When digital strategy experts miss the real value of a designer’s empathy tool.

I first encountered the “customer journey map” design tool during a connected product development in 2011. The Industrial Design team had filled an entire wall of our workspace with “cave drawings” showing every step a user experienced from finding the new product on the store shelf to changing the battery to throwing it away at the end of its useful life. I was amazed at the visual record of empathy the designers showed for the user and their systematic approach to understanding everything about the experience of the user for whom they were designing.

Digital experts have been advising the equipment finance industry to focus on the “customer journey” in their digital transformation efforts. We read about mobile apps gathering information, digitization of documents, automated application processing, and even blockchain driven contracting. Ultimately, the goal is to lead the lessee/borrower through the financing process as quickly and seamlessly as possible. One such application of the customer journey map envisions reducing the origination journey from 22 days to 24 hours. Indeed, Innovation Finance clearly took this advice to heart when they released QuickFi with the promise of originations in 3 minutes!

Reimagining a customer's commercial lending journey

Genpact shows how a customer journey map can help reduce friction and time.

Amazon showed the world how buyers respond to speed and convenience in the buying journey and the adoption of a design thinking tool is good, don’t get me wrong. But when I apply the broader product-lifecycle-view I was taught by my designers; the equipment finance customer journey process seems to be coming up short.

The Customer Journey Map is a design tool that facilitates empathy with the user of the offering. Empathy is the key to good product design. Design firms like IDEO argue that it is the key to business success. The problem I see in equipment finance is that the empathy is more with the sales team, not the lessee, because the journey map always ends with origination.

True, digital developers do everything they can to make it fast and easy for a lessee to borrow money and get access the equipment. This is good, time is money in any business and designing for a frictionless user experience is always good. But the lessee is just getting started in their business journey when they sign the contract to release funds. They still have to deploy the equipment, find customers, find trained operators for the equipment, sign contracts with their customers, maintain the equipment, and, most importantly, make a profit with the equipment so that they can pay the monthly financing fees. And if lessees successfully engage all those steps, they still must deal with changing regulations, a diversity of competitors, and the obsolescence of their equipment portfolio. Technology can be huge stressor when, as is the case for most businesses, it’s something you use, not sell.

The journey to origination is important. Lessors can help customers efficiently get the best terms and lowest risk capital for their operations. But an empathetic financing team would know that their customer still has a long way to go and that the rest of the customer journey is just as important to success, if not more.

 

A broader Customer Journey Map follows customers through their operational experience and both additional and next purchases.

 
So how should we change?

  1. The first step is awareness. We must recognize that there is much more to our customer’s journey. The figure above shows one possible customer journey beyond origination.
  2. Second, we need to understand and map that journey – all the way to the end. At this point we embrace what every product designer knows instinctively – the end of every product journey is the beginning of another. Everyone in equipment finance knows that there is another sales opportunity at the end of every lease, but what steps are they taking to make sure they are there with the right solution at that time? Equipment manufacturers often bring new features to market to leverage technology to solve additional needs. Today, with connected products, these new features are often deployed in software and can be added to equipment already in the field. The question the lessor should ask is “How can I be aware of these new purchases?”
  3. The third step is embracing empathy as a key to business success. The great thing about equipment and products in general today is the everything is or can be connected. Once connected to the cloud the data facilitates an intimate, operational connection to the customer. Apple has been the gold standard of turning customer empathy into business success and today they are succeeding faster than ever because they have converted from face-to-face empathy to automated empathy via nearly 24/7 connectivity to their customers. As we discussed before, trust is critical to this connection, but that is a known business problem with known solutions. The new effort is focusing attention on the customer after their origination journey and learning how to be there for them when they need more – more equipment, more service, or something new.

Equipment finance has fully engaged digital transformation and there is a strong design thinking component to both the strategies and actions, e.g. offerings like QuickFi. But many views are still traditional in that they focus on proximal relationships like those of the origination process and, as such, miss the opportunity to extend empathy throughout the full customer journey and then expand their offerings to meet additional needs along that journey.

Fundamentals are always part of business success. Customer focus via design thinking is perhaps the most important of fundamentals. But only those who recognize that the scope and scale of customer interaction has changed with connected products will be able to share their customers’ journeys and scale business success with digital transformation.

 
Written by

Scott Nelson

Scott Nelson is the chief digital officer of Tamarack Consulting. He has more than 30 years of strategic technology development, deployment and design thinking experience working with both entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 companies.

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