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How to engage digitally with the forgotten 13.2 million customers

By Dave Jackson, Associate Director at consultancy Engine Transformation

It may be hard to believe that in the modern day 22% of the UK population struggles to be online. Many of the 13.2m people excluded from being online do so out of choice. Why? Because they struggle to achieve the task most find simple. The internet has led to the rise of the digital service and for many customers this is a positive evolutionary step in how they interact with financial institutions. It gives instance access, simplifies tasks and gives people time back. But the rush to build digital services has come at a cost– inclusivity.

You may be thinking, does this really matter, we’re talking small numbers of target customers – right? Wrong. With 1 in 6 adults in the UK having a reading age of an 11 year old, and at least 10% of the UK population having dyslexia, with many experts saying the number could be closer to 20%, financial services are not engaging with millions of customers. It doesn’t stop there either, the same is true for dyscalculia (3.4 million adults), Dyspraxia (6.6m), ADHD (1.5m), the list goes on. Add to this an ageing population with 11.8m people being over 65 that experience a range of age-related conditions that make being online harder. These are not small fringe groups that are not being well served.

So, how can financial services understand these groups and become more inclusive?

Quick to change

These customers will typically bank with businesses that have processes or engagement that works for them, most likely face to face or phone. If they are not well served or pushed online, or a business changes its means of service delivery, they will move their business elsewhere. Brand loyalty is hard to achieve with these groups as it’s preferred to change to another service rather than having to work in a way that is a struggle. Service Designers need to recognise the cognitive load put on the neurodiverse when services have not been designed for them. Therefore, services need to be designed to support customers where they need it. This can only be achieved through understanding customer challenges and the issues caused by neurodiverse traits, so experiences can be designed to help customers to not get things wrong and have successful customer journeys.

When it comes to digital teams testing a service with customers it is important they are trained to spot the signs of neurodiverse traits, as neurodiverse people can be good at hiding their challenges. Barclays has previously taken steps to address how best to be inclusive with their ‘seeing through the fog report’ as once you understand a customer’s neurodiversity their needs can be best met.

Preferable channels

There are clear winners when it comes to which channels work for those who don’t like digital services. Most turn to the expensive channels to complete tasks, face to face and telephone but as a last resort, the reliance will fall on support networks – this could be a family member, business partner, even a professional such as an accountant dependent on the task.

Although many of these customers will have internet enabled devices, they won’t use them in a neurotypical way. Key uses will be for voice assistants, dictation, photography, watching videos and social media. However, because the use of mobile is ingrained into everyday lives, this will be an easier platform to accomplish tasks on compared to a computer as unfamiliarity with laptop and desktop devices can lead to issues navigating web services successfully. Standard desktop orientated web conventions are often misunderstood or completely missed therefore banking services should be optimised for mobile with the consideration needed to support the neurodiverse and elderly.

Seamless experience

Banks need to shift from a product focus to a people focused mindset as this encourages inclusivity.

The integration of online and offline experiences is key, ultimately these should be a single journey with effective hand offs wherever possible. In order to even compete in the future of financial services, businesses will need to design for neurodiverse first.

We should be entering the age of inclusive web. Ten years ago, progressive teams that designed digital services started to follow the ‘mobile first’ movement, designing for the simplest user interface first and progressively enhancing the service from there. It focuses the mind on what is most important to the user.

In 2020 we should start building for the neurodiverse first. We need to consider the use of every word on every page, explain what is needed clearly, make every action precise and focused. Achieving this level of focus and simplicity benefits all customers. The good news is some people in the industry are on their way to achieving this, services on GOV.UK being the prime example, but we have a long way to go.

The current COVID-19 situation and the subsequent lock down and on-going restrictions have accelerated the need to better serve all customers. Overnight users that rely on face to face or telephone banking have faced disruption, many are being used to be online. But the lockdown pushed them outside of their comfort zone. They are having to use services they don’t trust. This has reputation issues for the bank and increases stress on customers already in a stressful situation. Now more than ever we need digital services that are for ALL customers.

Changes to services take time so businesses need to take the right action now and start an inclusive web revolution within their organisations. They should start small, integrate and test often, learn and repeat. Keep iterating on inclusive web and never stop.