Does Starbucks sell coffee? What a silly question … of course they do!! Well let me ask you again, ‘Does Starbucks sell coffee?’ Think again. If coffee is what they sell, then why is their coffee priced so over-the-top? And why do we go to them when a roadside coffee would cost us perhaps one-tenth!

So going back to my question, ‘do they sell coffee?’ Yes they do! But what they wrap the coffee in, is what they charge the premium for – the customer experience! Yes! Starbucks sell customer experience in a coffee mug – the overall experience of your ‘coffee time’ – and this is not incidental! Starbucks has designed this experience, taking a simple coffee to altogether new heights!

This ‘customer experience’ as we call it is not just at Starbucks. From Apple and Amazon to Disney and Sony, every organization focused on its customer to design and deliver this experience to its customers! There is enough content about these organizations and their customer experience designs, so let us skip that. The point in focus is, that if customer experience is so vital today, why are financial institutions shying away from offering the same to their customers?


Trust, the basis of financial institutions coupled with strict guidelines imposed by regulatory bodies makes environments around financial matters extremely sensitive. As a result, almost always their processes and guidelines score over customer experience. Good practices encourage these processes to ensure security of financial matters. However does customer experience always have to sacrifice? Can Processes and Customer Experience never co-exist?

For instance, at the airport, the security asks you to take off your jacket, shoes, belt, wallet etc. before passing through a metal detector as a process. This is followed by a physical frisking before you can go on to retrieve your belongings. As a protocol, we follow it all, even at the risk of our discomfort.

Imagine a situation where airport security installs body scanners that lets you pass through without stripping yourself or being frisked, unless for a valid reason. If we don’t get into “Metal Detectors v/s Body Scanners” argument, wouldn’t you love the scanner experience over the current system? A hassle-free and quick security check and a friendlier security staff enhance your experience, making your journey a pleasant one!

Recently I came across an article about “Chase Bank” and their customer experience philosophy which focuses on customer and not on selling. Greater emphasis is given to human interactions and technology is used as enablers. In the times where people are more and more talking about self-service era to minimize the cost, “the Chase Approach” may sound ridiculous to many. But that is the “body scanner” mindset that removes the visibly annoying processes and fosters healthy interaction between the consumer and the service provider.

Products are “NOT DESIGNED” for Customer Experience

More often than not, the banks have a tendency to keep clinging onto conventional product definitions and as a result, all processes are designed around the functioning of the core banking system. In changing times, when banks shifted from branch-based banking applications to a centralized core-banking system, product definition came under the core-banking wing. These products are largely governed by categorization like asset-liability, secure-unsecure, short term-long term. Though this categorization is essential for internal risk-assessment and regulatory reporting, the customer’s definition of product has changed! From a single product, the customer now looks at a bundle of multiple products and service offerings combined to address certain needs or achieve certain objectives. It is just like the various flavour of coffee, the plush seating, ambience, music and customer service that Starbucks offers with that coffee mug you order!

The key reason that our products are what they are today, is our approach towards product design. Our tendency towards offering ‘Inside-Out’ solutions over ‘Outside-In’ gives customer what is available, instead of what he needs. Traditional banking had a position of advantage and customer bought what was offered. The scene is changing today. With the advent of FinTech, Customers are realizing their options and it is a wake-up call for banks.

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around 

– Steve Jobs

One of the great example of the products designed for the customer experience is “Kiwi Bank”. If you look at their product stack it is designed to deliver “an experience” to target customer group. Engagement with the customer throughout their life-stage transition is at the core of Kiwi Bank’s product design and that helps them to stand out from the crowd.

Fragmented Channel Strategy = Inconsistent Customer Experience

With fragmented channel strategy, many banks end up delivering inconsistent customer experience across multiple “Points of Interaction (POI)”. Many people argue that technology evolution and time at which each channel solution is acquired creates these discrepancies. Though this is partially true, we can take that as an excuse to deliver inconsistent Customer Experience. What we need primarily is “Customer Experience design thinking”. Architectures inspired by such thinking will always focus on delivering the superior customer experience across all POIs.

If we look at evolution of channels, in earlier days there was “many2many” relation between channels and back-office system. Considering huge cost of maintaining such complex integration, the middleware / enterprise service bus (ESB) was introduced to streamline the integration nightmares. With this the banks have moved to “many2one2many” type of integration model. But still customer experience was not in picture. Therefore one should think about “What experience to be delivered to the customer” and once that is decided, you should worry about “How to deliver that experience”.

During the course discussion, architects talked about creating “common data” repository created at the middleware / ESB level to ensure consistency across all channels. Although this is the first step towards delivering consistent experience this is not the end because it only ensure data consistency. In addition to the data consistency, what you need to create is tools that will allow you to define the desired customer experience and flexible channels which will inherit the experience rules and data from the common repository to deliver consistent customer experience across all channels.


Any transaction or interaction of the customer with the Bank is information that is being continually transmitted. Are the banks really receiving it as ‘information’? Most of the time, it is a mere transaction without interpretation of the customer’s patterns. Today I can tell you from my personal experience that my bank is not listening to what my transactions are saying. If I look at my own month-on-month transactions, the pattern is pretty much the same (I guess that’s true for most of the salaried people around the world ;-)). However the communication that I receive from the bank, including offers and promotions does not reflect any listening from transaction records! Banks can today enhance customer experience simply by converting this data into useful information.

Today Banks can enhance their listening by allowing customers to categorize their income and expenses, allow them to save for purpose, connect to their social media and listen etc. Banks need to move from being passive service providers to becoming partners who are actively listening and engaging.


  • Change your mindset: think about customer not about processes and constraints.
  • Design products that customer needs and not what you can offer.
  • Deliver products across Point of Interactions with consistent experience.
  • Create avenues for listening, listen to your customer and adapt.

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