Consumers are looking to do more with their mobile phones. Application downloads have skyrocketed and consumers keep their phones with them 24/7. So it should come as no surprise that they are looking for mobile to provide greater convenience when shopping, paying, and managing their money.

As a result, many companies are introducing mobile shopping and payment applications, including wallets, which has generated a great deal of discussion about which technologies will win out. But the focus on the payment — and the technology — is losing sight of the forest for the trees.

Instead, the focus needs to be on building convenient experiences for customers and merchants that are superior to what they have today. While some of these technologies have been around for a while, merchants and banks must think beyond simply providing consumers access to their applications and consider the ultimate value proposition and whether they're offering customers simple, consistent and convenient experiences.

At the same time, for banks to remain relevant in this process, “customer” must mean more than just the consumers who carry the bank’s credit and debit cards and use its online and mobile banking services.

Effective business and customer service strategies must be extremely focused on merchants — the businesses selling to banks' consumers — especially in today’s evolving banking and payments landscape, where many new mobile-based products and services are being developed.

One of the biggest challenges facing the mobile payments industry is merchant adoption, and banks must work closely with retailers when designing new products. After all, retailers know their customers best — their likes and dislikes, as well as how to best service them. That’s why gathering the collective voice of retailers to co-design mobile products is a key component in the product innovation process.

Companies that use the principles of “customer co-design” gain feedback from focus groups, internal research, leveraging customer behavioral insights and in some cases, social-media monitoring. Tests and pilots enable companies to look for ways to improve the customer (and merchant) experience or identify functionality that will excite customers.

In the midst of a recent Quick Response code-based payments trial at Bank of America with about 1,000 employees, for example, we received positive feedback about streamlining the sign-up process, making it easier to leave a tip for restaurant servers and simplifying the way users add and select payment cards.

But a lot of people also said they’d like to see more merchants adopt the technology. When it comes to working with merchants, banks must consider ways to address their individual needs. These concerns include deepening customer relationships and loyalty through interaction and attracting new customers and increase sales from existing shoppers. Merchants are looking for ways that they can reduce payment-processing costs and fraud, while increasing the security of their customers' personal information. In addition, merchants are focused on the interoperability of mobile payments options, so they can reduce the need for investing in multiple systems.

It's vital that banks work with retail partners of all sizes before, during and after each trial to understand what they like and dislike about new mobile payment options. The “before” part is very important to understanding merchants’ needs (the problems they’re trying to solve) and then ensure that a trial is crafted in a way that helps answer whether the mobile capability meets those needs. With this process, the “after” part (receiving feedback from the testing) is much more valuable.

But accomplishing this requires a strategic decision. Is speed to market more important than being deliberate and taking the time to engage customers fully in the design process? We have decided that we prefer to be known as best-to-market rather than first-to-market. In this business, “first” often means “rushed,” and that can have major negative effects on product performance, security, and the ultimate retailer/customer experience.

What we’ve learned from the retailer co-design process is that retailers are looking for products that require little employee training and don’t interrupt their current store flow/queues. In addition, merchants desire products that require minimal new hardware investment and drive lower ongoing operational costs, and they expect these products to help streamline key business processes like returns and exchanges and boost revenue through more efficient and effective marketing methods.

Banks and other financial institutions, technology providers and marketing agencies have to keep in mind how to use the richness of mobile devices to enhance the customer experience. After all, plastic isn’t broken; it still works. Banks and retailers must work together to control and customize new experiences and ensure that customers get a better, more convenient and more intuitive mobile wallet.

In the end, if consumers and merchants are both treated as customers — that each have their own sets of inextricably linked needs — mobile payments developers can more successfully ensure that their products and services address, and exceed, their needs.

Farhan Siddiqi is senior vice president of online banking at Bank of America.