This article is part of a VB Lab Insights series paid for by Capital One.


What possibilities arise when we bring meraki to our work? Meraki is a Greek term for “doing something with soul, creativity, love and passion.” It’s that special something, the secret sauce, that can make all the difference in delivering experiences that both resonate with customers and create business value.

As the head of design for Capital One’s financial services business, my team and I serve a broad spectrum of customers — from our internal associates to the car buyers and dealers who use our financial products — and I can tell you that when we approach our work with the spirit of meraki, the outcome is transformational.

For a product, service or experience to work really well, those of us creating it must work with synchronicity and share a hunger for understanding and solving our customers’ deepest needs. Put simply, we need to start by caring about the people we are creating for, and then bring the best of ourselves (individually and collectively) to the work we do for them.

In a world where technology is table stakes, creating solutions with meraki matters. Infusing our products, services and experiences with passion gives us the best shot at delivering impactful solutions that go above and beyond our customers’ needs and wants. Because taking our customers’ best interests to heart can help exceed their expectations and become a real differentiator in a crowded market.

To do this, here are some battle-tested and timeless tips and considerations that I’ve seen work throughout my design career. 

  • Fall in love with the problem. A differentiated customer experience goes beyond simply completing a task; it presents something unexpected that the customer can’t live without. From a teamwork perspective, it means we need to approach the assignment with a level of care and commitment that shows we understand the customer’s needs and wants, and are genuinely motivated to deliver and account for what they need (which sometimes they don’t even know).

Consider the smartphone. It’s a product that does, well, everything. But initially, none of us were clamoring for it, because who knew such a thing was possible? Now, though, few of us can imagine navigating life without it. By constantly focusing on the customer experience, by building and refining its capabilities, smartphone designers have created an iconic solution. 

  • Understand — and truly care for — all of your audiences. Different people need and expect different things. By leading with human-centered design principles and working back from the core pain point of the customer, you’ll deliver a more useful product to the end user. It begins with getting all the key players at the table, early on and throughout the design process. Diversity of experience and background is vital to ensuring the concept and delivery of an experience is not simply useful, but equitable and inclusive. 
  • Work with grit. If you truly believe a problem is worth solving, there’s always more to be perfected on behalf of the customer. It’s a never-ending quest. That can’t happen without persistence and conviction. It means constantly seeking customer feedback, testing, troubleshooting, and incorporating findings back into the experience.
  • Keep empathy — and humans — at the core. True competitive differentiation comes in the form of customer experiences that go above and beyond — those that add a feeling of delight, solve a problem in an interesting way, and give users something more than what they anticipated. The challenge is that the bar for customer expectations is always changing. To do this well, you need to understand who you’re designing for and care for them deeply. 

Human-centered design, driven by passionate teams, really works. I believe there’s always a shadow of the team that built the experience within every customer solution or product. My own team helped build Capital One’s Auto Navigator and complementary tools for car dealers. These are distinctly different platforms, for two very different audiences (consumers and dealers, respectively), yet they complement each other in ways that wouldn’t have been possible without understanding and attending to the needs of each audience. 

By looking at the whole ecosystem — and genuinely caring about both car buyers and dealers — we’ve been able to find common ground and common goals and needs between them. And our solutions bring together these two important parties who are needed for most people to buy a car. 

For example, neither dealers nor car buyers want to waste time during the car shopping process. By enabling people to shop and pre-qualify online with Capital One Auto Navigator, we actually create a faster, better experience when they go into the dealership. Because the dealer is able to welcome a knowledgeable, prepared customer into their store, everyone wins with a more seamless, efficient process. And they can focus on the joy of the test drive and getting out the door with a car they love.

The way brands break through the noise and build lasting relationships with their customers will become increasingly linked to the experiences they offer. As customers demand more from the companies they choose to do business with, it’s up to all of us who build experiences — designers, technologists, product managers, data engineers and business leaders — to bring something akin to meraki to the challenge. 

Approaching our customers’ problems with passion, empathy and care for the humans we solve for is not only good for customers, it’s good for business, and it’s the pathway to further innovation.

Renee McKeon Rives is VP, Head of Design, Financial Services at Capital One.


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