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UX Research @Salesforce↗

Understanding Self-service in Retail Banking

Research Brief

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Jan 2023 - May 2023


3 UX Researcher

1 Project Lead (ME)


SurveyMonkey, Card Sorting, Diary Studies

My Role
  • Stakeholder Engagement: managed and communicated our findings to client

  • Mix-method user research: Led qualitative and quantitative user research studies with over 90+ participants, including field observations, surveys, interviews, and dairy studies 

  • Synthesizing and storytelling: Synthesized research findings into a comprehensive report, including recommendations to the clients; crafted a story for the final presentation

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Self-service in Retail Banking has low adoption

"self-service customers tend to be less engaged and, in fact, are often indifferent toward their bank".




Heavy investment vs. low adoption

Self-service options in retail banking are designed to provide customers with a convenient, efficient, and quick way to access their banking services 24/7. Banks have invested heavily in their current Digital channel applications. But still, user adoption is much lower from what's expected, and customers are still following the traditional support channels.

-- Understanding Self-Service Customers, J.D. Power Insights


Why is there a gap between self-service and traditional support channels?

Client Goal


Why does self-service in Retail Banking have low adoption?

we ask

Research Goals

  • learn about users’ needs and expectations

  • understand what leads to low adoption

  • identify features and offerings that can drive adoption of self-service 

Key term definitions


Users completing a certain task solely by themselves and on their own devices, without assistance from a human customer representative

Retail Banking

also known as consumer banking or personal banking, is the provision of services by a bank to the general public

Digital Channels

Include but not limited to Online Credit Card Application, Chatbots, Transactions, FAQs, etc

Target User Segment

​Young adults aged 18-30 based in US who use major banking services


Why 18-30?

  • They are more tech savvy

  • Existing high adoption rates in other verticals in self-service

  • Convenient sampling

Why major banks in the US?

  • More access to on-site research

  • Different countries have different banking systems and average adoption of self-service

  • JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, etc


Recruit participants, more participants, and more...

To explore people’s usage of self-service in retail banking, we implemented three research methods, namely: a survey, interviews, and diary studies. These methods were chosen as they would allow us to gain a more holistic understanding of users’ experiences, expectations, and obstacles associated with self-service utilization. 


70+ Participants

Young working professionals & students

The survey is roughly divided into two parts:

  1. basic demographic questions (location and profession), as well as interview screener questions 

  2. delves deeper into one’s usage of self-services in retail banking:

    1. how often they use banking (self) services

    2. which specific features they find most useful

    3. which aspects of self-service banks could improve upon

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Why survey?

  • collects extensive data within a short period of time

  • serves as a screener for interview participant recruiting


  • 90% of users only use basic one-step self-service options 

  • 56% of users are unable to locate desired information

  • 59% of users demand improvement in ease of use

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12 Participants (1 pilot + 11 interviews)

Young working professionals & students

Our pilot interview

45 minutes in person

diminishing returns due to repetitive questions, which ceased to generate valuable insights

Our following interviews

30 minutes over Zoom

edited our script to follow the natural flow: self-service adoption situ generally -> in retail banking -> incident walkthroughs

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Why interviews?

  • yield rich qualitative data to couple with the quantitative data we got from the surveys.

  • delve deeper into their usage of self-service solutions and uncover specific incidents they encountered 

Key Questions: 

  • How would you describe your level of financial literacy?

  • When we talk about self-services in retail banking, what comes to mind?

  • Could you tell me about an incident where you encountered difficulties while using banking self-services?

  • What is one feature that you wish your bank had, self-service wise?

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(Affinity Mapping to synthesize the findings)


  • Conflicted Sentiment on Security Verification Process

    • Necessary but troublesome!​

  • Reliance on Expertise and "Better Deals"

  • OmniChannel/Cross-System experience needs great improvement

  • ​More difficulties with international clients 

  • The desire for an aggregated dashboard

    • a holistic analysis of their spending, the aggregated dashboard that allows them to pay the bills one stop

  • Aversion toward Chatbots/Virtual Assistants

    • the triaging process and command comprehension

"I didn't even know the annual fees could be waived when I was opening my checking account. The agent at the branch told me that I could open a college checking account so that I don't have to pay the annual fee and they will waive the process fee"

– Bank of America Customer, 26

💡Diary Studies

7 Participants

Students, Designers & Researchers


  • Adoption: limited to one-step, passive interactions

  • ​Success: 95% success rate, 90% accomplished within 2 minutes

  • User Suggestions: 

    • Search function within the offer list

    • Automate paying credit card bills 

    • More fine-tuned transaction filtering

Why Diary Studies?

  • the other two research methods required participants to recall specific events. As a result, the accuracy of the incident or the event described could be compromised 

  • Hence we invited users to document their interactions with banking self-services as the event unfolded 

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Off to our client!

We consolidated our findings and recommended possible avenues to redeem this problem into a report. We also crafted a story for our 15-minute presentation to our client. Findings have been / will be used to:

  • Confirm and solidify existing findings

  • Challenged assumption re: low usage of self-service

  • Provide deeper insight into consumers aged 18-30

  • Inform the next steps & direction for the Salesforce team

    • Already off to the research team working on this problem!​

"This research project delved deep into the self-service adoption circumstances in America, with promising recommendations that we will deliver to our research team"

- Salesforce Sr. UX Designer

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Synthesizing research findings is a tricky process!

While we are synthesizing our interview findings, because we have a large amount of interview data, the process becomes extremely important - it's almost like re-telling the users' stories. You want to be representative, truthful but also selective. Even for the same feature, users may have different sentiments.


In this scenario, numbers don't always matter (e.g. 8 users indicate they dislike this feature but 1 user indicates they enjoy using it), the rationale behind the sentiment matters. Try to understand what specific features they like/dislike, the rationale and users' specific backgrounds - they may be talking about the same thing :)

The End

Huge thanks to Ailiya Duan and Hunter Li for collaborating on this project. And thanks to Salesforce Industries team for giving us this opportunity to consult on this intriguing problem space.

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