I first wrote about the benefits of email alerts in the third issue of Online Banking Report nearly ten years ago (OBR 3, June 1995). Since then I’ve enjoyed watching the service unfold, and I’ve never met an alert I didn’t like — until this week.
An email messaging pioneer, Charter One Bank, with a suite of email/fax/voice alerts named OBR Best of the Web in 2003, laid an egg this week.
I’ve had an account there for years and have received seven or eight hundred daily mini-statements in that time. Surprisingly, those daily messages have remained absolutely the same. No advertising, no service messages, no cross-sales. Not even a holiday greeting.
Imagine my surprise when last week I received, in addition to my daily statement, a New Message Alert (click on screenshot above) that said in part:
On March 21 a new message was delivered to your Online Banking Message Center. Please click here to view this important message.
Surprisingly, it didn’t occur to me that this could be a phish (it wasn’t). I really was afraid something had gone terribly wrong with my account. I couldn’t remember my username or password and the "lost password" function returned an error message. So I had to wait until I was home where it was written down.
As I anxiously logged into my account, expecting the worst, I wondered how I would cover the check I’d just written off the account. The first thing I did was check my balance. Phew, it was what I expected, just enough to avoid monthly fees. Then I crossed my fingers and navigated to the secure message center where the all-important message waited.
Imagine my "customer experience" when I found that Charter One had sent me on this harrowing chase only to inform me that (click on screenshot below):
Effective April 10, 2005, Charter One Bank’s Online
Banking service will no longer process one-time or
recurring online transfers to or from a passbook
Not only do I not have a passbook savings account, I have no other accounts beside checking, so I am ineligible to make any type of transfer on the system. What a terrible waste of my time.
Seven days later, I get yet another message insisting that I log back into the site for another "important message." This one wasn’t much better. The bank was alerting me to an upcoming bill payment service slowdown. Never mind that I had never sent a bill payment nor activated the service in more than two years of maintaining an account at Charter One.
Moral of the Story
As a consumer, after enduring two false alarms, I feel this way about the bank:
1. They do not know me as a customer.
2. They do not care if they waste my time.
3. They have no ability to send targeted email.
4. They lack a basic level of common sense.
5. They do not know how to communicate through email.
It would have been so easy to keep this from happening. The bank could have done any of the following:
a) Sent these message only to users of the specific accounts/functions
b) Assuming their system doesn’t allow (A), they could have sent the entire message to my Internet email address so I didn’t have to login to see it
c) Not sent the message at all to my Internet email and simply posted the message within the online banking area
The email relationship with your customer is powerful, yet extremely fragile. A few irrelevant "important information" messages, especially if a website login is required to access the message, can kill the entire channel.