This morning I noticed an unusual charge (from my bank) while checking my account online. As is usually the case with such charges, the description was cryptic. So, I had to go through the pile of unattended mail to find the corresponding paper communication and understand the charge. After a few minutes of rummaging through the stack I found what I was looking for. As I had suspected, the charge was questionable. I called the number on the (paper) statement and entered my account number, pin number etc. Maureen (name changed) answered the call and politely asked me what was the reason for the call.
I went on a 2 minute rant trying to convince her to cancel the charge and refund the amount to my account. The rest of the call went as expected. She had more questions – first to confirm my identity (and collect additional personal, now that she had me on the phone), and then to explain why the charge was valid. I pushed back. She put me on hold to speak with her manager. After 21 minutes of back & forth she agreed to cancel the charge and refund the amount – this one time. To make it happen I was told to go back to the website (after 48 hours) to review and acknowledge the cancellation.
The amount charged was significant. So, as suggested by Maureen, I visited the website after 48 hours. I followed her instructions but couldn’t find the link that was supposed to take me to the ‘review and acknowledge’ section. After trying a few more times (over the next couple of days) I finally decided to call Maureen again. “Maureen is busy talking to another customer, but I can help you!” said the voice at the other end. The call lasted for 17 agonizing minutes – at the end of which the charge was cancelled.
What could the bank have done to improve my experience?
My bank did a decent job at personalizing my interactions – mostly with the website. Once I logged in, it displayed the relevant offers & content (although under the circumstances, I was least interested in any of it!). It offered me a few quick tips based on my profile and settings, all my transaction info, and a few alerts based on my balance & (late) payments etc. It offered ‘almost’ every feature I’ve come to expect from a banking website. Could it have done a better job at personalizing? Absolutely. But for now I’m quite satisfied with the experience.
But the experience breaks (or at least it feels like it) once I move from the website to another touch-point. It breaks even further as I move to the next touch-point – the phone. This happens because while the bank has taken significant efforts to personalize my interaction at a touch-point (the web) it doesn’t care about contextualizing my interaction across touch-points.
What’s missing? The context
If it did, it would’ve known that my interaction was about the ‘questionable charge’ even before Maureen answered my call. It would know that I had reviewed the information on the website and it wasn’t very helpful. It would’ve known that I even tried to make sense of the charge using the letter (from the bank). Are you wondering how? I had to enter a reference number (from the letter) along with the usual details. It could’ve used this (contextual) information along with the knowledge of the fact that I was a ‘valued customer’ and excused this charge without making me pick up the phone.
To make matters worse the bank’s internal processes weren’t designed to deliver a seamless experience. They resulted in confusion and frustration. I’m guessing this wasn’t just a case of poorly designed business processes or applications. This seems like a classic case of silo’ed organizations each owning only a part of the overall experience.
If the bank had contextualized my experience, it would have known why I logged in 48 hours later. It should have offered to take me to the next touch-point (the ‘review & acknowledge’ website) right away. Instead it left me on my own, struggling to find the link and making another unpleasant call.
Contextual information can help brands offer better experiences at each stage of the customers journey. It can put the customer at the center of all interactions. Understanding what the customer was trying to do, how s/he felt, and how effective were the previous interactions and using that (contextual) information to deliver the optimal experience at the current touch-point can be game-changing for brands. It can remove the friction, delight the customers, reduce churn, and ultimately impact the bottom-line.
Coming back to the experience with my bank – it left me frustrated. I consider myself a ‘trapped customer‘. Would I recommend my bank to anyone? Absolutely not. But I don’t plan to close my accounts or move them to another bank. At least not yet.