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Drowning in a torrent of choices, consumers today are crying out for help. In the days before the Internet, we had to walk into a storefront or dial a phone number—business hours only!—and ask a representative. Today, however, it’s much easier: we just shape the forefinger and thumb like pincers, slip them into a pocket or purse, extract our smartphone and ask the Internet.

This leaves businesses, especially traditional ones like banks, in a unique position. Their portfolio of products spans the divide between general and special cases. How can they provide the kind of product help to Online consumers that is provided easily with a knowledgeable live person?

The common solutions are familiar. You’ve probably seen the modal chat windows, those little tabs in the side or corner of a website that periodically pop up and ask “can we help you?”. But those require dedicated staffing, and are often seen as an annoyance by consumers.

Another solution is known as a product grid, where product features and facts can be sorted and filtered in order to compare and contrast. But sometimes the features don’t necessarily convey the purpose of the product, and not all products can be compared in parallel.

First National Bank faced this exact issue, and they approached us about producing an interactive tool on their website to help customers determine the right banking product. They had a strong idea of the customer experience that they wanted to deliver, so they sought the experience of their digital partner to bring it to life. Our solution was the result of a collaborative process with a result that was more than any of us expected. Here’s the description from the website:

READY TO START BANKING BETTER?

Sure you are. Because once you’re matched with the right account, both your bank and your finances work harder for you. All we need are a few answers to some simple questions. We’ll make recommendations along the way, but the more you tell us, the better chance we have at pointing you to the perfect account.

We first weighed and vetoed many of the options described earlier, as well as some simpler options, such as snappy “value statements” on product compare charts. Together, we finally decided that an interactive walkthrough would be the best way to go. But this wouldn’t be just the standard question and answer wizard. Instead, we wanted a smart tool that could provide more personalized recommendations.

We held a several workshops with FNB. Working as a team on sorting and prioritizing exercises, we determined the audiences by age and life-stage. We then broke down FNB’s banking products and prioritized them under each of these audience groups in the order that they would be useful.

We synthesized that data with additional data from research and consumer surveys to produce a set of personas—detailed descriptions of the audience groups we were speaking to, personified as characters. Each persona’s age, financial, and life-stage situation was listed, as well as a prioritized list of the products that they would likely find useful based on their situation.

Working backward from these personas and product prioritization lists, we generated several branching paths of questions that would identify a persona and provide relevant recommendations. The final result was a flow that offered a tentative answer at every stage, but which rewarded the user with more specificity the further they were willing to go.

The wireframes laid out an open paneled system for easy viewing and navigation between different stages of the app. At any point, the user can go back, start over, view a list of answers, change those answers or abandon the tool entirely. We didn’t want to lock anyone into a frustrating one-way flow, especially considering that the total number of questions in any flow could vary, depending on the answers.

Under the hood, there were some key features that we implemented for future expandability and monitoring. Using analytics, we set up a system that could anonymously track movement through the tool with ease, in order to discover drop-offs, popular or unpopular paths, and other information that could be used to improve the tool or even consider improvements to products.

We hooked up analytics in a fashion allows for the adding and removal of question paths, products, and answers, without having to reconfigure for added or removed questions. The data for the questions themselves are abstracted from the business logic. In the future, this data structure could be seamlessly expanded or moved to a relational database and admin system.

FNB now stands at the forefront of the personalized Web. The Internet brought choice to our fingertips while removing context, rendering decision-making inefficient. The Help Me Decide tool comes to the rescue as a digital concierge, offering the insight of a bank representative with the convenience and ease of a finger-tap for today’s tech savvy consumer.

Ready to start banking better? Check out the tool at http://fnb-online.com/help-me-decide.

Josh Clarke
Josh Clarke
Digital Strategist

From a young age, Josh recognized that his passion floated somewhere between artistic and analytical thinking, but it wasn’t until his family bought their first Internet-connected computer that he saw a glimmer of how that might turn into a career.

Fast-forward to today; he has found that sweet spot that he recognized so long ago. As the SBA Digital Strategist, Josh fuses his intuitive eye for design intent and human behavior with his experience working closely with businesses as a designer, front-end developer and freelance business operator. This provides a holistic perspective from which he can develop a strategy for our clients’ digital properties—including a range of tactics, from content strategy to digital CRM—to produce a unified user experience that empowers brands to produce a lasting and mutually rewarding relationship with their customers.

Josh’s career has exposed him to brands both large and small, including Nescafé Dolce Gusto, Nestlé Skinny Cow, Bigelow Tea, 9Lives, First National Bank, Mine Safety Appliances, Management Science Associates, Schering-Plough, Pert Plus, The Pittsburgh Zoo and Zone Perfect.

In addition to his role as Digital Strategist, Josh volunteers for the SBA Wellness Committee, an internal group that coordinates events related to employee health and well-being, where he edits their internal wellness newsletter.

Josh holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Graphic Design from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. Prior to his current career, he spent six years in the U.S. Army as a Satellite Communications Operator/Maintainer.