Even in corporate culture, marketing activities and technology development processes; customer centricity continues to be at the focus of all institutions.

02 December 2020

Until recently, there was an understanding that the concept of "product" was at the center and customers (or users) were perceived as people who met their various needs through these products. However, with the differentiation of technology, competition and expectations, we are in a new period where customers are put at the center. Customer needs are the most important factor in the creation of products and services for organizations that want to provide services at the right place and time.

Putting the customer at the center by empathizing is the most critical element of creating products and services with a better design. As we spread this approach throughout the institution, design becomes a tool that can be used for building the brands and transforming the way of doing business. According to Don Norman, one of the leading researchers in this era, design is "a form of communication that involves deep understanding of the targeted people [1]".

Design should not be perceived as merely "making something more beautiful". Nobel laureate US economist Herbert Simon defines design as "planning the necessary actions to transform current situations into ideal or intended ones" [2]. Today, the perspective shifts from product to experience and now the whole process is important starting from the purchase phase besides usage of that product. Nowadays, customers attach more importance to purchase and usage experience than performance of that product. While creating a product or service, one of the mistakes made by organizations is to give less importance to design rather than other components like technology and business processes. In such cases, the business results are also likely to be unsatisfactory.

In many instances, we see that institutions that constantly offer better value and experience to their customers differentiate positively and show a sustainable high performance compared to their competitors. In a study about whether being design-oriented provides organizations with a measurable advantage [3] or not, it was seen that institutions with a strong design culture perform better in many parameters. For example; 50% of customers in these companies show higher loyalty.

Nowadays, we can understand from the statements of many institutions that they attach more importance to design and customer experience improvement. However, reaching high levels in this era will only be possible with nurturing a culture rather than taking a few actions. One of the most important features that distinguish design-oriented organizations from others is to try to understand why customers want it instead of understanding what [4]. In order to do this, it is important to analyze the behavior of customers in a very different and holistic way. Of course, in order to achieve this, it is critical for organizations to have strong analytical capabilities and effective use of data.

Design-Oriented Culture
We can define the design culture as an organizational culture that puts customer experience and needs forward and aims to improve them with design by adopting design-oriented thinking principles [5]. Spreading the design culture is also very important for these efforts to make them more sustainable, and we see that many institutions are trying to make this concept a part of their corporate culture in recent years.

In organizations dominated by such a culture, design processes have been determined in all functions, from marketing to product and customer experience, and their importance has been understood. In addition, in line with today's trends, the design approach is the most important part of shaping the digital customer experience [6].Of course, design culture cannot be created by one team responsible for the design. It is very critical to understand throughout the organization that design is a tool for being more competitive in the sector by creating better customer experiences to add more value and especially among people whose "main job" is not related to design, the awareness should be increased.

We can summarize some important elements to create a design-oriented culture as follows. These elements are generally related to the people (users or customers) who use the products and services offered by the institutions, but organizations that fully adopt the design culture even reshape their organizational structures with this design approach. Ex: Many different elements like; structure of meeting rooms, recruitment processes of employees, in-house applications and portals used by employees, etc. can also be re-evaluated to improve the employee experience.

Holistic Approach: Design perspective should not only applicable to designers. In an institution where the design culture is strong, everyone should be involved in design processes and try to do their own work with this perspective. While designing products and services, it is also very important that all relevant departments should work together. Working in silos is not successful today, but physical or digital tools that increase collaboration within the organization should be used. [7]

Freedom to Make Mistakes: In a design-oriented culture, one should be tolerant of making mistakes, and give emphasis to try new things by working with iterations. Employees should be able to take risks when necessary, and instead of directly reaching the perfect end product, it should be aimed to create faster and smaller prototypes with feedbacks from users.

Empathy and Understanding the User: In a design-oriented culture, it is not suitable to use only data-driven or efficiency-oriented decisions [8]. Factors that cannot be measured completely like emotions, expectations, goals, etc. are also important in decision-making processes. Therefore, it is very critical to fully understand the user, and many institutions now work with people from different disciplines such as ethnographers and anthropologists. Thus, by understanding how users actually use / experience products and services and what motivates them, the possibility of pointing out improvement areas in user experience increases. As an example of this, in order to empathize with its customers, Deutsche Bank asks its employees to use the products used by their customers to experience the same [9].

Akbank and Design Culture
As Akbank, we see the design culture as one of the most important elements of our working model and differentiation point of our transformation program, so we have recently implemented many initiatives in order to create a strong design culture. Thus, we aimed to make the design culture a part of our daily work discipline. With the design studio we established in 2018 within the bank, we can quickly test the experiences we have designed for all our channels and change them according to the results, so we have the opportunity to deliver them to both our customers and employees faster.

We also offered our customers the renewed Akbank Mobile application with its simple, stylish, modern and new flows as a result of these efforts. The understanding of saving time for our customers while designing our products and services is very important for us, so we focus on decreasing the number of clicks and the hours of spent within the app. Another prominent issue in the design world is to be inspired by the daily lives and habits of consumers. For example; Taking a selfie is an indispensable part of our lives today, now our customers introduce their faces to Akbank Mobile and can login using face recognition technology without entering a password. In addition, we aimed to offer a “phygital” experience to our customers by reshaping not only our digital channels but also our branches with a design-oriented perspective. Similarly, we renewed our application used in our Customer Contact Center in line with our new design approach in order to provide better services to our customers. All of our designs and developments aim to digitize our customers' experience from end to end to provide a holistic experience. We support this process with continuous customer research and we shape all our designs from the first step to the last step according to the customer feedbacks throughout their lives.
As a result of these efforts, we received some important awards in 2020 with our Akbank Mobile application. Akbank Mobil received the "Mobile Application Design" award given by iF Design and the Gold Award given in the "Mobile Technologies, Applications and Software Design" category by A'Design Awards. Finally, we were able to receive the Red Dot Award: Brands & Communication Design 2021 Award.

Finally, it is very important for us to spread the design culture within Akbank. For this purpose; we aim to spread this culture with the design-oriented thinking trainings designed not our design studio, but also our employees from different business units. In addition, we are trying to spread the "learning by doing" method in our institution by enabling the application of this methodology by education and office works. Later, we offer another training called "train the trainer" to our friends who attend this education and want to be trainers for other Akbank employees. We can say that our aim is to spread the design culture within the entire bank and to evolve the way of thinking. We really work hard on showing these efforts by reflecting them to the services we offer for our employees and customers.

[1] The Design of Everyday Things, 1988
[3] Design-Led Firms Win The Business Advantage, Forrester, 2016
[6] Design-Led Firms Win The Business Advantage, Forrester, 2016