How Vanguard uses design thinking to improve customer experiences

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Moving faster code to deployment

There are certain milestones or moments in people’s lives, some joyful, some not so joyful, that require people to react financially. Not too long ago, Vanguard looked at our individual investor business to identify these decisive moments in the lives of our clients. When a loved one passes away, for example, a tremendous amount of decisions may have to be made, and quickly. It is our job to make the system that facilitates those decisions as smooth as possible, particularly in times of loss. What we’ve learned is that we have to design our customer experience around those decisive moments.

Finding the right responses to these events is an exercise in design thinking that requires an appreciation of business realities and an understanding of how our clients interact with us. Together, our business and IT teams traveled to observe firsthand how people move through times of crisis. In the case of a loss of a loved one, the newly bereaved spends time with estate attorneys, funeral directors, and many other professionals. A funeral director, for example, manages a set of events that have to close in a very short period and has to encourage the family to make decisions along the way. During our research, we watched incredibly emotionally-charged people navigate the emotions and complexities of their circumstances to get things done.

Because of this research, we learned some things that need to be fundamental to a good customer experience:

  • Enable clients to have a single point of contact - someone they trust and can rely on during this stressful time.
  • Structure the experience so people can do things on their own time, not on our time.
  • Provide continuity. Enable clients to start a process, then disconnect, then reconnect without starting over.
  • Look for every opportunity to make each part of the experience as easy as possible.

Big data, better experiences?

The challenge for technology leaders is applying those very personal lessons to a digital landscape. We can no longer use the impersonal nature of technology as an excuse. Rather, new conceptual learnings and vast technological advances are creating the expectation that IT leaders should leverage technology to drive increasingly personalized digital experiences for our clients.

Interviewing people here in our offices and using eye-tracking software to generate heat maps on screens has gone by the wayside. The combination of big data and analytics has allowed us to test large subsets of clients in real time and watch their behaviors. We do that today via A/B testing, where we run multiple treatments of scenarios to see how clients respond — including on high-profile pages like the Vanguard homepage.

Recently, we tested treatments that increased automated savings by 200 percent. Another of those tests increased the use of security codes by 700 percent. Those are real client outcomes, all based on big data.

A contributing factor to our efficiency is that we designed these scenarios using a lean enterprise model for software development. We have created full-staff teams with the business and IT co-located and working together. Moreover, now it is less about delivering a feature on time and on budget, and more about delivering the right outcome. Where we see a better experience, we persist. If not, we pivot. It is all a journey, of course. I would say 30 percent of that journey is technology, but the other 70 percent of it is culture. We are not perfect at this test-and-lean methodology, but we are committed to creating an entrepreneurial culture within a traditional organization.

Similarly, a customer experience isn’t truly one until you have connected multiple moments of truth into a customer journey. Life isn’t a moment in time, a disconnect, and then another moment in time. It’s a full journey.  As technology leaders, we need to understand that journey and engineer the best experiences possible.

John T. Marcante is an award-winning C-suite technology and business executive with expertise in digital transformation, business strategy, financial planning and wealth management, cyber security and technology risk. John is the US CIO in Residence for Deloitte and the former Chief Information Officer and Managing Director of Vanguard.