Can Bankers Learn from Amazon’s Not So Secret Weapon?

I came across an article titled, “Amazon’s Not So Secret Weapon.”  Definite clickbait, so I bit.  The article was penned by Carlos Arguelles, an Amazon senior developer. I was immediately drawn in to read the whole article. Let me warn you in advance, he is serious technical geek, and the article totally geeks out. However, the essence of what makes this topic so interesting is that Amazon works backwards from the customer to design its services. Doesn’t matter if we are talking AWS servers or buying toilet paper on Amazon. The designers and engineers at Amazon start with the customer.  Arguelles uses a real-world example in the article from his perspective of a software designer.  The traditional software development methodology looks like this:

The design document that comes out of the 2nd step could be voluminous and a tough read.  Using the Amazon Work Backwards methodology, the same project instead looks like this:

Now you might think this is a bit crazy, but it makes sense.  With the excitement of all the customer benefits in hand before the lengthy design document, there is a greater sense of the payoff if the customer experiences documented can be achieved. I can fully describe how the end user will be thrilled and delighted with what I am attempting to build, which would then drive a different development project.  Perhaps, as Arguelles points out in the example he provided describing what the customer needed meant that something that did not even exist had to exist in order to attain the desired customer experience, which drives innovation.

How can we translate this concept over to the engagement experience FIs are trying to foster for new and existing customers?  Let’s take the physical branch as an example. If you started with the question of “why” someone would need to come to the branch, you would eliminate all of the reasons that a bank currently forces a customer to “have” to come to the bank.  Changing to why a customer would desire a branch visit would then eliminate nearly all of the transaction focused activities on which today’s branches employ.  It’s easier to make the change over to consultative selling, education and problem solving as key elements of a transformed branch if you change the focus to examine why a customer would want to make a branch visit.  Similarly, remote two-way video that enables any expert within the bank to be virtually available to any customer at any branch (or via computer or phone) becomes a no-brainer decision.

Consider your mobile banking application.  If you looked at what current and future customers desired for the app to do versus just what they “need” to do, your app would look and operate differently than it does today.  Elements such as contextual routing (i.e.: directing users to features that are relevant to the desired tasks), virtual concierge, AI driven chat support and many more features would likely be the result of a customer focus examination of what a mobile banking app should contain.  Even something as simple as where the “hamburger” appears (the three horizontal lines that deliver a menu UI) would be different. Most companies place the hamburger in the upper left of the mobile app. I occasionally see it in the upper right. Either way, they place it there because that is unused space from a UI standpoint.  However, a user holding their phone in one hand (the most common position for a mobile phone) cannot reach that hamburger if it is all the way at the top. The place where it should be is the bottom right, not because it is aesthetically pleasing there, but that is the exact spot where EVERY mobile phone user could access it. Focusing on the customer experience changes everyone else’s perspective on how they create that experience.

This same concept would work nearly the same across the entire financial institution. How would you structure a new loan experience if you worked from the customer backwards instead of being controlled by how your loan origination software operated?  Could you turn your trust department upside down by working backwards from the customer? Tomorrow’s trust prospect is only 32 years old; how will you rethink your whole investment counseling experience to align with that customer’s expectation? Would you market differently if you were creating social media posts or marketing pieces to specifically address a specific customer’s unique needs?  I’m not suggesting that you go crazy hard and fast with this idea but start with one element and rethink the whole experience with meeting and exceeding customer expectation as the primary focus.

We may not all experience the level of growth that Amazon has seen in recent years, but I believe that a customer backward focus to expand engagement banking would have a positive effect that could be measured.  Let me know if you are facing any challenges in this area, and we can collaborate to come up with remediation strategies.  Or let me know what successes you have attained from a customer backward focus. You can reach me at or 225-247-6113.

Read the full article here.