engagement.
We documented and handed over all artefacts, from customer quotes to functional specifications. Even so, we were conscious of the fact that the insightful discussions, and the time spent thinking about solutions, were difficult to capture and transfer, regardless of how well they were documented.
We realised that our best chance to instil confidence and customer empathy is by sharing in person. We organised multiple Show & Tell sessions and put on performances, immersing everyone through interactive activities such as “rose, bud and thorn” or pop-quiz. We also set up a physical gallery of customer archetypes where colleagues could book a tour with a personal guide that would walk them through the journey and present each persona in detail.
We also decided to build a high-fidelity digital prototype of the concept to ensure stakeholder buy-in, and to serve as a north star for the teams that would build the solution.
SHOW & TELL
We used the Show & Tell sessions to socialise the concept and help transfer customer empathy to the team members who were not involved from the beginning.
It has been amazing working with the team. We wouldn’t have gotten the Apollo design thinking output to the level we have without your support.
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