Project CUE: How User Journeys Get Us Closer

April 21, 2016

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backward towards the technology - not the other way around.” -- Steve Jobs

One of the leading principles of design thinking is to walk in another person’s shoes in order to understand what they’re feeling. That’s why we’ve dedicated ourselves to walking in the shoes of Project CUE’s potential users. (To follow Project CUE’s story from the beginning, start here.)

In our last blog post, we introduced two of our fictional user personas, Rochelle Jones, an applicant who is looking to expand her successful daycare business, and Kathy Davis, a lending director at a CDFI in St. Louis, Missouri. Representative of our potential solution users, Rochelle and Kathy are archetypes that we consider in developing a solution that truly addresses their respective ambitions and challenges.

In this post, we’ll share some high-level findings about each persona’s User Journey. Devising a solid user journey profile entails understanding their experience and emotions at every stage of the loan application process as it currently exists. We broke down a small business owner’s journey into five main phases: initial bank decline, CDFI referral notice, choosing to move forward with the CDFI, the subsequent CDFI application process, and the CDFI loan determination. At each point we discussed how the user might feel. Do they become stressed or annoyed? Do they prefer to communicate over email, phone, or in person? Are there external factors distracting them from fully engaging in the process? 

In a nutshell, applicants like Rochelle Jones are often extremely frustrated by the existing process. Keep in mind that Rochelle is the sole proprietor of a daycare, a demanding role that doesn’t have her sitting idly behind a desk. By the time she arrives at the potential option of a loan from a CDFI, she feels like she’s already turned in a ton of documentation, waited what feels like forever for a decision, and already feels rejected after her bank declined her loan application. She may feel excited when she discovers there’s another potential path to credit for her growing business, but that feeling of hope quickly evaporates when she learns she may have to begin yet another application process with several more rounds of documentation. Moreover, loan applicants often report feeling lost in the process, especially when they don’t know the status of their application.

An obvious emotional high-point of the loan application experience for a user persona like Rochelle is when she learns she’s been approved for a loan, and an obvious low-point would be learning that the CDFI to which she has been referred has also now declined her application. That’s called a “double-decline” and a high likelihood of occurrence could prevent our referral partners from committing to adopt CUE, since it would adversely affect their relationships with their customers.

On the other side of the table is a CDFI lending director like Kathy Davis, our second user persona. She handles many clients at once and spends a lot of time and effort getting to know the potential applicant’s personal story. Her job requires her to be the intermediary between the borrower and her colleagues in the loan underwriting department. She often feels conflicted between the borrower’s needs and the underwriter’s goals. She also feels helpless and overwhelmed when borrowers want daily status updates. However, due to the nature of her organization’s information technology and decision-making processes, it’s just not possible. Kathy feels disappointed any time she can’t help a client, but also celebrates when a deserving borrower is approved for a loan. 

For further insights on the CDFI lending director’s journey, we turned to Courtney Lynn, a loan underwriter at Georgia-based CDFI, ACE, who posed an interesting idea to deal with constant loan application status requests: “It might be nice to have a platform where the borrower could see the status of their application without having to contact the loan officer. Take the Domino’s Pizza Tracker model and apply it to loans. If more documents are needed, the borrower could just submit them through a portal. There would be less personal connection with the customer, but the process should run smoother.”This insight from Courtney shows how further understanding the specifics of a user’s journey can highlight possible solutions that satisfy both sides of the transaction. An application review portal would help both of our user personas, Rochelle and Kathy, solve problems during the loan application process.

In a future blog post, we’ll share more details of the product features and functions that came out of this discovery phase. We already shared that the CUE solution will need to screen and carefully match loan applicants with CDFIs to avoid double-declines. Additionally, we’ve learned that CDFIs are expecting CUE to work well with their customer relationship management (CRM) systems to help them decrease the cost of customer acquisition. The CDFIs also need CUE to capture data that is rich enough to help them make more informed resource allocation decisions. Our team has learned a lot by developing these user journeys-- and we’ve only just begun. As they say, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Stay tuned!

Do you want to share your loan application journey with us? Submit a comment below or find us on Twitter.

What is Project CUE?In 2015, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s inaugural CDFI Innovation Challengecalled for submissions of proposals to help expand the capacity of financial institutions to provide credit, capital, and financial services to underserved populations and communities in the United States. AEO’s winning bid proposed building a platform to move loan applicants “from decline to delight:” to appear at the critical point in the lending process when an institutional lender declines an applicant and pivot that moment into an opportunity to introduce CDFIs as potential lenders.

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