At my ATM, a message displays: “Quinton, how will you pay for your daughter’s college education in seven years?” It gives me three choices:
- Take out a loan
- Pay off mortgage early
- Use savings
Surprised they know I have a daughter graduating in 7½ years, I select option 2, pay off mortgage early. The next day, when I log onto Internet banking, I see an ad that displays, “Pay off your mortgage early. Click here to create a custom seven-year loan.”
The link takes me to a streamlined wizard that walks me through various fee, point and payment options and allows me to refinance my home with a 7½-year, 3.61% fixed rate mortgage with no points and biweekly payments. The whole process takes less than 10 minutes. I’ll own my home just in time to pay for my daughter’s college education. I have just experienced a personalized world.
Personalized products were the norm before the industrial revolution, when things were crafted by hand and tailored to the buyer’s requests. But handcrafting products is expensive and time-consuming. The Industrial Age ushered in mass production of products, including affordable cars sold using Henry Ford’s famous tagline, “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black.”
The father of mass production found that to make products affordable for everyone, you had to make them identical and en masse. You could have identical and affordable or custom and expensive, but not custom AND affordable.
Along came computers, the Internet, electronic payments and overnight shipping, paving the way for custom and affordable products for the masses. For example, you can now go to the smartUSA.com website and order a smart car in not only black but any color – even plaid.
This concept of mass customization was first conceived by Stan Davis in the book “Perfect Future” 10 years ago. His premise was that in the future, consumers would have highly customized products at near mass-produced prices. Mass customization is, therefore, the means to affordable personalization.
I became aware of this personalization trend several years ago while doing research on Generation Y. In presentations, I began using the example of the “Veggie Tales” CD I bought for my Gen Y son, which had his name, “Jared,” embedded in the songs. Later, M&Ms and Jones Soda created websites where you could personalize their products with your own words or pictures.
Now Gen Yers are obsessed with making their playlists, phones and social networking sites different from everyone else’s. I don’t have to go to dozens of stores to find the perfect sleeping bag; I go to a site like www.phdesigns.co.uk, where I can customize everything in a sleeping bag, down to the fill pattern and which side it zips open.
Personalization is showing up everywhere: shoes, candy, monopoly boards, clothing – everywhere except the financial services industry.
Today, members must shop around thousands of financial institutions to find the account or loan that fits their specific needs. The ability to personalize a checking account or create a custom loan affordably simply does not exist. We are left with the manual craftsman-type customization that is expensive and slow.
So what does this mean for credit unions and technology providers? We must succeed at mass customization and the personalization of products if we want to be competitive in the new personalized world. According to the “Handbook of Research in Mass Customization and Personalization” by Frank T. Piller and Mitchell M. Tseng, three capabilities are required to succeed at mass customization:
- Solution Space Development: We must define the variety of needs a member has in a specific product area. What is important to them? What possible types of options do they want in, for example, a checking account?
- Robust Process Design: We must reconfigure existing technology and resources to efficiently fulfill those needs. How can you adapt your existing processes to meet all the options outlined above in a fast, cost-effective way? (That’s probably the hardest part.)
- Choice Navigation: We must offer the member the ability to highly customize (co-create) the product using the options defined above with an interactive, intuitive configurator or website. The site www.milkorsugar.com is a great resource for finding websites that allow product customization.
How would you go about personalizing, say, a checking account? First, you must find out what range of options members want. What do they value? Is it fees, interest rate, promotional items or contributions to social causes? Second, you must select the range and quantity of those options and ensure they can fit within your fulfillment capabilities. Finally, you need to build or work with a vendor to create tools to configure the options within the checking account and integrate with your systems for timely delivery.
What would that tool look like to members? It might be similar to the wizard on www.chocomize.com that allows you to select from more than 60 ingredients to create your own custom chocolate bar.
Credit unions and technology providers must start now to create affordable, personalized products and services for their members. If we don’t adapt, we risk being replaced by those who embrace the personalization revolution. As Henry Ford would say today in our personalized world, “Any color you want, including plaid.”