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How a coffee shop concept helped a credit card company transform into a consumer-friendly financial institution

The Capital One Café was just one innovative idea that helped the banking leader evolve into a savvy brand that uses tech, information, and personal connection to bond with its customers

How a coffee shop concept helped a credit card company transform into a consumer-friendly financial institution

Fifteen years ago, Capital One was at an organizational crossroads. The financial services company had done something vital—and extremely well—since launching in 1994: Giving people access to credit through a suite of credit cards. But even as their number of card users grew, the company’s leadership understood that becoming a true financial partner with their customers would require much more than simply providing credit. They wanted to become a one-stop shop for customers to save and manage their money. And to do so, they would need to bring the strategies and philosophies that made them such a resounding success in the credit card market.

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“Innovation is really in the DNA of Capital One,” says Lia Dean, president of Capital One’s retail bank and premium card products. “We were founded on innovation and built on the idea that banking could be revolutionized by information and technology.”

THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION GETS REAL

As Dean and Capital One prepared to revamp the crowded, competitive market of retail banking, she realized that using its tried and tested technological platform in combination with its award-winning customer service record could be a recipe for success. “Technology is a way to deliver on our mission to bring more humanity to banking,” she says. That means making everything from paying bills to depositing checks part of a streamlined process so that customers can spend less time on financial chores and more time doing things that matter. “We looked at the banking world and said, ‘This is going to be totally transformed, top to bottom, by technology.’ So, we started to build off our strong bank foundation to function more like a software company.”

Capital One’s forward-looking perspective yielded some massive wins over the past 15 years: It saw that smartphones were going to be transformative devices and set out to build solutions for mobile customers. It built an in-house software engineering team that rivals that of many tech giants to develop and scale tech solutions for a growing customer base. And, crucially, it realized that while industry-leading technology and streamlined customer experience on web and mobile were great, many people still wanted that human connection when it came to their big financial decisions. Enter the Capital One Café.

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CAPPUCCINO WITH A SIDE OF FINANCIAL ADVICE 

Dean knew there were limits to what technology could do for Capital One’s customers. “People find money really stressful, and we found that it doesn’t actually matter how much money you have,” she says. Capital One’s research showed that the pressure people feel over financial decisions was equal across the socioeconomic spectrum, and providing a physical space free of expectations or hassle could help ease some of that tension. That intersection of innovation and customer obsession is where the Capital One Café concept was born. “We saw an opportunity to complement a great digital experience with in-person help when you really need it. Customers can relax, sit on a sofa with a cup of coffee, and talk to an associate who is motivated to help them.”

Capital One Nap Pod

There are now almost 50 Capital One Cafés around the country, and that number is set to grow in 2022. But the concept has also been indicative of a wider strategy for Capital One as they use their technological foundations to create more human-oriented experiences. The bank is leaning heavily into the travel space, launching the Capital One Travel booking experience and recently releasing its first premium travel rewards credit card, the Venture X card. That comes on the heels of building its first airport lounge, a luxe, welcoming space at Dallas-Fort Worth International that will soon be followed by locations at airports in Denver and Washington, D.C.

Capital One Lounge

“Travel is something our customers dream about, but it can fall short of your dreams when you’re navigating through the airport or figuring out the best time to buy a ticket,” Dean says. “We wanted to find some creative ways to take some of the stress out of travel so that customers can get more joy out of the experience.” Both the Capital One Lounges and Capital One Travel were designed to alleviate specific pressure points for travelers. Little things, like making sure that every seat in the lounge has a power outlet or that grab-and-go food is readily available, can go a long way in making the travel process smoother, as can taking the guesswork out of timing when to buy expensive plane tickets.

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Developing new and original ideas for customers when you’re the size of Capital One doesn’t come easy. But the development of human-centered concepts like the Capital One Café and the Capital One Lounge are the result of a deliberate focus on responding to customer desires ahead of expansion at all costs. “If you are obsessed only with your growth metrics, maintaining customer satisfaction can be hard,” Dean says. “But if you instead obsess about the customer experience and you deliver a great product, then the growth follows.”

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