From product-driven to user-centred website in 7 steps

While agile start-ups are putting out lean, MVP websites and apps in the market faster than you can spell 'Request For Proposal', many established financials are still crunching on big, complex projects that take forever to hit the market. Not only do they miss momentum; they often miss relevancy for their customers and end up being not much more than costly, obsolete platforms no one is particularly excited about. Something needs to change.

When it comes to knowing customers and their needs, issuers, banks, exchanges and other financial parties are often quick to state that 'in a market where the actual transactions take place at brokers it is simply impossible to find out what customers want'. And all too often they then share their lengthy features wish-lists based on assumptions and whatever the immediate competition is doing at the time. Ouch.

Having worked with well-established financials and their customers for years we’ve found there are always ways to gain insight into customer needs and to build lean, iterative online projects quickly and cost-effective much like start-ups would.

Here is our 7 step approach to transform any product-driven finance website into a lean, user-centric communications channel that will help build strong and lasting relations between you and your customers:

  1. The kick-off workshop
    Getting everyone involved together in the same room to discuss needs, direction and goals before any decisions are made is an essential starting point for later success. Note that the goals of such a kick-off workshop are to gather the right questions, not to answer them. These questions could include things like: ‘Who are we doing this for?’, ‘What are they expecting from us?’ and also questions such as ‘Why are we doing this?’ and ‘What are we expecting from this?’. To quote Simon Sinek: 'start with why'.
  2. Research
    Once it’s clear which questions need to be addressed before any actual spec’ing or coding can take place, take some time to get answers. This can be as simple as studying your current site’s analytics or database logs and talking to colleagues from other departments to get better insight into the aspects of the business you might be less familiar with. In our experience, people are willing to help and appreciate being involved for their expertise.
  3. Getting customers involved
    When the research is done its time to get the customers involved! And please note; this really is the single most important step for building a great, user-centric website. So whatever happens, make sure this one gets covered.
    Getting customers involved isn’t as complicated or time-consuming as it may sound. Here’s what you can do: From the research, you’ll probably be able to define one or more types of customers you are serving. For each of these, randomly select a few existing and/or ex- customers and contact them to see if they are willing to commit maybe an hour of their time to share some insight. Again; people are far more willing to help than you may expect because they appreciate being given a voice.
    The tricky bit then is to ask the customer the right questions and stay away from the obvious pitfalls. For example: don’t ask them ‘if they found your product page clear and compelling’ but instead ask  ‘what they want to know about a product when they are considering a purchase’. In order to focus on their journey and how you will later be able to facilitate it rather then to look for approval or rejection of specific features your current site may be offering.
    Ideally, the customer research is then captured in personas and accompanying customer journeys. While some experience comes in handy here, the internet is an ok starting point on how to go about it.
  4. Goals and metrics
    With the research done, the business requirements in hand and customers needs clearly voiced it is time to define specific and measurable goals for the project. These goals are the goals of your customers, and the way they are measured is through objective metrics that will inform you on the performance of the solution from your customer’s point of view. How these then relate to your business requirements is what we here call ‘the result on investment’ and have covered separately elsewhere.
    Customer goals are the simple, obvious stuff your customers want to achieve through your website. You can set them up for each of the persona’s you’ve defined. For example: ‘Persona X wants to better understand the specific risks of purchasing Product Y for her investment portfolio’. The HEART framework from Google's UX researcher Kerry Rodden is a great tool for setting up goals and metrics.
  5. Hypothesis
    Instead of just going with the assumptions on what type of functionality the customer will need to reach their goals, we instead formulate hypothesis that we can either validate or invalidate as soon as possible. It is important to note that this is not about ruling out assumption: much rather it is about recognizing assumptions for what they are; hunches of what we think that could maybe be solutions. Hypothesis can be structured with a simple formula. In his book 'Lean UX: Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience', Jeff Gothelf shares his version: ‘We believe FEATURE for PERSONA(S) will achieve OUTCOME. We will know when we see METRIC’.
  6. Scope definition
    One of today’s most popular buzzwords is ‘MVP’ or 'Minimal Viable Product’. In short, an MVP has just those core features that allow the product to be deployed, and no more. Its concept builds upon the need to launch fast in order to learn and iterate rather than build everything at once and end up missing momentum and relevancy. So defining the scope of what is (assumed!) to be the minimum set of hypothesis that will shape a viable product for your customers is essential for a fast time-to-market and the reduction of risk.
  7. Build, measure, learn
    Once an MVP scope has been defined it’s time to build and release in order to measure and learn which hypothesis are valid and which aren’t. Make sure that whoever is responsible for designing and developing the solution is well-informed about each of the preceding steps in the process so that they can make informed decisions in their development process.
    As soon as a first release has been done it’s important to start measuring how it is performing. A standardized process is probably a good idea so that it’s clear who is responsible for monitoring the metrics and to define a sensible interval for evaluating the results. As soon as results are in and get discussed, make sure the scope definition gets updated with the insights gained. Hypothesis invalidated can be removed and new ones added.  Then, new iterations can be planned and executed from the advancing insights.

Ready to go?

Hopefully these 7 steps have inspired you to consider a new approach for your next project. Perhaps you even feel ready to go after reading this. Fantastic! We are looking forward to hear how your customers receive your new user-centric platforms!

And for those of you who are still uncertain if a user-centred approach is feasible for their project or organisation, or simply not ready to undertake the process by themselves: you are kindly invited to get in touch with any questions on the transition of a product-driven to a user-centred approach and how these seven steps can be implemented. Not only do we have extensive experience in executing these steps; we understand the challenges you may face in the adoption of these ideas within your organization.


Update: Confirming our findings, shortly after publishing this article, global consultancy firm McKinsey & Co. published their 2015 annual review of global banking, offering a particularly alarming outlook on the future of banks, stating "Banks could lose 60% of retail profit to fintech startups". The threat, McKinsey argues, "isn’t that new players will take balances away from the banks, but rather will take over the customer relationship and sales opportunities as disruption kicks in and migration toward non-bank services grows exponentially.".

For your consideration: