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Blog Post

Delighting Your Customers Doesn’t Always Mean Doing Good

Friday, September 30, 2016

I think one of the most interesting tensions in our world of fintech exists between building a product that our customers love and building a product that is good for our customers. Much ink has been spilled about the tension between building a successful business and doing good; that is well trod territory, and few would use shareholder returns as the sole measure of a business’s worth to our world. That said, many of us tend to use “customer satisfaction” as the ultimate benchmark for how we are treating our customers. If the investor returns are high and the customer satisfaction is high, you’re doing pretty well!

The problem that we run into in fintech, though, is that delighting our customers doesn’t tell us that much about whether or not we are serving them well. As just one example, consumers clearly love credit cards. That isn’t to say that the card issuers are exactly delighting their customers, but it’s worth considering that a lot of the outrage against them comes from those of us who don’t revolve 29% APR balances. Credit cards are “satisfying” their customers by providing easily available credit, even though the bargain ultimately is destructive.

More àpropos of this post, we struggled with this tension at my former startup, Prism. Here’s just one example: As part of our product, we showed our customers all of their outstanding bills. The problem is that “your bill” isn’t quite as obvious as it might seem. Is your credit card bill the $5,000 balance that you’re carrying or the $25.00 minimum payment that is due on June 30? Like (I presume) most readers of this blog, we went ahead and assumed that the balance was the bill; the minimum payment really just represented an option (a poor one at that) to pay less than actually owed.

This did not go over well, to put it mildly. We got an avalanche of negative feedback, culminating with a customer service call I ended up taking myself. Our decision to show the full balance as the bill upset a meaningful number of our customers. They didn’t want to be reminded every month of their balance. It startled them, it disappointed them, and it confused their budgeting.

A company-wide debate ensued. Was it actually disingenuous to show just the minimum as our customers asked? I certainly wouldn’t advocate sharing a customer’s total mortgage balance as their “bill” for the month, and what really is the difference between that and the card balance except for the interest rate and how “responsible” we perceived the debt to be? How paternalistic do we want to be? Is showing the full balance helping at all, or is it just aggravating our customers? We won’t help many people get control of their finances if they uninstall our app because we’re being stubborn do-gooders.

There’s also the mirror problem: I see a lot of products that purport to do good, but I’m often left wondering if users will want those products. Do I really want to download a product that tells me what I can’t do (a lot of basic budgeting tools tend to act this way)? In order to build a great product, we all need to dance that line between delight and decency. Of all the frontiers for us fintech entrepreneurs to conquer, this one may be the most challenging: to find a delightful way to help our customers do things that often are not much fun.

But like seeing the complete balance due, sometimes the hard things are the most worthwhile.

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