The E-SPECS model.

How to design the ultimate consumer experience beyond price.

Stemming from years of qualitative and quantitative consumer research, GCS has identified the following six components leaders must consider in driving, and maintaining, relevance and distinction in the marketplace. The components are called the E-SPECS, as they reflect:


  • The core SPECS for the desired product or service Experience; the needed specifications to engage consumers and earn their loyalty.

  • An old-style word for glasses, SPECS describes the consumers’ lens for their desired Experience.

  • Finally, E-SPECS is an acronym for the needed balance between technology and the personal touch. E-SPECS provides the structure with which to enhance differentiation and value beyond price. Innovating around the E-SPECS will help organizations enhance the user experience, drive greater consumer engagement, and generate growth.

So, what are the E-SPECS?

  • Experience,

  • Speed,

  • Personalization,

  • Ease,

  • Control, and

  • Security

Leaders are encouraged to utilize the E-SPECS to assess and develop their products and services. Design to the E-SPECS and enhance value for your membership.


E = Experience

Although the experience economy began more than two decades ago, experience has taken on a whole new meaning today. “CX” and “MX” are now entire disciplines where Harvard Business School notes, “… everyone in the company is responsible for exceeding expectations.” In the E-SPECS model, Experience is both an overriding construct of which the ensuing SPECS are a part, as well as a category comprised of its own essential elements.


In the E-SPECS model, Experience is the creation of memorable, pleasurable or positive interactions such that consumers enjoy, and look forward to, doing business with you. In short, Experience means fun, gamification, rewards and engagement. Tesla continues to offer surprises in their regular software updates, renewing the driving experience. Rewards programs are designed purposefully to keep us engaged. Domino’s re-invented communication about pizza delivery on their app with their Domino’s Tracker™ GPS. Rocket Mortgage re-invented the mortgage application process making it fun on our phones. Starbucks turned coffee into a luxurious brief escape. Disney has long extended the park experience beyond just the rides and into the lines (and more), enveloping us in each themed attraction, and keeping us engaged while waiting.


How engaging and enjoyable is your service experience?


As the following SPECS components illustrate, the ideal experience is fast, customized, simple, offers choices, and is safe and secure. Ideally, however, we’re also aiming for a positive, smile-inducing engagement, and even a “fun” factor. Fun, you challenge? Credit unions have actually done this for years. A member who calls the CU for a pre-approval or personal loan and has the loan funded into their account the same day would consider that, well, fun. Choosing a custom-image credit card in an efficient process, and getting it quickly, is fun. Receiving a call about a reduced loan rate from a trusted provider—and then saving dollars in a lower payment refinance with little to no effort—well that’s a fun experience too.


Like the provider-initiated rate-reduction outreach above, a great experience can be enhanced by proactivity. A Midwest bank sends a congratulatory certificate and branded baby socks to all new parents in their community. Chewy, the “online destination for pet parents,” has a unique approach. Select customers who provide data and a picture of their pet—and doubtless spend over a minimum threshold—may unexpectedly receive what appears to be a hand-painted acrylic of their pet, suitable for framing. And GCS’s research regularly hears how Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out’s live-representative, order-before-the-window drive-thru experiences are the Gold Standard for fast food. Could proactivity make a difference in your service experience?


Gamification also drives this category, and can turn the mundane into motivating. For years now, Kohl’s Cash (and Old Navy’s Super Cash), McDonald’s Monopoly game, Starbucks Rewards, and on and on, have added fun and engagement to keep us coming back for more. In financial services, apps and digital tools with points, recognitions and rewards, for example, can make banking fun, educational and empowering. Credit Karma’s credit score simulator and Invstr’s $100,000 Challenge turn play scenarios into real rewards. Savings rates paying paltry interest can be gamified for individual involvement and a fun-factor with bonus sweepstakes. And PNC’s “Punch the Pig” games online banking to encourage a savings mindset. As the examples above show, gamification can absolutely drive more engaging, and more memorable experiences.


As the gaming industry heads toward $200 billion in annual sales, gamification is a worthy pursuit for increasing participation and engagement, and thereby enhancing loyalty.


Finally, in today’s digital economy, the bar for Experience expectations just keeps rising. Anything that’s not intuitive, or predictive, lowers the Experience rating, and the chance of gaining or retaining business. Providers who ask us for information they should already have, or require us to use systems or processes that are not automated, are slow, or obviously antiquated, dramatically lessen their appeal and trust. A focus on creating positive, interactive, and engaging experiences must be at the forefront of decision making, as we discuss in detail in each of the following SPECS components.


S = Speed.

Today’s financial consumer demands immediacy and speed. This manifests itself not only technologically, but in speed of human service as well. Consider our lack of patience in wait times on the phone, in person, for responses to requests, problem resolution and overall product and service delivery. The need for speed in financial services has never been in more demand. Instant gratification has pummeled delayed gratification; the expectation is now, and providers must respond accordingly.


Not surprisingly, speed and digital access go hand in hand. Keywords such as real-time and immediate are descriptors for many of the examples of speed desired by today’s consumer.


Rising to the top of the list are online and mobile continuity and flexibility. Immediate, real-time digital balances and transaction history are no longer just desired, they are expected. Friction-free, instant access is the new expectation: credit card information, ATM locations when traveling, and immediate credit of mobile deposits a few examples of the need for Speed.


Patience is gone. Response times now must be, well, now. Speed is instant-issue debit cards. Speed is fast response on loan applications, requests for service or information and problem resolution.


Like the other SPECS components, these trends are not only financial-services related, they represent consumer expectations and demands across industries. Consider restaurants, and mobile ordering. From fast food to casual dining, chains are increasingly offering digital ordering for quick curb side pick-up. And the plethora of delivery services (DoorDash, Grubhub, Uber Eats, and even Amazon Restaurants, to just name a few) all illustrate the fast forward demands of today’s consumers.


Large retailers and grocers also understand the demand and are on the Speed-wagon. Walmart, and Target and Kroger and Giant Foods all provide digital ordering and options for home or drive-up delivery.



P = Personalization.

With the advent of big data, consumers have come to expect options and offers that are individualized, personalized, and unique to their requirements. Take Amazon, the definitive leader. As the saying goes, “My significant other never knows what I want; nor do I know what to ask for … but Amazon suggests five things I want every day!” Algorithms have changed our understanding of how providers can and now must cater to us. Yelp suggests restaurants. Netflix recommends content. Social media offers connections. How is your credit union leveraging data to suggest, offer, recommend and/or improve your individual member’s lives?


Personalization refers both to individualization and customization through technology and to the human touch of personal service. It also challenges us to personalize – even humanize – the digital experience. The question must not be either/or but rather and when considering personal and digital interactions.


Leaders must ask questions of Personalization in innovation efforts. How can we use data to enhance the personal experience? What information and decision supports can we access to recommend, offer, or otherwise inform our member interactions? This doesn’t even require sophisticated data warehouses or big data. For example, we can contact members who regularly pay ATM surcharges with free options nearby. Relatedly, how can we incorporate human into our technology interfaces? Facetime, Skype, and the multitude of screen share tools create the expectation of human connection online. Can we allow members to choose a personal representative or team with whom to connect as their “Go-To”? Umpqua Bank offers this service through digital channels today.


As consumers have vastly different needs and financial goals, the ability to customize to their unique needs enhances the overall consumer experience. Customizing a digital interface based on frequency of usage or preferences, the ability to change the app background, and the ability to create user-defined categories in a budgeting tool are all ways in which the digital experience can be enhanced and personalized. Larger limits on ATM withdrawals based on relationship history and perhaps credit rating. Consumers also want scenario planning in the ability to manage changes and create scenarios to see impact on FICO scores.


Progressive Insurance and Rocket Mortgage both allow the consumer to customize the product of their choice by selecting parameters based on their own individualized needs for terms, features, and rates to name a few.


As to the personal touch, personal service enhancements could be as simple as a concerted effort to use the member’s name when serving on the phone, in the branch or in an online chat. Consider what we call, Proactive Personalization. Proactive personalization is honest – putting- the-member-first – advice. Examples include reaching out to a member with a truly superior refinance or consolidation offer, a better deposit solution, or introduction of a simpler option. Proactive Personalization is also telling a member they should stay with a competitor if indeed it is right for them to do so. Proactive, altruistic, advocating personalization in the eyes of the member can create long-lasting memorable encounters and drive engagement.

E = Easy

Easy refers to the consumers’ desire to enjoy a pain-free journey that is simple and friction-free. Easy requires minimal effort, time or knowledge. Easy means the digital experience consistent throughout; the website and mobile mirror each other; and complexity and unknowns are largely eliminated, so the consumer just doesn’t have to “think” about it. Simply put: how easy are you to do business with … and in what ways can you make doing so even easier.


The SPECS are not mutually exclusive and often overlap. While Easy means no hassle as well as responsive and knowledgeable, Easy is fast and personalized. Easy is an advocate who looks after you, a “go-to” person who answers your questions, and offers quick solutions that are accurate, and require little to no consumer effort. Easy also means worry-free; so trustworthiness is also a component here.


Easy also means accessible. ATM, branch and mobile access are obvious requirements — can I have an ATM in my car please — but so are simple-to-execute inter- and intra-financial institution transactions, and credit score access and management. Online account and loan applications providing the option of an entirely online experience and/or the ability to complete online and then allow setting a personal appointment offers the ease of consumer choice. Signing up for a service should be easy and not require a phone call or visit. But if more information is desired, a chat, a call, or a follow up request should be intuitive, instant, and well, easy. Here again is an example of the integration of personalization and digital – through technology channels.

C = Control

Life is busier than ever. Tools, systems and processes that give the consumer greater control are desired and appreciated. Control means options and freedom of choice. Hungry? Order online; order for pickup; order at the restaurant; order for delivery. (Again, E-SPECS may overlap; mobile ordering also fulfills the need for speed.) Traveling? Trip Advisor, Expedia, and airline sites all help consumers take control of the planning and shopping for travel with bundled airfare, hotels, restaurants, weather reports, transportation, things to do, and more. Control means empowerment. Helping your kids manage money? Monitor their shared account usage; turn off cards if lost; limit access; transfer funds … instantly. Control means information is accessible whenever and wherever the consumer wants. Real time balance information … at checkout. Budget tracking and categorization, and scenario planning, on request. Savings status. Pending expenses … before they are due. Predictive cash flow issues. Automated savings options when checking balances are high. Savings or investment account transfers that round up. All of these services help consumers feel more in control.


The quantified life means tracking and information is provided instantly, descriptively, predictively, and on demand. Credit score information is popular and appreciated – as it again informs and empowers the consumer. Preapprovals, offers and information to use and improve credit, once again, gives the consumer choices, power, and thus more control.

Control also means having power over timing of payments. Consumers of more modest means, for example, will be more likely to use a “pull” method (having the vendor take the funds out of their account) versus a “push” method (setting up regular payments through their financial institution’s bill payment). Why? Greater control over cash flow. Pull bill pay users also appreciate the control over the ability to check balances and see transaction history when making payments.


Members not so concerned with cash flow may instead choose bill pay push through their financial institution over pull due to the control of centralized tracking, budgeting (and speed and ease).


Thus, like each of the SPECS, control is in the eye of the beholder.


Finally, here, control intersects with personalization in customization of preferences.

Choices in options for account alerts, push notifications and geolocation tracking puts consumers in control. When, where and how the consumer prefers to receive CU communications on potential identity theft, marketing, and disclosures is personalization and empowering control for the consumer. Allowing the consumer to determine their preferred method of contact — whether via email, a text or a phone call — again puts him or her behind the wheel. The rare times we can get it in our hectic lives, we all appreciate a little more control. Credit unions are advised to remember this and include it in value enhancements.

S = Security

Security, including digital and personal safety and privacy, has long been an obviously important financial institution attribute for consumers. Today’s high-tech economy makes this issue more relevant than ever. Protections against fraud, breaches, identity-theft resonate. Security is also important for the reputation of your institution as well. Anytime a breech occurs and a card needs replacement, unfortunately, and regardless of fault (think Target, TJ Maxx, Adobe, Equifax), the issuer takes the blame.


Security means being the financial institution that the member never has to think about.

Protecting the consumer by providing all services with security at the forefront provides peace of mind and influences the perception of trust. Services such as the ability to control debit and credit access with digital card controls should a card be lost or stolen; proactive recognition and contact by the financial institution in handling suspected fraud (with Speed an essential component here as well); and the ability to access a phone representative for fraud, potential identity theft or problem resolution after hours; are all ways to provide security to consumers.


Security also means physical safety. Like ATM safety. And In-branch safety. Many members love that 7/11 stores are part of the Co-Op Network, but when discussed in virtually every focus group we conduct, someone will add, “But I don’t feel safe using one.” Members also rebut the argument in favor of Bandit Barriers, “But I’m on the wrong side,” noting in the case of an active shooter, the money and tellers may be safe, but what about the members?


Supreme safety features such as biometric log-in and the new Apple credit card, designed with security at the forefront with no identifying account numbers displayed on the card, further underscore the importance and desire consumers have for personal security and safety. Companies that provide consumers with secure, innovative products and services gain engagement and further heighten consumer expectations of security offered by their financial institutions.


To consumers, money is personal. And as one focus group participant said, “Protect it like you’d protect your family, and I’ll be with you for life.”


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