Calculator overkill – sometimes the numbers just don’t add up!

Remember when you were first allowed to use calculators at school. I was around 14 or 15. Suddenly long division was a breeze and everyone competed to see who could get the best calculator with the most functions and the most buttons. Well, they did in my school.

However, after the initial euphoria had died down, a lot of my classmates were left in possession of elaborate scientific calculators where most of the buttons remained unused and unloved. Perhaps you experienced a similar thing.  Unless of course you went on to be an actuary – in which case the knowledge of how to use all the functions was already embedded deep in your gene pool so you could work out your excellent future salary prospects.

For the majority of us though it was a typical case of calculator overkill – and suddenly I wonder if there is a danger that financial services websites and even smart phone applications are suffering from the same condition. Calculators are increasingly becoming a sideshow to most customers, overlooked and sometimes just cluttering up the place.

Don’t get me wrong. The calculator is a fundamentally useful devise for calculating stuff. It can also help hugely with validating a marketing point. Indeed it may be the main draw to a particular part of the website. It can underline the financial implications of purchasing a particular investment or pension product, and perhaps even more significantly it can underline the financial implications of not doing something or not doing enough.

However I have to suggest that companies need to make sure calculators are used in an appropriate setting.

Do they fit with the customer’s or potential customer’s journey? Do they enhance the customer experience? Or do they actually slow things down or worse bring things to an abrupt halt? More importantly can they be replaced with one or two yes/no answers, or perhaps a decision tree which can be a lot more functional, logical and easy to use on the web than on paper. Might an illustration or a simple graph get the message across better?

I’m not suggesting dispensing with the calculator altogether or suggesting going back to the website equivalent of the slide rule or the abacus. But when you supply them to your customers have a think about how they fit with the overall design and what are they are there to be used for. In other words when you offer a calculator make sure you have calculated how best to use it.

Anything that can help emphasis a customer need, or why a specific product may help should be considered – providing it adds up to a value-add and not a distraction.

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