Service: Even Business Customers Deserve Jargon-Free Correspondence

image After an inspiring trip to FinovateEurope, being completely immersed in new technology such as voice/facial recognition, intuitive UIs, and hassle-free mobile payments, I was jolted back to reality when I came home and opened a letter from my bank.

The bad news arrived in a plain-looking envelope, always a bad sign. I was told that Chase Bank was reversing a $6,000 check we’d deposited a week earlier. 

I’ve seen some awful customer correspondence over the years, but this may be the topper. The bank would never send something this illegible to consumers (I hope), but I guess they think small business customers are savvy enough to understand the jargon and ignore the bad design and inconsiderate copywriting.

The bank is wrong. They can’t just grab $6,000 from a small business owner and make no effort to apologize or explain what’s going on.

Here’s the backstory:

  • We deposited a check over the counter at a Chase branch that was made out in US Dollars, but drawn on a foreign bank.
  • It was accepted with no questions asked by the teller and credited to our account with next-day availability.
  • A week letter, the bank changed its mind, removed the money from our account, and sent the letter shown below. 

I can understand putting a hold on the funds, but the utter lack of courtesy in communicating the issue is inexcusable. Ideally, the teller should have warned us about the hold period. But since that didn’t happen, the bank should have sent me an immediate email apologizing for the delay and explaining the situation in simple vocabulary.  

Instead, I got an absolutely ugly letter (see below) that looks more like a Nigerian 419 scam than something a huge corporation would send.

Here are nine problems:

1. Mixed use of ALL CAPS and sentence case, bad spacing, and black & white logo, makes it hard to read, amateurish looking and potentially fraudulent.

2. "Convert Notification"
What does that mean? I’ve never heard the term before.

3. "Batch – 3040743 p. 1"

4. Chase PO Box in Houston 
I deposited it in a Seattle branch, why am I getting a letter from 1,900 miles away?

5. "We are debiting your account"
Please no accounting jargon, just say that you took the money out.

6. "We are converting your 6000.00 item to collection"
What? You are sending a collector after me? What did I do? And why is it called an "item"? And where is the $ sign?

7. Reason: "Not eligible for immediate credit; new FX rate at PMT"
What? First off, stop with the abbreviations, FX and PMT. It won’t cost anything more to spell out the words. And even knowing the jargon, this particular "item" was written in dollars (but did come from an international company), so it’s a little hard to follow the logic here. 

8. "Industry standard for International Collections is 4-6 weeks"
What, I’m not getting the money for 4-6 weeks! Really? Why? Don’t you think we are good for it if it were to bounce. And why didn’t the person at the branch mention this in the first place?  

9. There nothing quite as user-friendly as a 16-digit alphanumeric confirmation number. It could at least have spaces or hyphens so I can read it. 

Bottom line: This is mostly an off-topic rant about one poorly written letter. However, had the message been delivered to me electronically, it could have included links back to the original check, links to FAQs covering international deposits, or even a direct form to ask questions.


Chase letter "explaining" a deposit reversal (27 Jan 2012)


Out of the Inbox: Bon Voyage Email from Capital One

image Yesterday, I mentioned Capital One’s self-service travel notification process. Another aspect of the service is a follow-up email before you head out of town (see below).

I like the email for a couple reasons:

  • The well wishes make you feel good about the bank
  • The message provides helpful contact info in case of trouble
  • It’s an an additional fraud check to ensure that it’s really you traveling to Yakutsk next week

The bank even tells you to call collect. Nice.

Capital One could jazz up the message with more color and snappier copy (note 2), but it gets the job done.

Capital One email to customers who’ve told them they are traveling internationally (31 Jan 2012)
Note: Sent the day before scheduled departure

Capital One bon voyage email

1. Picture credit: Greeting card at Zazzle.
2. I’m surprised Capital One doesn’t use this opportunity to reinforce its travel rewards, mobile app, and zero FX fees. 
3. We’ve tackled remote banking customer service and messaging a number of times in previous issues of our Online Banking Report. The last one was Live Help earlier this year.

Service: The Value of a Search Box within Online Banking for the DIY Crowd

image I’ve always disliked toll-free (telephone) customer service. You have to find the number, identify yourself repeatedly, choose from confusing categories, then wait on hold until you finally get the honor of pleading your sorry case to someone who has all the power. I usually end up feeling like an idiot or a third grader asking for a bathroom pass.

Before the Internet, call center service was a necessary evil. Going forward, let’s get rid of it. Self-service, whether completely automated or “guided” by real humans, saves money, and done right, can be a more satisfying customer experience.

Back to my sample of one. When I have a question, I always look for the webform, email address, or even the live chat button; anything that keeps me from dialing 1-800-IMAFOOL.

But when you want to do something at your bank that’s relatively complicated, such as investigate a suspicious charge, change your credit limit, etc., it can be difficult to figure out how to do that on your own. That’s why I like Capital One’s “Ask a question…” box in the middle-right of all its credit card management pages (see first screenshot).

Today, I wanted to tell the bank I might be using its card internationally. I was already logged in to pay my bill, so I simply typed “travel” in the right-hand box (see first screenshot) and a link to the correct online form was delivered in the “answers” section (see second screenshot). It worked just like I expected.

So kudos to Capital One for making it easy to navigate to the right page, and more importantly, handling the entire travel notification process online. Of course, I’d prefer the bank just tracked me automatically via GPS (note 2), but we’ll get back to that another time.  


Capital One aids do-it-yourselfers with a prominent search box on every page (28 Jan 2012)

Capital One main account page with "site search" box

Search results for “travel”

Capital One site search results for "Travel"

1. Western Electric ad from 1959 (from eBay)
2. At FinovateEurope next week, one of the presenting companies, Finsphere, offers just such a technology. Capital One, you should give them a call.

Suspicious Activity Messaging: When You Urgently Need to Contact Business Clients

image I get that multi-channel messaging is a mess. I understand that new regulation is creating huge backlogs in project queues. But 17 years into the Web-banking era, I should be able to service my bank account entirely online, if that is my choice. And more importantly, if I’ve signed on for alert services, there shouldn’t be any surprises when I go to log in to my account. 

Yesterday, <largebank> failed me on both accounts (see note 1).

With Finovate Europe less than two weeks away, we are wiring large sums to London to pay for it. My bank got a bit concerned about all this outbound activity, which is good. I’m glad they are paying attention.

But how they went about notifying me about their concerns was simply outdated. Here’s how it went down:

  1. The bank called me from a toll-free number and left a voicemail asking me to call them back. Despite the fact that I get every alert under the sun, the bank did not send an email or text message. I don’t know about you, but listening to voice messages from random 800 numbers is very low on my priority list. By mistake I did happen to hear it a couple hours after the fact. 
  2. As soon as I listened to the message, I first went to my email to see if I’d also received a message from the bank to verify the authenticity of the phone call. Seeing nothing there, I attempted to log in to online banking to verify the call and assure myself that my account had not been drained. But guess what? The bank had disabled my account access and gave me a vague error message with instructions to call a toll-free number. The number matched the one on the voice mail so at least I could confirm it wasn’t a vishing attack. There had been no mention in the voice mail of my account access being disabled.

Now, when you are 11 days out from an event and the cash in the bank is needed to pay for it, it’s beyond disconcerting to be locked out of your account for no known reason.

Luckily, we were able to quickly assure the bank that yes, we really did need to wire that much money. So we are back up and running and our patient vendor simply had to wait one more day. (Update: I wrote this post yesterday. Today, the same thing happened again with another wire. While it wasn’t a surprise this time, it’s annoying.)


A Better Process

Let’s repeat this scenario using an approach that preserves your customer’s sanity while making it more convenient for those that favor digital channels:

  1. Bank sees something odd so it freezes outgoing wire-transfer capability and sends me a text message, an email message, and also leaves a voice mail.
  2. Instead of shutting down my account access, they let me into my account so I can verify that the balances are still there. And for extra credit, the suspicious activity is highlighted.
  3. After confirming the transaction through an extra authentication step, the bank re-opens my outgoing wire capability.
  4. For extra credit, let me simply authenticate the suspicious items by replying back to the messages (at least on smaller dollar items).

Now that I can breathe again, I can lay out three rules to guide your “suspicious activity” messaging:

  1. Contact the customer via the channel of their choice (but also use others for backup in urgent situations).
  2. Allow the customer to authenticate transactions without moving out of that channel.
  3. Never completely disable online access (unless absolutely necessary). Yes, shut off transfer-out functions, but continue to allow “read only access.” And post a red warning graphic within the account to draw attention to the suspicious activity. 


1. I’m not identifying the bank because my “data point of one” may not be indicative of what other customers experience. But I will disclose the name “off the record” if you email me
2. For more on messaging, small business, security and much more, see our Online Banking Report (subscription required).

Multi-Channel Messaging is a Mess

Image licensed from Shutterstock Last month, I reported that my “aha moment” at BAI’s Retail Delivery was the realization of just how challenging it had become to manage customer messaging across multiple channels and products.

Consider this 9×12 matrix of 108 product/message options a bank could conceivably use to reach a couple about their banking and loans. The whiteboard in the marketing conference room just won’t cut it any more as the master scheduling tool. 



Card #1

Card #2


Loan #1

Loan #2




Voice home                  
Voice mobile (Sue)                  
Voice mobile (Joe)                  
Email pers (Sue)                  
Email pers (Joe)                  
Email work (Sue)                  
Email work (Joe)                  
Website message                  
Text (Sue)                  
Text (Joe)                  
App (Sue)                  
App (Joe)                  

If that wasn’t complicated enough, unique regulations can govern each channel and/or product.  Some exa
mples: new mortgage rules for a single source of contact; time-of-day preferences (don’t text me while I’m asleep); and privacy issues (don’t alert my spouse to card charges).

And this table gets bigger if you add mail, in-branch, ATM messages or more products such as small business accounts, savings/CDs, and accounts held jointly with other family members. You could also add inbound vs. outbound calls/messages.

But one person’s mess is another’s opportunity. Fintech companies are hard at work on  solutions that turn multi-channel snarls into opportunities to increase satisfaction and/or cut costs.

imageOne key player is Seattle-based Varolii, which delivered my aha moment last month. In a followup last week, I had a chance to sit down with CEO David McCann and have a wide-ranging conversation about customer messaging in the age of the voice/email/text/notifications. I was impressed, both with the enormity of the challenge of coordinating customer messaging, and with the solutions it offers (note 1).

image Then yesterday, I met with Amit Ashman, Marketing Director at Nice, who happened to be here on a whirlwind visit from their headquarters in Israel. His company, which booked $200 million in revenues last quarter, provides call-center technology for large U.S. financial institutions. They have developed a very cool call-center/mobile-app solution about to be unleashed on the world. It blends self-service with agent support in a relatively seamless fashion that I suspect will be the industry standard five years from now.

It’s convinced me to write a report on Multi-Channel Customer Support for our Online Banking Report (note 2). We are also looking to recruit more companies in this area to 2012 Finovate events. So, please email suggestions for solutions providers and/or financial institutions who are tackling the problem.  


1. Great tagline, “Better return on interactions”
2. The multi-channel report won’t be published until early next year. However, we’ve tackled remote customer service and messaging a number of times in previous issues of our Online Banking Report. The last one was Live Help earlier this year.

Simplifying Product Search: Delivers Relevant, Clean Results in Seconds

image It’s been years since we did a deep dive into what I call “site search,” trying to find answers using a banking site’s own search and navigation tools. While things have gotten much better, most financial sites still have plenty of room for improvement (note 1).

And it doesn’t seem like a monumental problem. Even a large bank has how many retail products? 50? 100? Even if five times that, it’s TINY compared to other ecommerce sites. has 9,070 results just for “toaster.”

Consumers should be able to quickly find appropriate banking products by inputting four or five data points: age, ZIP code, family size, home ownership, annual income (for credit products), and average balance (for deposit products). Then, a list of relevant products should be returned in tabular format with a clear link to more details.

To see how this works, stripped of all ads and cross sales, check out the side project of Seattle entrepreneur Adam Doppelt, Users enter four pieces of info: ZIP code, age, family size, and whether they smoke. A few seconds after pressing Find Plans!, the site returns a table of potential choices (second screenshot).

It’s a very Google-like experience, something you can’t say about most banking sites.


PickHealthInsurance input form (14 Sept. 2011)

PickHealthInsurance input form

Results page


Plan details page

Plan details page

1. Many financial institutions have sophisticated product comparisons, but it’s not always easy to find the tool to begin with.

Out of the Inbox: Bank of America’s "Irregular Credit Card Activity" Alert

image Several months ago (previous post), I wrote about Bank of America’s online fraud-warning resolution center for consumer cards, MyFraudProtection. It’s a great service, though a little hard to use.

At that time, I showed only the online functions. The more important piece is the email alert (below). It’s a great way not only to reduce fraud, but also maintain good customer relations.

But it’s still read-only. What I’m really waiting for is a truly two-way email, or better yet, text message. That way I can simply respond to the bank’s question in a few seconds and both of us can get on with our business. 

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity (11 Jan. 2011)

Email alert from Bank of America: Irregular Credit Card Activity 


1. See our recent reports: Paperless Billing and Banking and Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel.

Ally Bank Posts Real-time Call-center Wait Times on Homepage

imageAlly Bank made news this week as one of the few major banks offering consumer PC/scanner-based remote deposit (USAA and US Bank also offer it, note 1). But that new feature has not yet filtered out  to its website. While disappointed in not finding what I was searching for, I did notice something even better:   

imageThe wait time for its call center, updated in real-time, right at the top of every page (see screenshot, below). 

The first few times I checked the site, it always said zero and I wondered if the bank left it permanently there to demonstrate its call-center prowess. But now the wait-time has moved out to six minutes (11 AM Pacific time on a Thursday…a couple days in front of the U.S. tax deadline).

But that’s even more important for public acknowledgement. When wait times stretch to several minutes, customers can decide to call back later or spend a few minutes checking Facebook before a banker comes on the line. It also gives Ally’s customer service department a big incentive to keep the queue at a reasonable level. It’s a complete win-win.

The bank should also add a click-to-call feature so customers can skip the queue and simply request a call-back, a technique that can potentially cut support costs by shortening average call time (see note 3). Ally does offer live chat on its Contact Us page. However, it must be a lower staffing priority as I found intermittent availability on a Friday morning (8:30 AM Pacific) even though wait times for the call center were zero.

imageBottom line: Ally’s real-time availability is so much better than simply plopping a smiling face in the corner of your website and inviting calls. The estimated hold time demonstrates the bank’s respect for its customers’ time, something rare at large consumer brands in any industry. It’s a great tangible benefit to the “ally” positioning.

Because it raises the “state of the art” in online support, we are awarding it our first OBR Best of the Web for 2011 (see note 2).  

Ally Bank homepage with real-time call center wait time monitor (14 April 2011)

  Ally Bank homepage with real-time call center wait time monitor


1. Post updated at 10 AM: Originally I said the new Ally service was
“mobile” remote deposit, Ally let me know that it was PC-based online
remote deposit (previous post on US Bank’s service)
2. Since 1997, Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. If anyone knows of other financial institutions offering a similar feature, let us know and we’ll update the post. Ally is the 81st company to win the award since 1997 and the first in 2011. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.
3. For more information on delivering “live help,” see the most recent issue of Online Banking Report.

New Online Banking Report Published: Delivering "Live Help" Online

image At Online Banking Report we’ve written a few reports about online customer service over the years (see note 1). However, we’d never looked in-depth at so-called “live help,” (note 2) which includes:

  • Live chat: predominantly audio, but can also be one or two-way video
  • Click-to-call: a button used to request a call-back from an agent
  • Co-browsing: sharing a screen between user and agent

Co-browsing is still a little too out there for most customers, so we focused primarily on live chat and click-to-call, both relatively widely adopted and proven money makers for online retailers.

clip_image002Bottom line: After reviewing dozens of white papers, talking to a number of industry experts, looking at a hundred websites, and live chatting with service reps in the wee hours, I’ve come to a definitive conclusion on the value of live chat.

It depends. 

Clearly, live chat delivered perfectly can cut costs and lift revenues. But it can also confuse customers, drive up support costs, and get in the way of moving from point A to point B on a website.

clip_image002[10]But as generation text moves into their prime banking years, banks will be chatting more and more with customers, both online and via mobile messaging. So eventually, most financial institutions will need to offer some variation of Live Help to remain competitive (note 3).


About the report

Delivering “Live Help” Online (link)
Live chat and click-to-call promise to increase sales, make customers happy, and save money; what’s not to like?

     Published: April 5, 2011

     Authors: Jim Bruene, editor & founder, Online Banking Report 
                    with Philip Britt, founder, S&P Enterprises

     Length: 60 pages (12,000 words), 14 Tables

     Cost: No extra charge for OBR subscribers, $495 for everyone else here


1. The most recent Online Banking Report on email customer service is here (2004)
2. Our inspiration for the latest issue was Jeffry Pilcher’s post in The Financial Brand (Jan. 2011).
3. However, the first order of business remains turning email into the valued support tool it needs to be. See Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel (Aug. 2010)

BankSimple’s Vision Statement is All About High-Touch

image Over the years I’ve published more than a million words and this is the first time I can remember using the term “vision statement,” and in a headline no less. I’ve spent enough time in large companies to know that when you hear “vision statement” it’s time to run for the exits. Usually, even the employees don’t buy it, let alone the customers it’s supposed to impress.

However, BankSimple’s vision statement is not only believable, but also sets a great tone for the startup’s upcoming launch. It’s also cleverly positioned on the homepage to “jump up” above the fold as you scroll down.

Why does it work? Everyone knows that BankSimple, with its Twitter DNA and $3 million in venture funding, will have good tech. So the startup focuses on people and service in its vision statement to make it clear that it’s not some aloof, high-tech company where it takes a search warrant to find the customer support number, but an actual human-powered organization (see details below). Nice touch (note 1).



Breaking “the vision” down point by point


It’s no surprise that the non-bank bank is tackling the fee issue. It’s in the news and it’s always high on the list of customer dissatisfaction. But notice they are not using the word “free” or saying “no fees.” They are just saying they will be transparent with pricing and will not surprise with penalty fees when you can least afford them.



Everyone talks about service, so this isn’t particularly novel. But the use of “prioritize” and “real” will resonate with the segment they are targeting.



image Grabbing the mobile positioning is brilliant. That’s absolutely where the market is headed, so you might as well make it a key differentiator. And while no one knows what “true mobile banking” means, it sounds good.




I’m not sure this adds a whole lot to the vision. In the text by this point, the bank talks about “plain, simple language.” Sounds OK, but not as compelling as the other points. I’d have nixed it and kept it to a tidy four-point vision instead.



The tagline for this point is, “You’re a real person, not an account number.”

Bingo. Here’s a pure-play online bank run by uber-techies, but they are saying they are really all about the people. High tech. High touch. Love it!


Note: Yes, I’m aware that BankSimple abbreviates to BS. And no, I’m not its biggest fanboy. See this self-proclaimed “love letter to Bank Simple.”

Customer Service Tips: Google Verifies Contact Info via Interstitial Page

From time to time (2x per year?), Google drops an interstitial after login to verify that it has the correct email address and mobile phone number on file.

While financial institutions are far more likely to have current contact info on their online banking customers, it’s still advisable to check in annually to verify contact info, especially with the growing importance of mobile.

And while you are at it, ask customers for alternate email address(es) and phone number(s).

Google interstitial page displayed after logging in to Gmail (7 March 2011)

Google interstitial page displayed after logging in to Gmail (7 March 2011)