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Digital Transformation: Accelerated Timelines vs. Long Term Success

In September 2020, we released a whitepaper entitled The Future of the Interface, based on our 30+ years of experience researching, analyzing and innovating User Experience (UX) and Customer Experience (CX) to develop solutions, services, and best practices for our clients. The paper describes how UX and CX have evolved, and how UX and CX professionals need to reframe their thinking for success in the future.

Just prior to that (over the summer of 2020), we also published a number of studies identifying what was important to customers in terms of experience. We explored the attitudes and behaviors of both consumers and small business customers in financial services specifically, revealing notable findings about when a human touch is preferred vs. a purely digital transaction.

As the pandemic has thrust many organizations (and customers) deeper into the digital world sooner than expected or desired, the digital transformation timeline has likewise accelerated. Customer & User Experience initiatives have been forced to change to meet new COVID-friendly protocols, and forced to change FAST. But do they reflect what is actually important to the customer? And will these revisions stand the test of time? In this article, we’ll review some of the key findings and design metrics from our 2020 papers in the context of the 2021 world.

UX Efficiency

Defined by Cambridge Dictionary as “the good use of time and energy in a way that does not waste any”, efficiency in a User Experience context often translates to speed and ease without sacrificing quality. As outlined in our Future of the Interface paper, this important element has historically been addressed by ensuring “the user’s ability to conduct tasks quickly and easily using an interface,” but is fast evolving to “the application’s ability to anticipate the customer’s needs and conduct the task with minimal or no prompting from the user.” All without being intrusive, of course.

While speed is consistently measured in units of time, ease and quality can be defined in a wide variety of ways, including customer comfort level. In our consumer financial services studies, we observed that even though certain transactions such as verifying one’s identity can be done quickly online, many consumers (23%) do not feel comfortable with that method. With COVID protocols however, customer comfort levels are being pushed and in some cases overlooked. For example, banking apps have been presented as a COVID-friendly service alternative, but the adoption rates of the 55+ age group in our study are less than half the rate of other age groups (9% vs 21%+).

In other cases, it’s the speed aspect of efficiency that has suffered. With lower physical capacity limitations, retail and food service establishments especially are having to manage line-ups out the door, as well as new sanitation measures inside the store that can prolong even a typical transaction. Online shopping, curbside pick-up, and home delivery address some of these issues, but still fall short when a customer wants to personally select the ripest melon, or feel a fabric, or just shop “off the grid” entirely.

We know that efficiency is key to a great UX. We know that the ground beneath us has shifted. Understanding what customers value, and how they perceive ease and quality in the context of these shifting parameters will help to deliver an efficient experience.


The concept of discoverability involves the likelihood that a customer will expand his/her/their relationship with an organization based on discovering additional relevant products/services available. Relative to discoverability, The Future of the Interface encourages UX professionals to progress from thinking, “Does the experience entice the customer to explore the product/service offering…?” to figuring out how to “identify the customer…and their context to proactively surface the most relevant content or functionality.”

Delivering on this latter idea requires getting to know the customer, not just in the context of the single product or service being purchased at the time, but ideally with respect to a bigger picture that includes their purchase history, life stage and lifestyle. In 2021, we might also add their risk-tolerance to the list.

In our Small Business Owner (SBO) Banking Experience study, we learned that SBO customers appreciate when they are recognized for their whole banking relationship (as a business and as an individual), giving praise for “professional, friendly assistance” and “…collaboration regardless of what type of banking service I am working with.” They also notice when they receive different levels of service for different aspects of their relationship, with comments like, “I feel that the bank offers me a more personal experience when it comes to my personal banking…proactively offering me new products and services”, and “because my business is very small, the bank doesn’t value what I do even though I have a 2 year track record.”

In addition, the study showed that SBO customers want speedy, automated service options, but also value having a personalized, human touch mixed in where appropriate. In fact, American SBO customers who reported engaging with a representative in-person at least once a month consistently reported higher satisfaction levels (by an average of +24%) vs. their counterparts with less frequent interactions.

Clearly the right mix of digital and human interaction is required to deliver the optimal UX and CX for any customer. An explosion of data and emerging technology is enabling organizations to “know” customers (based on history and algorithms) and anticipate their needs, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to automate the entire experience. People still appreciate human interaction. And with COVID, both the historical data and the possibility for human interaction must be filtered once again. Instead of in-person engagements, will regular phone or video calls from human representatives (supported by robots in the background) be optimal? The key is to understand where digital stops and human continues, on a case by case basis.


As described in The Future of the Interface, this important element of successful UX has been viewed in the past as “the user’s ability to remember the scope and idiom of the application”, but in the future it will hinge more on “the application’s ability to learn from the customer and present them with anticipatory suggestions and prompts”. It comes back to ease and convenience for the user, and eliminating any barriers, real or perceived.

Consider the login scenario. In a world where so many of our interactions are being forced into the digital space, the amount of passwords a consumer needs to remember can quickly become overwhelming. The temptation for customers is to use their first-born’s birthdate as the password for every application despite the knowledge that that isn’t the most secure choice.

Digital tools such as fingerprint scanning can eliminate password stress, but in a post-COVID world, no one is eager to touch a shared keypad or scanner in a bank branch or store, for example. Are consumers ready for facial recognition? The fact that it has been linked to wrongful arrests doesn’t help the public trust in this technology.

We know from our consumer studies that 18%+ of the Americans we surveyed started using online and mobile banking either more, or for the first time ever in early 2020. Banking is just one of many relationships that consumers have had to adapt in this manner. How will they manage all of their new apps and which apps will still be on their home-screen in the long term? The ones made easiest to access and use because memorability has been addressed within consumer comfort levels will have an advantage.


Building UX in a way that will “…maximize the number of users to access the application unimpeded” is fundamental to success, but an even stronger approach is to create an adaptable application that can “accommodate users with long term or situational impediments by minimizing formal input and output requirements” in any number of scenarios. If we learned anything from 2020, it’s that the only constant is change, and being able to pivot given a new set of circumstances helps organizations survive and thrive.

Disabilities and barriers listed on the Web Accessibility Initiative (w3.org) website include auditory, cognitive, physical, speech, and visual challenges that may occur for a variety of reasons. These challenges may be brought on by a temporary health condition, with a person from birth, or newly acquired with age. An ideal interface would enable any user to independently obtain what he/she needs without having to jump through several hoops just to get started.

What about the scenarios that aren’t yet defined or broadly recognized? For example, lockdowns and quarantines have created scenarios where individuals in need of mental health support may be hard pressed to find a way to get the help they need. Perhaps their challenge is finding sufficient time or space alone to connect with support, or to do it in a way that is confidential within their own household. The capability to virtually view and assess all relevant factors in order to offer the appropriate tools and solutions in real time is the ultimate goal for accessible UX.


In the rush to create safe, socially distant service options and still maintain a viable business, it isn’t a surprise that UX and CX may have gotten lost in the shuffle. In some cases the core elements of efficiency, discoverability, memorability, and accessibility have been neglected. We recommend that organizations take the time now for review. Examining UX using the 4 metrics above, understanding what customers value most, and being prepared to adapt to changing situations are the keys to long term success.

Written by Arnie Guha Ph.D.

Arnie Guha, Ph.D, is a partner at Phase 5 and the leader of the User Experience Strategy and Design practice. Widely regarded as an expert in online user groups and environments, Arnie helps his clients – financial institutions, technology companies, life sciences firms, media companies, publishers and information providers as well as government organizations – develop winning UX solutions and strategies that best respond to market needs and business objectives.