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12:30 PM
Nancy Feig
Nancy Feig
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Washington Mutual Relaunches

WaMu relaunches its Web site with enhanced navigation to improve the customer experience.

In keeping with the trend of offering customer-centric financial services, Washington Mutual ($327 billion in assets) recently revamped its brand. Under the catchphrase, "Simpler banking. More smiles," the Seattle-based bank aimed to improve customer satisfaction by eliminating complexity throughout the bank. As part of the process, Washington Mutual relaunched its Web site,

To improve the customer experience, the new site features enhanced navigation and functionality, according to Rick Starbuck, first VP of customer experience for WaMu's e-commerce group, who notes that the redesign took about 18 months. "It was a very user-centric, customer-centric design process," he says, explaining that the bank sought customer input on the pain points they were experiencing on the bank's site. The process included active consumer testing of five or six different prototypes over about seven months, Starbuck adds.

Improving ease of use and access to content were among the redesign's goals, Starbuck relates. He points to the new navigation bar on the site's home page, which he says enables users to reach content deep within the site typically in one click. The bank also simplified billpay setup. "Now there is a start page" that walks users through the process, Starbuck explains.

"Navigation was significantly upgraded as part of the site redesign," observes Doug Miller, senior analyst for banking and cards at Corporate Insight, a New York-based market research firm that evaluates bank Web sites. "The 'Your Accounts' tab, which houses the firm's private site functionality, now presents users with six well-organized subtabs, such as 'Accounts' and 'Transfer Funds,' which feature fly-out menus. These fly-outs allow users to scan the contents of each subtab without having to click anything, something we like immensely."

Sending the Right Message

In addition to enhancing the site's navigation, WaMu also set out to improve its messaging. According to Starbuck, the bank implemented customer personalization to allow returning customers to receive offers tailored to their needs. For three years prior to the redesign, he notes, every site visitor was presented with the same offer for free checking; now, returning users receive offers based more precisely on their needs and current relationships with the bank, Starbuck explains.

According to Starbuck, the site prototypes and user feedback helped the bank determine the best strategies for online messaging. "What works is very context-specific," he asserts, adding that print-oriented content "was too simple for the Web." Starbuck contends that online consumers want more density, more content and more breadth of design.

While WaMu's e-commerce group drove the project, it also sought input from the bank's lines of business as well as internal legal and compliance groups, Starbuck says, adding that this is not the first time the bank redesigned its Web site. According to Starbuck, there have been four redesigns in the past six or seven years. This initiative, however, represented the biggest internal effort, he says, noting that the only outside help the bank received was from its rebranding firm.

And while the changes to appear cosmetic, WaMu also upgraded the site's underlying technology. "We recoded quite a bit of the application layer," Starbuck says, declining to specificy the technology on which the Web site is built.

WaMu also implemented some design elements from Web sites outside of the banking industry. "The customer forms opinions based on all their Web experiences," not just banking, Starbuck points out. One of those changes is a text "sizer" that allows visitors to choose how large or small to display words and buttons on their screens.

Customer response to the redesigned site has "been really great," WaMu's Starbuck says, adding that the bank has received "tons" of unsolicited positive feedback about the redesign.

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