Embrace Commoditization to Authentically Connect with Your Customer

John Kirk at Tech­pin­ions wrote a thought­ful piece on Apple­Pay ($). At the very end he says some­thing about the cus­tomer <-> bank relationship:

But what hap­pens when one doesn’t have a rela­tion­ship with their BANK, when every BANK looks like another, when every BANK pro­vides vir­tu­ally the same ser­vices, when it’s easy to make a switch and when the ben­e­fits of switch­ing are made clear?

He makes it sound like this is some­thing the banks should dread. I think it’s just the opposite.

The study of Japan­ese swordsmanship

In the prac­tice of iaido, at least for the orga­ni­za­tion I belong to, there is a set of 12 com­mon forms across all of the organization’s par­tic­i­pat­ing styles of swords­man­ship. Every grade level prac­tices these forms reg­u­larly and per­ma­nently. Every exam and most com­pe­ti­tions pulls the major­ity of required forms from these twelve, no mat­ter how advanced the participants.

My instruc­tor said some­thing one that really res­onated but that I’ve never really been able to con­vey well. After prac­tic­ing these 12 forms for years, they get refined. Every­one is doing exactly the same forms, in a highly stan­dard­ized way. There’s very lit­tle room (for all prac­ti­cal pur­poses, no room) for per­sonal embell­ish­ments or alter­na­tive interpretations.

Does every­one look the same then?

Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth. In fact, when every­one works the exact same tech­niques to the same stan­dards what’s left is a view into the practitioner’s per­son­al­ity. When I watch some­one prac­tice, I learn a lot about who they are because I’m not dis­tracted by their inter­pre­ta­tion of the com­mod­ity that we’re all performing.

Touch­ing story, what does it have to do with banking?

When in fact bank­ing ser­vices are com­pletely com­modi­tized, we can see the bank’s per­son­al­ity shine through just like we can with the iaido practitioner.

We get to see their pri­or­i­ties and decide if it’s a com­pany we want to do busi­ness with. We’re no longer trapped by the friction/necessity of their prod­ucts. We can lit­er­ally vote with our dol­lars to sup­port those com­pa­nies that align to our values.

Let me give you an exam­ple of where a bank could spend it’s energy, if it’s not forced to focus on undif­fer­en­ti­ated bank­ing services.

Remem­ber Norm from Cheers? He’d walk into the bar and be greeted with a resound­ing “Norm!”. Must have felt good to be Norm.

When I call my bank, how am I greeted?

Hello Mr. Bressler. This is Ms. [gar­bled non­sense]. We appre­ci­ate your busi­ness. This line is being recorded for your safety and protection.”

Let’s dis­sect this for a second.

  1. I don’t know who Mr. Bressler is, but it’s not me. Maybe some old guy with the same sur­name as me?
  2. The last time I called some­one Mr. or Mrs. (or Ms.) some­thing was… let me think… NEVER. (Not really true but hope­fully my point resonates.)
  3. My name would sound like gar­bled non­sense too if I had to repeat it 100 times a day. First names are so much eas­ier because our brains relate to them better.
  4. You appre­ci­ate my busi­ness? At this point, do you know what busi­ness that is? You haven’t asked for my account num­ber so I know you don’t know me yet.
  5. What you really mean is the line is being recorded for your safety, for com­pli­ance, and for train­ing (since turnover in the phone-answering role is so high because you don’t like your employ­ees any more than you like your customers).

If I get an email notice from my bank, what does it say at the bot­tom? “Please don’t respond to this email.”

If I use the mobile app from my bank, what does it feel like? It feels like they’ve writ­ten one app for iOS, Android, and the browser. It doesn’t work the way I’d expect it to, or the way I do my bank­ing. I can either use their app, or not. I bet if you inter­viewed 100 bank­ing cus­tomers, you’d find that we inte­grate bank­ing into our lives in 100 dif­fer­ent ways. And still, just one mobile app.

Enough said. My bank has no idea who I am or how I bank.

When basic bank­ing ser­vice com­modi­tize, banks can put their efforts into get­ting to really know their cus­tomers and dif­fer­en­ti­ate based on per­sonal ser­vice (highly focused and dynamic cus­tomer per­sonas, informed by data).

It’s bet­ter for the banks too. Build­ing a per­sonal con­nec­tion is way more sticky than cap­tur­ing cus­tomers and get­ting them to stay because it’s so hard to switch.

PC, Post-PC, and Post-Mobile

Words mat­ter.

A lot.

I’m look­ing for advice. Advice that I couldn’t fig­ure out how to squeeze into a tweet, which means it needs a whole post.

I dis­like the phrase ‘inter­net of things’. To my del­i­cate ears, not many peo­ple can pull the phrase off with­out sound­ing either airy-fairy or too technical.

The phrase also seems too loaded and as if it’ll be irrel­e­vant in a few years when every­thing is just smart and no one cares about what it’s called (see slides 41 – 44 from Bene­dict Evans’ Mobile is Eat­ing the World pre­sen­ta­tion).

To me, the most impor­tant thing to under­stand about the dynam­ics of the evo­lu­tion of com­put­ing devices is:

  • First there were PCs (includ­ing main­frame ter­mi­nals). The com­put­ing came to them, because the com­put­ers them­selves didn’t move.
  • Next there were mobile com­put­ers. Mobile com­put­ers still mostly only inter­act with their own­ers, but there are a lot more of them. An order of mag­ni­tude more.
  • Third, and the next order of mag­ni­tude jump is when com­put­ing power is built into every­thing. It’s not just the device that’s smart, but the envi­ron­ment (think smart home or smart retail or smart healthcare).

The device will inter­act with the envi­ron­ment for a con­text dri­ven com­put­ing expe­ri­ence. It’s not only the owner that inter­act with the mobile device, but also the con­text in which the owner exists at that moment in time.

So, rather than use the phrase ‘inter­net of things’ I want to use the phrase ‘post-mobile’ to cap­ture the import and impact to those who think about tech­nol­ogy solutions.

  1. It’s an order of mag­ni­tude larger than mobile in terms of ‘smart devices’. This implies a lot more com­plex­ity (a lot more mov­ing parts).
  2. The value is going to be deliv­ered via soft­ware, a lot of soft­ware.
  3. The soft­ware that peo­ple want is going to be dri­ven by the job to be done.

What do you think of the phrase ‘post-mobile’ for cat­e­go­riz­ing this next phase of com­put­ing? Do you think peo­ple will under­stand what I mean? Do I sound just like a dif­fer­ent ver­sion of airy-fairy?

Most impor­tantly, if you fast for­ward 5 years and look back, do you think it sounds bet­ter in ret­ro­spect than IoT does?




The Kind of Innovation Real People Need

A lot of peo­ple dis­agree with my “every­one should be able to code” atti­tude. “Cod­ing is hard enough”, they say. “You can’t let ama­teurs do it — every­thing will break.”


But then I read about what hap­pened at Rut­gers, and I know I’m right.

Vaib­hav Verma was bored and frus­trated. In other words, he was moti­vated. He wrote an app that noti­fied him when peo­ple dropped a closed course that he was inter­ested in tak­ing. Within a semes­ter 8,000 other stu­dents were using it.

The uni­ver­sity responded by shut­ting him down.

A good rea­son to shut it down

In fact, it was a very poorly writ­ten appli­ca­tion. It just kept query­ing the reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem over and over. There’s no way this would scale, it most cer­tainly put a strain on the reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem in a way that would impact every­one else try­ing to reg­is­ter, and it would prob­a­bly be expen­sive to fix on the back end so the appli­ca­tion could be prop­erly written.

That said, 8,000 peo­ple adopt­ing the appli­ca­tion in a sin­gle semes­ter prob­a­bly means there’s some­thing valu­able hap­pen­ing for students.

Instead of help­ing these 8,000 stu­dents, the uni­ver­sity pre­ferred to just shut them down.

Sound famil­iar?

Remem­ber when we couldn’t use Macs at work?

Why can’t IT sup­port this sort of inno­va­tion, and pro­vide a plat­form that helps peo­ple write appli­ca­tions that don’t break every­thing? Why do com­pa­nies feel that it’s OK to sim­ply “shut it down”?

Bring or write your own software

Even­tu­ally com­pa­nies are going to real­ize that peo­ple aren’t try­ing to break rules for their own sake. They’re actu­ally just try­ing to do a bet­ter job, or make their lives eas­ier, or both. By shut­ting them down they’re doing a lot of dam­age. To morale. To the sense of belonging.

How do you think peo­ple will respond when you just shut them down?

For kids that grow up writ­ing soft­ware to solve prob­lems, who have the whole inter­net of APIs on which to exper­i­ment, work­ing at a com­pany where they can’t is going to be perplexing.

It’s going to be insulting.

It doesn’t make sense to me that com­pa­nies aren’t mov­ing more aggres­sively in this direc­tion. The inno­va­tion occur­ring out “in the real world” is dra­matic. One would think com­pa­nies would want to participate.

UX Discord

I’ve now added credit cards from three dif­fer­ent banks into Apple­Pay — Amer­i­can Express, Citibank, and Chase.

Two of the cards pro­vided a bril­liantly sim­ple expe­ri­ence for adding cards. One did not.

Of those three banks, I saw one on TV talk­ing about how great their expe­ri­ence was. The con­text was how the bank will com­pete when Apple­Pay is the same for all banks.

Iron­i­cally, the one bank pro­mot­ing their focus on expe­ri­ence was the one with the bad experience.

(Looks at Chase) Can you guess which bank it was?

User Expe­ri­ence Lessons

The chal­lenge today is that there’s a lot of trans­parency and dis­trust. We hear exec­u­tives talk, and we see the results. I know that the exec­u­tive I saw on TV hasn’t played with other banks’ cards in Apple­Pay. I know that he doesn’t under­stand the tech­ni­cal side of what’s going on.

Every­thing has to align. Mes­sag­ing and deliv­ery. The post-mobile world, where com­put­ing (and there­fore soft­ware) is per­va­sive and ever-present means that mes­sag­ing and tech­nol­ogy expe­ri­ence have to align, or con­sumers are not going to believe the messaging.

Here are three things to con­sider in today’s cul­ture of technology:

  1. You’ve got to test every vec­tor into prod­uct adop­tion for on-boarding. You can only make one first impres­sion, right? I’m sure the rea­son I had trou­ble is because the credit card was on a joint account. It picked up my wife’s con­tact infor­ma­tion, not mine. I couldn’t get the acti­va­tion code they insisted on send­ing me (until I was with her). When we we were open­ing the joint account they asked us who would be the pri­mary account holder. Should have known there’d be trou­ble back then. A joint account shouldn’t have a pri­mary account holder. It’s. A. Joint. Account.
  2. Rethink every­thing. Turns out, only Chase required such a con­fir­ma­tion code to be entered. I’m sure some­one thinks it’s a good idea, but those same peo­ple prob­a­bly think that forc­ing users to change pass­words every three months improves secu­rity. Get rid of fric­tion when it doesn’t improve things.
  3. Use a competitor’s prod­uct. I always won­dered why the engi­neers at Motorola never bought a Nokia phone. Chase dude, please go get a dif­fer­ent card and see how the other banks do it.

For the Record

First, there is no record.

Sec­ond, I’ve removed my for­mer “top of wal­let” card from my wal­let because it doesn’t sup­port ApplePay.

Simple Observation About TouchID

I’m glad we’ve been acquired by [big com­pany] but I worry about hav­ing enough resources now to get our job done.”

(said no one ever in the his­tory of tech­nol­ogy acquisitions)

The com­mon thought is that big com­pa­nies have more, not fewer, resources to apply to problems.

Why is it then that small com­pa­nies like Day One, AgileBits, Lev­elUp, and Box sup­port TouchID within 30 days or so of the GA iOS release, but big ones like Fidelity, Chase, or Amer­i­can Express do not?

Aren’t these smaller com­pa­nies oper­at­ing in resource scarcity rel­a­tive to the big­ger ones? How is it they can do more?

Trick is, it’s not “how” but “why” that you should be ask­ing. Why can they do more?

It reminds me of the dat­ing advice I can’t wait to give my kids. “It doesn’t mat­ter what she says. How does she spend her time? Does she call or make plans with you? Then she likes you. If not, she’s just not that into you.”