What do the recent developments regarding Bank of America wanting to charge their customers for convenience and the court cases involving Apple and Samsung mean for design management? Perhaps what we are learning is just how high the stakes for design have become!
Bank of America's blatant disregard for the customer. The dark side.
During the last week in September 2011, Bank of America announced that it would start charging customers for the use of their debit cards at point of purchase. This is like the treasury saying that they will charge the consumer if we try to pay for something with our dollar bills?!
A few years ago, the Bank of America hired design firm IDEO. The "Keep the Change" program grew out of a research project with IDEO that sought to understand how Bank of America could improve service to baby-boomer women with children. As the study demonstrated, these consumers had strong concerns about money, but faced significant obstacles to saving that could be overcome with a well-designed program.
It would appear that Bank of America, true to its recent form, is looking for every possible way to pass all blame and costs for its sub-prime mortgage mess and the costs of purchasing Merrill Lynch on to their customers who generate income for them to keep paying its over paid senior management and shareholders. This time, the way they intend to help those struggling baby boomer women and children is to charge them for using their debit cards! Yup, way to go Bank of America, that should help save them! Instead of addressing its bloated cost structure, the bank has decided that it's better to charge the customer for using its services. That should boost demand for those services dramatically. It is hard to imagine that if we all went back to writing paper checks that it would be more efficient. After all, weren't debit cards invented to replace checks?
IDSA made the "Keep the Change" program a Catalyst winner back in 2007.
What can we learn from this embarrassing mess? First, just because you hire a design consultant does not mean that you have understood design or what design can do for your company or its consumers. To do that you really need to have developed an internal design department capable of producing world class user experiences. Second, just because you implement a program that a designer defines for you does not mean that you have decided to make design a core discipline in your company. It was, in the end, just a consulting engagement; it isn't that design is in Bank of America's DNA - sadly. Bank of America shows us exactly how far a company can move away from user centered design and what results you should expect to get from that little experiment.
Apple's continuing respect for creating better solutions for its users. The light side.
Contrast Charlotte's Bank of America with what is happening across the country to the more design savvy Apple.
Not only has design made a MAJOR contribution to Apple's becoming one of the richest companies in the world in the past 10 years, but because of the strength and depth to which its design activities have influenced the company, its lawyers have found it has developed sufficient differentiation and a strong enough case to sue Samsung for copying various aspects of the design, interface and key technologies. There are aspects of Apple's user experience that are so uniquely Apple that they are being viewed as equal to the technology uniqueness of the Tech boom of the '80-'90s. In this example, we will have to wait a bit longer to find out what the courts will decide. Either way this will prove to be a watershed moment for design's connection to business. If Apple wins, design's value to a company will have been proven in a court of law! If Apple loses, we will have found out the limits of design's value to a company and an economy and have the chance to regroup and rethink how we sell our value to business. I don't think design will lose.
What are we learning?
Contrast Bank of America's use of and then blatant disregard of design and consequently unhappy and disgruntled customers, a dire financial position and a general lack luster performance with the consistent and increasing strength of Apple's design assets, happy customers and growing wealth.
You wouldn't be criticized for thinking that I've lost my mind trying to pin all of Bank of America's woes on a lack of "design."
I would argue, very strongly, that ALL of Bank of America's troubles stem from their singular lack of user (customer) centric thinking and ALL of Apple's successes have revolved around an unchanging belief on how to improve the user's experience. Customer centric thinking is the very core of what design can offer a corporation.
I would also argue that almost every move that Bank of America makes goes against user centric thinking. They demonstrate a singular lack of respect for their customers, the people who provide them revenue. They make all decisions, it seems, based on what would maximize the return to their shareholders and profits at the expense of the customer and their experience with the bank. The bank seems to have absolutely no systems in place to recognize good paying customers from bad ones, of which I am sure there are only a very few versus the great majority of good ones. They treat all customers alike, somehow as if they are the problem. What is the old saying, "I had a great day, except for the customers?"
Case in point, a national radio advertising campaign that features a young couple (baby boomer mother and father) who try to go into a branch, but get turned away by a velvet rope directing them around the corner to an ATM and then get sent to a website with no possible chance of contacting a human from this unknown bank! Kind of sums up the Bank of America customer experience, don't you think? No design, user centric company would ever go the direction that Bank of America has done thinking that this is how you create customer satisfaction.
As design managers, we are constantly looking for the examples that demonstrate design's value to business and while neither of these cases is anywhere near closed yet, I would suggest that they make perfect specimens to use when describing designs value to your clients. Watch this space for more details as these two case studies unfold before us. My money is on Apple winning its case and proving design's value, and Bank of America continuing its decline and proving that a complete lack of design thinking can undermine a company's competitiveness.
What can we learn from these two case studies? Perhaps that in today's world, design is already a core competence for successful businesses and a requirement to win. Additionally, the lack of design thinking could be seen as a major contributor to business failure. It stands to reason that if the best companies are taking on design in a big way that the gap between those who use design and those who do not would become much wider and even trigger failures to resonate with customers at any level as the customers' expectations slowly rise in the face of good design examples. The argument is now before us, and I don't think we will have to wait much longer for these two cases to run their courses.