We recently sat down for a chat with Maggie Young, a customer experience evangelist, to discuss the unique challenges financial services companies encounter when conducting user research—and why none of those challenges should dissuade companies from doing frequent user testing studies. Maggie spent a few years leading the User Research and Insights team for the digital customer experience initiative at Citibank and gained some interesting perspective on integrating regular user testing within a financial institution—an industry that’s often restricted by strict regulations and privacy concerns. After running a successful team at Citibank, we knew Maggie would have some great advice for other financial companies interested in conducting user research. Here are her top five tips:
No matter how progressive a financial institution may be, all of them will have a lot of regulatory considerations that can’t be avoided. As a result, additional precautions and approvals need to take place so projects must be planned out far in advance. Building in a research interval after each iteration from the get-go as SOP is key. The benefit to this is that your team will know exactly what to expect and can prepare. Be sure your teams have thought through all the details and considerations for every test plan so that when it’s time to start testing there are no surprises—and no delays. It can be tough to react quickly when regulation is such an important part of the business, so staying patient and thinking ahead will save you and your team a lot of frustration. Establishing benchmarks before and after changes will help build team unity and focus.
Sometimes study plans would get caught up in legal review, adding time to the overall testing process. Maggie suggests getting creative when working with other teams within the company. She did this with her teams by creating a bank of standard questions her team could use for tests and had the legal team review them all at once and pre-approve. As long as her team stuck to the pre-approved questions and plans, the legal team was happy and less likely to cause a bottleneck in testing.
One of the biggest challenges for financial service companies is maintaining their customers’ privacy. That can lead to hesitation when it comes to user testing any client-facing apps or sites. That’s where making friends across departments in the company can really help you, according to Maggie. She notes that privacy concerns can be easily mitigated by establishing the proper blind prototypes, secure testing protocols or sandbox environments for users to test in. And those environments are typically managed by your IT, development, and design teams. These teams can help you create mock accounts or prototypes that won’t link to any real customer data as long as they’re included from the kick-off. Including Information Security team members in early discussions can reduce or remove possible future problems too. Getting to know those teams and keeping them continually updated will make setting up those environments much easier and help calm any nerves about customer privacy. Sharing results with those teams will also close the loop and build strong relationships.
Quantitative data will always be an important component of research and even more so in the financial space, but Maggie notes that it’s important to find ways to humanize that data on a regular basis. To do this, she piggy-backed on the common practice teams have of listening to real customer service calls —good and bad. It was natural to then show customers using the app and site as well and helped put a human being on the other end of all the data her team provided.
If you can get an executive to watch, listen, and cringe you can get budget.
This was my favorite piece of advice Maggie shared. She noted that many financial institutions may be hesitant to fully embrace user research—whether it’s out of concern for customer privacy or just being unfamiliar with user research. This is when she suggests to start off by testing the safer, public-facing sites and apps first—including yours and that of the competition. This will help provide your team with the data they need to gain buy-in for additional testing, without having to even mention customer privacy.
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