Your digital customer interface makes the difference between winning or losing customers

Nowadays the customer journey in every business is also (and in some cases from the outset) a digital journey. Your client no longer follows a sequential “funnel” from awareness to purchase in the B2B or B2C preference and purchase process. Nor does your customer follow one fixed channel (let alone: a channel selected by the company). The customer will engage with your brand, collect information, make choices, become a customer and also continue to interact with your brand through various channels and devices. So your only option is to be consistent and stand out by continuously capitalising on the journey so far. 

If customers want to interact, then this interaction must be fast, easy and preferably also fun. – “When digital becomes human”, Steven Van Belleghem, 2014.

The interface no longer consists of the handling process after the customer has chosen your brand, service or product. The customer interface has now become a decisive factor for customers, prompting them to back out or move forward with a purchase. Research has shown, for example, that a fast, user-friendly interface is one of the five success factors of direct banks. – “Direct Banks in Belgium”, Roland Berger, 2015.

Your digital customer interface is a primary factor in the growth and maintenance of your business. The programme for guaranteed success is first and foremost a marketing and communication programme. However, this requires a lot of IT and service (re)design. You need to rethink the relationship between your brand and your customer, which means you will definitely need IT and service design. But these two elements are now part of a more comprehensive marketing and communication programme. The MARCOM Director therefore should oversee this programme, because ultimately this is all about the client, the brand and the interaction between them. He or she, however, must work closely with the ICT Director to ensure a consistent and perfect customer experience across all channels. – “CMOs – time for digital transformation” and “How CMOs and CIOs can work together to win the digital customer”, Accenture, 2014. 

I will explain the four success factors and their integration with the Bolero case, the trading platform of KBC Securities, which Kunstmaan developed. The accompanying “Machtig Makkelijk” communication campaign earned us an EFFIE Award in 2015.

The Bolero case is a good example of how these four factors can influence your success. It especially demonstrates which turnaround they can generate for a brand. Bolero is the online trading platform of KBC Securities, the KBC Group’s integrated brokerage house. Bolero was established in 1999 for every investor who wished to put together and manage his own portfolio.

In 2012, Bolero’s management set itself a challenge: a completely new trading platform would have to fulfil the expectations of contemporary customers as well as setting a new standard for the market. The company’s management opted to completely relaunch the brand and platform. Because Bolero believed in the combination of innovative design and development and a consistent brand experience, the company’s management chose to work with Kunstmaan for both of these aspects. At Kunstmaan we focus on the combination of branding and communication, design and technology to assure a consistent and valuable brand experience across all physical and digital channels and contacts.

Kunstmaan defined four guiding objectives as a starting point for the exercise: 

Differentiation

We wanted to launch a platform that would strongly distinguish Bolero from the competition, something better than anything other brokers have to offer. Every type of investor that Bolero targets must experience significant added value compared with the platforms of any other service provider. 

Quality

Whereas other brokers compete with each other by offering cheaper tariffs and focus on pricing in their messages, Bolero will make the difference by emphasising its superior quality. While this message is somewhat more difficult to convey,
this strategy ultimately will not give rise to a value-destroying price competition. 

User-friendliness

User-friendliness is a basic requirement for any transactional trading platform. Kunstmaan rose to the challenge of creating a value driver, that would distinguish Bolero from the competition, with intelligent design and a proper, customer-oriented development of this functionality. 

A subsidiary of the KBC Group

An important trump card, which Bolero must capitalise on: it generates trust in Bolero’s stability and investment expertise. 

The ambition had been set: to ensure that the platform would excel in user-friendliness and position the brand as such.

1. Innovative design

Bolero was developed for “self-directed” customers, who collect information, compare it and make a decision without relying on an adviser. They prefer intelligent brands that substitute complexity with simplicity. Simplicity therefore became the starting point of our design.

Online trading has to comply with strict rules in terms of identity, security, online payment and so on. This is not just another online shop. The mixed team of Bolero and Kunstmaan redesigned all the processes of becoming a customer and a user, in compliance with these rules. The latter is just as important. All too often rethinking the interface is limited to “becoming a customer”. The new customer then discovers, after entering the house, that only the façade has been redone. It is important to review every process. The operational business, the technology, the sales and marketing will also have to be used to turn people into fans and customers of your brand.

During the redesign of the interface processes the team conducted its own analyses and screened trading platforms around the world.

In terms of the platform’s design, we translated “simplicity” into three user interface principles, which we applied to the extreme: 

  • Simplicity  first
  • Seamless cross-channel experience
  • App look and feel instead of a website

1.1 Simplicity first

The new interface has a clear and consistent layout. Simplicity is evident throughout. This simplicity is achieved with “progressive disclosure”, i.e. we only reveal the data and navigation elements when the user needs them to do what he wants to do. Consequently, the customer is more focused and always in control. Learning to work with the new interface is significantly easier as a result. 

1.2 Seamless cross-channel experience

After “multi-screen” became the new normal for banks, delivering a consistent and seamless user experience across various channels became essential. While developing the platform we therefore focused on the mobile-first principle, incorporating mobile principles into the desktop experience. The outcome is a “full responsive” and “click and touch-friendly” design. Because we harmonised the look and feel of all the functionality with each other across all channels, switching from one device to another is very intuitive and easy for users. 

1.3 App look and feel instead of a “website”

The app look and feel of the design is enhanced by the use of specific mobile elements and features: streaming quotes, no full page refresh, contextual panels, modal windows, dashboards, wizards, etc., making everything feel even more dynamic and interactive. 

2. Innovative technology

We assigned a “code name” within our companies to the project for redeveloping the Bolero platform, namely 3.0. We felt that this expressed our ambition to build a ground- breaking trading platform which would set a new standard for the market. And we succeeded. 

2.1 Ground-breaking technology with an intelligent architecture

Behind the scenes the Bolero platform is built on ground- breaking technology with an intelligent architecture:

  • An application can handle streaming quotes of millions of financial products and live updates of graph on every device.
  • A real responsive application that works on every device of every brand
  • A multi-layered architecture for unlimited scaling-up in case of structural growth or peak usage
  • A web services layer that offers access to the data of a large number of external providers and the KBC Securities mainframe
  • Full security in terms of identification and online payment are a given in this financial environment.

A separate layer allows for the exchange of data and stock transactions to and from the web application (the most important touchpoint with the clients) and the mobile applications on iPhone, iPad and AppleWatch.

The advantage of this architecture is that each component or data provider can easily be replaced or expanded without having to update the web and mobile clients. This means we can move quickly in case of changes in this dynamic and volatile sector.

Our framework allows us to deliver unprecedented scalability and performance with asynchronous, competing and non- blocking streams.

The type of performance that is needed to continuously deliver streaming quotes of millions of product and live updates of graphs to every client.

The web application has a real “app” look and feel. It has a full responsive design and therefore offers access to the entire platform for all users, on all platforms and devices.

2.2 Optimum collaboration between external and internal stakeholders

In early 2013, the teams of KBC Securities IT, Bolero, iCapps and Kunstmaan started to work on this programme. In addition to the project management for web services and the website, Kunstmaan was also the overall consulting partner for the Agile approach. Investment experts, communication experts, digital strategists, concept and product developers, developers and designers all worked together according to the agile method (scrum), under the guidance of Kunstmaan scrum coaches.

The ideal approach for this project, because this allowed the large and very diverse project team to respond very quickly in terms of the platform’s actual development. The Bolero project team was split into seven teams, with 30 developers from all stakeholders on board. 

3. Powerful branding and communication

3.1 Branding and communication integrated with technological development and design

The design and the underlying technological development of the customer interface must be customer-driven, based on the customer’s relationship with the brand. That is why the MARCOM Director must play a role in the design and development of the digital customer interface. The relationship between the brand and the customer is a responsibility of the MARCOM Director. Another responsibility, which he must focus on simultaneously, is branding and communication.

At Kunstmaan we think that the combination of design, development and communication within one agency makes it much easier to achieve this integration. Bolero (KBC Securities) therefore chose to place the design and development of the platform as well as the communication about it with Kunstmaan, guaranteeing consistency and the mutual reinforcement of technology, design and communication. 

3.2 Differentiating brand positioning

Whereas the competition emphasises the “do it yourself, it’s cheaper” aspect, Bolero’s message – based on its positioning and a value analysis – is quite different: “using a very powerful instrument has never been easier”. We also accentuate the advantages of a large bank and brokerage house for the “self-directed” customer who has access to the power and expertise of the KBC Group, a real dyed in the wool brokerage rm. “Machtig Makkelijk voor elke belegger” (Incredibly easy for every investor). The double meaning of the word “machtig” in Dutch (powerful, incredible) adds a superlative degree to “makkelijk” (easy) for self-directed customers. At the same time, it also appeals to more experienced investors. They consider powerful functionality like fundamental analyses a kick in itself. 

  • For someone who does not invest online and who has no idea what this involves, this is an innovative product. It looks like an app, it is Easy.
  • For those who already invest online, we put the platform into the spotlight: “this is the new standard for online investment”, this is Incredible, powerful.

We rolled out a communication campaign based on the brand positioning. The results were so convincing that the campaign won an EFFIE Award.

“The totally redeveloped Bolero platform makes the clout of a large bank with its own dealing room and analysts available to private investors in an extremely user-friendly manner.” - Bart Vanhaeren - CEO Bolero

4. A real human interface

The digital customer interface is primordial for convincing customers to switch to Bolero and to retain existing customers. We already emphasised the combination of design, development and communication, the three success factors we described above. The interface must be “quick, easy and fun”.

The importance of a good digital customer interface, however, does not mean that the brand and the brand experience should become solely digital. On the contrary even, the “real people” factor is essential for making the difference. This is the fourth factor for a successful digital customer interface. 

“Our trading platform is an online product, but Bolero is much more than a purely digital brand” - Marc Dorssemont - Marketing manager Bolero

We fully capitalised on this at Bolero. As a result of its connection with KBC Securities, Bolero excels at stock market content. Their markets specialist Tom Simonts is a familiar face who shares his views on the markets every day in two updates and a blog post. Market strategist Koen de Leus teaches customers how to invest in new products in various video tutorials. The website is a goldmine for anyone searching for information to invest more successfully. Bolero also frequently hosts webinars, which are well attended.

In addition to this, events were and are also organised in collaboration with the unique local branch network of KBC Bank. Here people (customers) get to meet the Bolero team and can exchange thoughts with them. The support for minor or major questions is very personal. KBC fully capitalised on its position as a large bank with a large and strong branch network.

Finally, the online activities are also extended with a paper component, the investment magazine INDX, which discusses specific industries, current themes, specific investment topics, and more as well as featuring a personal story as a cover story. 

These human contacts are a vital element to strengthen the digital customer interface.

And the results... We cannot share figures in this very competitive market. The objectives we set were all achieved and even exceeded:

  • A record number of new customers. The number of new customers per day is several times higher than in 2012.
  • In terms of capital, Bolero exceeded a magic mark for the first time, while preserving the quality of its customer profile.
  • Strong brand notoriety with a very competitive top of mind and strongly increased brand preference.
  • The number of new visitors of the website increased by almost 70%, the number of requests for an information kit by 60%.
  • We received an EFFIE Award in 2015 for our “Machtig Makkelijk” campaign.

So how will you tackle your digital customer interface?

At Kunstmaan we believe in the added value of the integrated redesign of the four above success factors: design, technology, communication and human interaction. Bolero is a B2C case but we have seen first-hand that this is just as important in B2B.

While this involves very innovative technology, we think that the MARCOM Director plays an important role in the adaptation of the digital customer interface because he is best placed to understand the optimum interaction between the customer and the brand and to help define it, along with the process and technology managers.

This is a challenging change project and there is not much time. An agency with a wide scope, which manages these four success factors in an integrated manner, can offer significant added value. 

Want to find out more about this or other cases? Want to discuss your digital customer interface? Interested in a workshop? Let us know!

Written by

Roeland Gielen

CEO

Follow @roelandgielen