How we boosted conversion by translating a business problem into a human need: A story from the CommonBond team

How we boosted conversion by translating a business problem into a human need: A story from the CommonBond team

A conundrum at CommonBond

Our refinance product team faced a conundrum throughout 2018. Millions of student loan borrowers in the United States can benefit from refinancing their loans, either for a better rate or a lower monthly payment.

However, we often observed visitors leaving our site without taking the first steps that would help us determine if we might be able to improve their student loan situation. Why were people starting a conversation with us, but not staying around long enough for us to help them?

A problem with the problem statement

Our metrics made it clear that we needed to increase conversion throughout the multiple steps in our application process.

But “increase conversion” was a problem stated in business needs. It was useful as a starting point, but to get to real solutions that deliver real value, we needed to translate this goal of “increase conversion” into a problem stated in human needs:

What human needs were we failing to meet, leading humans to drop off at certain points of our application process?

The drop-off we observed meant our application experience wasn’t providing as much value as it could. To get to the unmet human needs driving that problem, we had to talk to our users.

What we learned by chatting with student loan borrowers

We conducted one-on-one conversations with student loan borrowers over the course of several months. This included people who had begun an application with us, as well as those who had never heard of refinancing.

We found that, in human-speak, our conversion numbers meant that a large population of student loan borrowers didn’t relate to the experience we had optimized for in our application process. For instance:

  • Not all borrowers resonated with our marketing messages that emphasized phrases like “Rates as low as __!”
  • Not all borrowers were ready to commit immediately to refinancing their student loans by providing us their personal details and Social Security Number.
  • Not all borrowers were “spreadsheet maximizers” who simply wanted to see their new rates as quickly as possible.

Our original “introduction” to the refinance application, was optimized for the financially savvy borrower who wanted to see rates as soon as possible (see below).

CommonBond Testing Original Application Start
Our original “introduction” to the refinance application, optimized for the financially savvy borrower who wanted to see rates as soon as possible

Changing the problem statement

Understanding these behaviors helped us understand that our problem statement should not simply be “increase conversion.” Instead, our problem statement needed to be:

How might we start a more approachable conversation about student loans with people visiting our website?

Reframing the business problem into human terms completely changed the way we thought about solutions. We started the design process by thinking about how we would start a conversation with someone who had never thought about their student loans. We certainly wouldn’t start off with “Give me your email so I can create an account for you!” or “Our lowest rates are 3.2%!”

Instead, we would ease people into the conversation by understanding more about their situation. Instead of trying to sell our product, we’d learn a little more about them with questions like: Do you have student loans? How much have you thought about them? What’s your student loan situation looking like now? What would you change about it? What other financial goals are top of mind for you right now?

CommonBond testing prototype I
An early prototype of our conversational user flow.
CommonBond testing prototype II
An early prototype of our conversational user flow.

Translating business needs to human needs

It became clear that we needed to try a more conversational approach at the beginning of our refinance application. We went through many design iterations, each time trying to optimize the conversation for someone who 1) hadn’t thought much about their student loans and 2) didn’t want to spend much time thinking about them.

Through rounds of user testing, we picked up some key learnings:

Many student loan holders don’t know much about their current student loans, and we shouldn’t make them feel bad for not remembering the details.

This encouraged us to add an option for users to “skip” certain questions about their loans that they weren’t sure about.

It’s important to maintain a sense of professionalism that is approachable and trustworthy.

This helped us refine the tone and language of the experience, so that users would feel as if they are talking to a trusted, knowledgeable source.

We only have a few seconds of a user’s attention before they’d rather think about something else besides their student loans.

This forced us to think about how people would experience our application process emotionally. We aimed to craft seamless desktop and mobile experience that would feel as fun as a BuzzFeed quiz. This meant working creatively with user interface (UI) and infusing delight.

CommonBond testing feature — slider
A fun interaction idea thanks to one of our front end developers.
CommonBond testing mobile experience
We took care to make sure the mobile experience felt seamless and approachable.

Testing our new approach

It was time to put all these learnings to the test. We launched an A/B test where one variation included a conversational pre-application questionnaire and one didn’t. (You can view the full experience here.)

The results were surprising: the more conversational variation led to a double digit increase in booked loans within several months.

We also saw high conversion rates throughout the series of questions, and heard qualitative evidence that people appreciated our conversational approach, in contrast to the overly formal, transactional nature of other lenders.

Concluding thoughts

Although this is just one success story, it demonstrates how drastically you can change outcomes when business needs are translated into human needs.

After all, behind every business pain point lies an unmet human need. Struggling with usage and adoption? Perhaps your product doesn’t resolve enough major pain points. Need to lower your cost of acquisition? Perhaps your marketing isn’t effectively connecting people’s problems to your solution. It’s important to remember that products and services only create business value when they address human needs, desires, and emotions. Identify and address these for your customers, and the business results will follow.

About CommonBond: CommonBond is a financial technology company on a mission to give students and graduates more affordable, transparent, and simple ways to pay for higher education. The company offers refinance loans to college graduates, new loans to current students, and a suite of student loan repayment benefits to employees through its CommonBond for Business™ program. For more information, visit

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the CommonBond Product, Design & Engineering blog hosted on Medium. It has been republished here with the author’s permission. At Widerfunnel, we are constantly looking to highlight stories and learnings from Experimentation Champions. Got a story to share? Drop us a line at [email protected]


Janey Lee

Product Designer at CommonBond

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