Shifting From Pixels to Experience: Esko Lehtme’s Strategic Approach to Evaluating UX-Design and Customer Experience at SEB Baltics

Esko Lehtme is a UX-Design professional with an extensive background in creating customer-centric design processes in organizations. Currently, he is focused on leading UX Area strategy and managing the product design backlog as the Product Owner of UX in SEB Baltics.

Facilitating training and workshops has been a big part of Esko’s professional career. He has shared his knowledge about service design in classroom and virtual settings with hundreds of colleagues and students.

Grab your Refresh Conference ticket to hear Esko sharing his wealth of knowledge on UX design and customer experience from the stage on the 11th of April!

As a leader, how do you advocate for UX within the company at the strategic level? 

Communication has changed for me throughout the years. When I just started at SEB, the focus was more on pixel-level design, but I understood that we needed a guide that was a value system towards UX as experience design. I would say that navigating communication within the organization takes different time phases. As I said, pixels are easy to understand - most people can see pixels, typefaces, and colors, but they don’t realize what is guiding the customer experience from a deeper level.

To make this shift from pixels to experience, meaning how one screen and sequence of screens look and how these different states of one screen change, all of that started to shift perception. It took quite a lot of time.

I can measure that in years, as the organization is big, and the only measurement for me was that the message started to go through when I heard it echoing back. Because of the size of my team and the way we work, we're pushing this communication even to the lower phases — what does the user research mean for us, and what kind of benefits can we create from this? Since last April, this has been my next stage, where we constantly push, explain, and showcase what user research can mean and what benefits we can create.

The easiest way to show that is by showing different personas for one customer's journey from the moment when the customer starts thinking about the product (home mortgage, for example). They will evaluate our competition and how they will get to our pathways, meaning how they will start evaluating our services, how they will make the first call, “Hello, I’d like to take the home mortgage from the SEB”, until the end, when they have signed the agreement and received the money and then how they will end this agreement at the end. Will they return to us or not? One research study that can take half a year to conduct will feed our future goals for at least three to five years, helping us improve our processes that we can measure in numbers.

What key factors do you consider when modeling and optimizing UX design processes to enhance customer experience?

I’m currently actualizing this new way of working—how to measure value and optimize opportunities. We have a measurement system where we evaluate the customer journey, for example, when applying for a mortgage loan, from the beginning to the end.

We ask questions such as “Do we have everything mapped out?” and “How do the customers actually experience our service?”. There is a customer journey vision, which slices the whole customer journey into different sections.

Let's take applying for a home mortgage as an example - when you go to the SEB website, there is an evaluation phase where you evaluate whether that service suits you based on your internal checklist and mental models. If it feels like “Yes, it does,” then you will start trialing, meaning that you will use the home mortgage calculator to see if you can take the amount of loan that you need. Will all these conditions also meet your requirements, and are you compliant enough to apply for the mortgage loan from SEB? If you apply for that, you will go to the next phase, meaning you will start deliberately using that service.

Eventually, we will enter this decision point, where you’ve received this offer from the bank.

You’re a good enough customer for the bank, and they’d like to do business with you. That’s the offer. As a customer, you have now been put into this position where you need to decide if you will accept that offer and whether you sign that and enter the contractional relationship with the SEB. That’s the decision phase.

Everything else continues from there. All these different sections can be measured in different value systems. We have three measurement systems, one of which is user experience. It can be vague NPS, or we can use these specific usability metrics within research activities, or maybe in the future, we will have CSAT there for this particular phase.

The second one is analytical and technical evaluation. Can we see that the number of clicks has decreased, which, in many cases, is not the main thing for us? Or we can see that the customer has gone through this particular section faster, or can we see if the bounce later is going lower, or how many attempts the customer is making? The attempt part is essential for us. If the customer is desperate enough to go through the journey repeatedly and we see that something is still happening, then we are failing them and losing business.

Finally, the third part is business value - how many agreements/contracts we’ve gained thanks to particular sections and how much profit we have gotten from this journey thanks to improvements.

How do you influence organizational change to integrate UX principles better?

It involves education, tactical and operational support for management, and strategic communication.

We have several different tracks on how we do that. The most important and beneficial for us is still through education.

The UX team in SEB Baltics offers Service Design Foundation training. These are experience-based two-day trainings for everybody. We give hands-on experience of what it means for you to go through this double diamond framework from the beginning until the end, so you will have experience and know-how of how to interview people, analyze insights, and make insights based on interviews, as well as how to create the prototype that you’re going to test afterward.

This is the most effective way because if you have the knowledge: “Yeah, I know I always need to ask the customer what they think and perceive about our service” – but this is a piece of knowledge. If you, for the first time, actually experience that people don’t think the same way you do because they are talking and experiencing everything differently. It’s more like a vaccination, so next time, we will have a conversation: “We need to go to the customer and test it or gain a more attitudinal understanding of why they need to have this service designed that particular way.” It helps to avoid arguments where people say, “But I’m also a customer!”. This is the educational track.

The secondary track is slightly more challenging but still very beneficial. It goes back to the metric system, which is that if we can connect the business goals of SEB with this particular design project, we can exemplify from the data that says, “Yes, thanks to this research and design change, we can improve our business”. In the long term, this is beneficial for the whole organization, especially for the particular product owner who is designing or improving that product. But this is not with immediate effect, as it takes more effort from me, as the design area lead to put it through with other stakeholders of the organizations by saying, ‘Hey, trust me, we can see that this is the opportunity for us and we need to be bold enough with design, we need to take some time to understand what is the real problem and based on that, it will improve the service.” That’s the secondary track. I can measure that from three months until one year when I can see that the change/shift in perception within this particular team is happening.

The last track, which is my favourite and more challenging, is about talking with the board and management about the long-term vision, where we, as an organization, go, and how we, as a design team, can be beneficial. This is where we usually exemplify customer journeys to show how this half-year of investment gave us so much understanding of where we are right now, based on the customer perception and understanding, and how many improvements throughout the journey we can make to make this experience of getting the service, using the service so much better, that we will become no brainer choice for our customers.

We have many successful cases already, thanks to this collaboration with product development, design, and research.

What metrics or KPIs do you use to measure the success and business impact of UX initiatives?

I will always try to connect everything with real money. We’re a bank, and we know how to count. We have many products that are not profitable for us or from which we do not even aim to profit, such as more regulatory tools (KYC forms), where we need to be compliant and understand who we’re dealing with. But still, even that kind of product need to be well-designed so that even though customers don’t see it as something pleasant, to fill in a form about yourself repeatedly, they can still do that. It’s more like a utility or routine, and we can design this experience so well that they can do that as fast as possible, and we can get the opportunity to do business with them.

About the measurement, as I previously said, I’m trying to connect everything with contracts and earned money from what we can actually measure. We collect a lot of information, which is always compliant with GDPR rules, and we can still have quite a good understanding of where our business, thanks to design changes, has been growing and how everything is evolving. So yes, money is crucial for us.