Tell us about … user feedback

By Sophie Docx

There’ s no one better to talk about Cake than the people who work there. In this series “Tell us about…” we interview Cake team members. Today, it is up to Sven Lenaerts and Peter van Hees who tell us about how we handle user feedback.

In this series we now give the floor to Sven Lenaerts, Lead UX Designer and Peter van Hees, co-founder and Head of Product at Cake.

What do you do at Cake?

Sven: I am the Lead UX Designer, or in full the User Experience Designer. I make sure that the Cake user has a smooth experience when using the app. Therefore I try, so to speak, to look inside the user’s head and adjust the structure and features of our app to the needs of the user. What does he want to know or do? What features do we need to offer? And can all the information be found where the user expects it to be? Is everything accessible within a few clicks?
A UX designer should not be confused with a UI designer (User Interface). You can read more about the difference between the two here

Peter: I’m Head of Product. That means I oversee and manage everything related to the development of the Cake app. Together with the team, I set out the bigger picture and make sure that everyone at Cake knows where the product is going. What the dot on the horizon is where we are all working towards.

How do you handle UX at Cake?

Peter: The big advantage is that we could start with a blank sheet. The first year we were mainly busy drawing out, often literally, what Cake had to become.

Sven: This was the phase where we started with the bigger assumptions. What do we think a user needs, where is he going to click, what is he going to use the app for? Before the first version of the app arrived, we were, so to speak, blind. 

Peter: In that first phase, we also defined a number of major basic principles. 
Simplicity is one of them. With the 3 second rule as the most important principle. Everything we show to a user, whether it is a graph or a chart must be clear within 3 seconds. If a user can’t understand something in 3 seconds then it goes back to the drawing board.
The principle that you should always be able to look at your finances from different angles was also born back then. Consider your finances as a cube with different sides. You have to be able to look at it from the perspective of your income, expenses, cash flow, …
But we also decided to always start from the fact that perfection does not exist. And based on that idea, we designed our whole way of working.

What is that way of working then?

Peter: If you start from the premise that perfection does not exist, then you soon realize that it makes no sense to think about a feature forever.
That’s why we launched the first beta version of the product as soon as possible. In July 2019, we got our license from NBB (National Bank of Belgium) and in October (just 3 months later) we had the first version of the app live for a private group of beta testers.

Sven: As soon as we have developed a new feature, we release it immediately. You could test this yourself internally, but this rarely brings new insights. It’s just much more efficient to implement it immediately in the app and get real feedback from users.

Peter: Of course, you can also ask users for feedback beforehand, before the release of a feature, which we do, but this always remains a bit artificial. The real feedback only comes when people actually start using the feature. Or not using 😁, that’s another valuable piece of information.
We are in a continuous “feedback loop”: we release a feature, capture the feedback, make adjustments and release it again. We’re not afraid to get it wrong from time to time. That’ s what we call an iterative process, step by step and with progressive insight. And that’s how we work towards perfection.

Sven: But this way of working is also favourable for our users. The users who give feedback feel involved and are part of the story. But also the wider group of users can feel that the app is a living product, a product that evolves with them and with their needs. 

How do you capture user feedback?

Peter: There are several ways to do that. First of all, we work with an open roadmap. This means that everyone can see which technical developments to the app we are planning. But also the plans for Cake for Business, the platform used by our commercial partners, can be viewed here. And anyone can vote on ideas or add their own ideas.
In addition, users can send a message at any time via the app itself. They come directly to me. I find those contacts really valuable.

Sven: And we also have all of our social media channels, with a lot of feedback coming in mainly via Twitter and Linkedin. Our CEO, Davy, is definitely not afraid to spontaneously post internal discussions publicly on Twitter, which always generates instant feedback.
But of course, we also measure what happens in the app itself. That data is super important. What features do people use, how do they work their way through the app, where do they click …
The combination of all this information ensures that we stay alert and make daily adjustments.

How do you keep track of that? And are you sure that you don’t just capture the feedback of the most active users.

Peter: When designing, we must certainly always keep the broader target group in mind. Cake should eventually become an app for everyone.
On the one hand there are the real fans, who are “tech savvy” and also go deep into the use of the app. They keep their finger on the pulse of their own data and dive right into it. But on the other hand, and this is the largest group, there are the casual users who are looking for basic insights. They are looking for a user-friendly app that makes the basic banking features (like checking their account balance) as clear and easy as possible for them. 
So it’s important never to rely on the feedback of one person but to develop a kind of radar to link different feedback sources and see patterns.

Sven: It’s a challenge to constantly have all your antennae on edge and not to go on the defensive. The pitfall of design is to think you own the truth.
You have to presume that the user is usually right. A user does not have to adapt. We have to adapt to the user.
A great example of this is Google. If you make a typo as a user, Google will not put that responsibility on you but will think along with you right away and suggest to you what it should possibly be. That is the optimal user experience. 

Recently, additional feedback options were added to the app itself. How does that work?

Peter: We have indeed gradually rolled out a lot of new feedback features over the past month. That was our main focus this month.
Users can now customize the “where”, “what” and “who” of their expenses. And the adjustments they make are immediately visible in their app. They can adjust themselves where they bought something (via indication on a map), what they bought (by selecting a category) and from whom they bought something (was this a person, a shop or a webshop). And finally, for each of these, they can determine whether this should be applied immediately to all the purchases they made over there. 
For example, it could be that you want to put a purchase at Carrefour in the electronics category one time and in the groceries category the other time. But it could just as well be that you only go to Carrefour to buy bread and want to put all your expenses at Carrefour in the category “bakery”. In the latter case, they can use the option “apply to similar transactions”.

Sven: Again, the advantage of our iterative way of working has proven itself. We had listed the possible categories and assumed that everyone would start from looking in the list. After the release, however, it soon became clear that there was a high demand for a search function to find the right category by keyword. We started working on this right away and a week later we were able to add that feature.
If we had waited until everything was ready and had done 1 major release it would have been much more complex to add this search function afterwards as we would have been too far advanced in the whole setup.

Peter: By adding this type of feedback possibilities to the app, we now leave the process of enriching the data to the users. Major retail chains or brands we will of course continue to supply with all the information in the app. But if a user wants to change this, it will be given priority over the default categorization we have provided.
The feedback of a user is initially immediately applied in the app of the user giving the feedback but is also used in what we call “wisdom of the crowd”. And those intelligent rules are now being developed by our data team. For example, if 20 users tell us that Hyper Zemst should actually be Carrefour Zemst or that Bakery Perremans is from now on Bakery Carl, then we are going to adjust that for all users. In the beginning these rules will be mainly quantitative, but over time they will become more complex, dynamic and smarter. For example, users who have already given a lot of feedback in the past may be given more weight in validating feedback than new users.
Eventually we hope to arrive at a situation where users are faster than we are when an Alvo store becomes a Jumbo.

Does this way of working require a specific business organisation or culture?

Peter: I think the trick is to keep your team small. You need the right number of people, not less, but certainly not more. At Cake we are now with just over 20 people in total and we strive to keep it that way. We work with about a twentieth of the team size of a traditional bank when it comes to the design and development of the app. This allows us to make faster decisions. 

Sven: We don’t have what I call “Design by Committee”. In larger company structures you often see that instead of making consistent choices, they try to meet as many requests as possible from people from all over different company areas. Sometimes also based on the “we do it because the boss wants us to”-rule. This too often results in apps that have too many features and compromise solutions that overload users and prevent them from finding their way around. We try to avoid this type of inside out thinking. We start from the user and try to stay true to our mission and basic principles.

Peter: At Cake we think it’s important to listen to everyone’s opinion, across disciplines. A developer or someone from sales might equally well have a good idea about a feature in the app. That’s why we also do all communication in open Slack channels so we can fully exploit serendipity. But hierarchy will never play a role in this. If Davy, our CEO, asks for something, we’re going to evaluate it, just like an idea from anyone in the company, but if we don’t think it’s a sound idea, we simply don’t do it. Many “suggestions” have already been killed that way. 😜

Sven: Because we put so much effort into feedback, we not only keep our finger on the pulse, but also get the know-how that some companies are looking for in house from the outside, from the users. This is also the way we manage to keep our team to a minimum.

Peter: Transparency in all areas, internal and external, is another important aspect. For example, our open roadmap. Or the fact that we sometimes drop very early development ideas or screens on social media or already informally show them to a few users. We are often asked whether we are not afraid that people will steal our ideas. But we simply assume that (almost) everything already exists. That the power does not exist in originality but in agility. If you take that as a basic assumption, a lot of barriers will disappear. Why then spend time in secrecy and signing complex Non Disclosure Agreements? We think that we can gain more from the time savings and added value we create by being transparent than we would lose by someone walking away with an idea.

Sven: I remember our first meetings in a coffee bar in Antwerp where we, in public, discussed and sketched the first concepts of Cake. Everyone could follow our conversations. 😅 That was cheaper and more fun than renting an expensive meeting room for a “secret” meeting.

Peter: In addition, we have also ensured that we have a very complementary team with the right mindset. We all have the ability to put our ego aside and not think defensively, both internally and externally. This is also reflected in our company values.

Sven: That’s right, it’s not because I’m the UX-owner that I hold the Holy Grail. Feedback from others just keeps you focused.

What will the future bring?

Peter: I dream of pure “design in the open”. Where we not only share ideas but also real screens via Uservoice (the tool with which we also share our open roadmap). In such a way that we can achieve real co-creation. In this respect, we are not mirroring the big tech companies but rather Lego, for example. They already sell Lego sets developed by everyday consumers. I hope to see us developing features before the end of the year that come from users and not from us.

Sven: What I personally very much look forward to is the possibility to compare your income and spending with the average Cake user or, at a later stage, with users who have a similar profile as yourself. This will give you a frame of reference for your own spending behaviour. Is spending €300 a month on daily groceries as a couple a lot or not? It will be this frame of reference that brings the figures to life and provides additional new insights. 

Peter: What we’re seeing now is really just a small tip of the veil. Our mission is to help people better understand, control and improve their finances through a better daily banking app. At the moment we are still in the “understand” part. So this is just the beginning!

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