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How to design for customers’ evolving expectations

The pandemic ushered in an irrevocably changed world. More than two years on from the start of Covid, people the world over have adopted new modes of being: new norms, habits, and rituals that helped them to survive, adapt, and lay the groundwork for a future beyond the pandemic. These pervasive shifts also caused a sea change in customer expectations. 

Companies have had to adapt — fast — to keep pace with the digital, intelligent, and personalized experiences that are now table stakes for winning customer loyalty. That’s where experience design comes in. If a company gets design right, it can reap outsized market gains. Those that prioritize design produce significantly higher revenue growth and shareholder returns.

Here’s where the big opportunity lies: with some key best practices for prioritizing digital experience design, companies can start to break through the noise of an increasingly crowded environment to showcase their core benefits and strengthen customer commitment to their brand.

It all starts with the customer

At Capital One, our design approach follows human-centered design principles: we infuse the human perspective throughout the entire development process. But before we consider a potential solution, we need to understand the root problem: Who is the customer? What are they trying to accomplish? What do they need, and do they know they need it? What about the current solution is causing friction and/or not working? How will what we’re building show up in their life?

Let’s take a closer look at some ways to design impactful digital experiences that will center on the customer, showcase the company’s core benefits and offerings, and build lasting relationships.

1. Make it relevant and personalized from the start

Design sets the tone for a brand’s identity that customers will remember, connect with emotionally, and appreciate over time. Capital One knows, for instance, that in today’s world spending is woven throughout the customer’s life. And with the rise of the subscription economy, much of a customer’s spending is on autopilot and out of mind. Customers need to be able to spend exactly when and where they want to, whether it’s shopping on their mobile device, their computer, or in-store.

The first moment a customer engages with a brand’s product or service is the most meaningful, so designing for this moment is vital. To make it clear to our customers that their new Capital One credit card is going to be an ongoing, convenient experience that fits into their life, we reimagined what the experience could feel like the moment a just-approved customer is welcomed to their new Capital One product. 

For example, one area we’re exploring is the moment the customer onboards on our mobile app. What could this look like? It could start by celebrating their decision with a right-timed “digital unboxing” animation. That could be complemented with real-time technology that reduces steps and simplifies tasks, like embedding the customer’s card into their device’s digital wallet. And backgrounding but still ensuring that the verification steps that keep Capital One and our customers safe.

Such interaction techniques — like a small burst of confetti to celebrate the approval, the movement of a plane to transition screens for our travel products, and a swipe of the card graphic to reveal the payment credentials — can transform mundane moments into magical ones. Experiences like this can overcome the experience gap in onboarding to the new product and being able to use the product by offering immediate value. It condenses the process of waiting for the card, activating the card, and manually adding it to a mobile device from several days to minutes. 

2. Infuse the experience with meaningful benefits

Human-centered design is not just applying research, empathy, problem-solving, creativity, and craft. It involves stretching the boundaries of perceived limitations to reimagine what could be—to be open to delivering an experience that  surpasses the customer’s initial expectation, or an experience they didn’t even know they needed.

Leaping boldly into new territory, we’re working to transform the idea of traditional banking into a lifestyle that works for our customers. This inspired a unified Rewards & Benefits experience — across key areas of one’s financial life, like dining, entertainmenttravel, and other lifestyle areas — that will enable customers to tap into our broad suite of rewards right from their mobile app.

3. Balance utility with exploration

User experience (UX) should engage customers in surprising ways, allowing them to open doors to unknown or unexpected information while still being useful. There are task-oriented flows that need to be built into digital UX in order for the customer to accomplish transactional goals. But with today’s technologies, does the user even need to do this task to satisfy their underlying objective? Does this task actually point to other underlying needs? 

As companies continue to marry design with technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, they’re becoming increasingly adept at offering personalized, automated, and contextually relevant experiences and services to customers. But it’s also important to envision how those experiences can remain assistive rather than prescriptive — ensuring the customer has the information they need, but that the control remains in their hands. 

Bringing it home

The way brands build relationships with customers will increasingly be defined by the experiences they offer. As customers demand more from the companies they choose to do business with, it will be up to the business to become more creative and strategic about showcasing its customer benefits and value proposition. 

By pairing the advanced capabilities of today’s technologies with human-centered design, companies can begin to tap into the superpowers that help customers reach their goals and long-term aspirations in ways that are faster, simpler, and more meaningful than ever.