Crossing Channels: Email Confirmation of Call-Center Conversations

image Someone in our house dropped their precious iPhone onto the floor Friday and cracked the screen into a hundred pieces (note 1). So after grabbing a new 4S model, I proceeded to do the online upgrade. Unfortunately, the new phone was unable to connect to AT&T. So, after a bit of Googling turned up no solid clues for a DIY solution, I was forced to dial the carrier’s 800 number.

It turned out to be an easy fix, simply reading off a pair of of 21-digit numbers from the iPhone box while the CSR flipped a few switches on her end (note 2). And I really liked the AT&T rep, who managed to be efficient yet personable (note 3), so it was a net positive experience with the carrier.

But what really impressed me was the followup email I received shortly after completing the call (see below). It outlined what had transpired and provided several useful links to help in the migration from the old phone to the new. In addition, the company wisely encouraged self-service account management with several links below the signature line. Finally, the company inserted the name of the actual rep I’d talked to at the bottom.

Bottom line: I’m a huge fan of email for financial services communications (note 4). It’s timely, it’s searchable, it’s easy to use, it’s instantly archived, it works on every device and it helps the customer feel like their bank/CU/card issuer is holding itself accountable. And if done right, it can save additional costly service calls. All this goodness for virtually no cost.


AT&T email confirmation of call-center service change (11 Aug 2012)

AT&T call center confirmation email

1. I’m not naming names, but she knows who she is.
2. Memo to Apple/AT&T: If you must use 21 digits, please insert some spaces so a human can read them.
3. Even though I have a personal account, I ended up in the "Business Solutions" call center, so their may be a higher level of service in this area.
4. See our report, Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel published two summers ago (subscription).

Feature Friday: Branch Wait-Time Widget

image The inspiration for today’s installment is from The Financial Brand which wrote about a new app from branch automation provider, Better Branches. The widget shows the real-time queue at various branches so customers can better time their visit. The company offers a mobile and online version (screenshot below; see note 1).

While, I’m not convinced the branch feature would be used that often (Really? How many branch-centric customers are going to query their iPhone or hit the website before heading out?), I like the overall concept for these reasons:

  • Differentiates your online/mobile services
  • Shows your concern over the customer’s time
  • Reinforces your branch footprint
  • Demonstrates your tech chops

What is much more helpful for most online/mobile customers is call-center wait times, something Ally Bank positions clearly on its homepage and recently launched in its mobile app.


Better Branches wait-time mobile app and desktop widget (29 June 2012)



Note: No financial institution users were cited in the article. But according to a comment left by Brett King, of Bank 2.0 fame, RBS offers this feature in the UK.

Feature Friday: Ally’s Mobile Cash-Bank Finder & Call-Center-Hold-Time Meter

imageAlly Bank jumped into the mobile fray launching a pair of apps last week, one for customers with account access, and the other an "ATM & Cash-Back Finder," the anyone can use.

imageThe apps are well designed, as you’d expect from a direct bank with 1 million customers and $30 billion on deposit (note 1). But there were two novel features worth highlighting:

1. Real-time wait time in the call center: The mobile app contains a very prominent real-time indicator of just how long you’ll be on hold if you call Ally Bank. I’ve already raved about the Website version of this feature, so I won’t go into much detail. But it makes even more sense to place it front and center on an app on a mobile phone used to call the bank (see left screenshot below).   

2. Cash-back locations included with ATM finder: While I’m not sure if this is an industry first, but after a fairly extensive search in the Apple App Store came up empty, I know it’s not common. Ally combines ATM locations and places where you can get cash back at the POS into a single map and/or list view (see right screenshot below).   

Ally mobile banking app                  Ally ATM & Cash Finder app 
for customers                                              for anyone                           

Call Ally feature in mobile app      Mobile map from Ally shows ATM and cash-back POS locations

Ally also makes sure its website visitors know they’ve gone mobile with a clever graphic in the middle-right of the homepage.

Ally homepage featuring new mobile offering (3 May 2012)

Ally Bank homepage announces new mobile apps


1. Ally announced the 1-million-customer milestone along with mobile apps (press release). Compared to a year ago, accounts were up 30% and deposits grew 25%.
2. While this could increase call-center calls, Ally must believe the customer advocacy positioning makes up for the increased costs.

Self-Serve: Chase Bank Allows Users to Create Their Own Billpay “Proof of Payment” Letters

image Last night, my son was having trouble convincing his college landlord that the Feb rent payment had been sent via online billpay. I was not happy, envisioning an extended conversation with bank customer service, something that is very, very low on my list of Monday night activities.

So I logged in to the Chase account to see if the check had cleared. At best, I expected to see that the payment had been sent via billpay, but no way to prove that the check had actually arrived. 

Bit I was pleasantly surprised. Not only could I see that the payment had cleared, the bank had posted an image of the check so I could see the landlord’s endorsement (see screenshot 1 and 2).

That was great on its own. But wait, there was more.

The bank offers a self-service “Note to Payee” function that automatically creates a letter to document payment details, including a copy of the check image (see screenshot 3). All you have to do is download the PDF and attach it to an email to the payee.

The only hitch in the system is finding these functions. They are located under the Payments & Transfers tab (see screenshot 1). That’s not bad, but it would be more intuitive to place a direct link from the the online statement (My Accounts) to the bill payment details. Also, the “Print to PDF” button is easily missed (screenshot 2).

Still, the entire process took less than two minutes. And I didn’t have to call customer service, a saving of 15 minutes of my time and $15-20 in customer service expense by the bank. 

The letter worked perfectly. Within an hour, the landlord had backed down, apologized for her error, and went back to her day job. This pretty much makes up for the unreadable bit of correspondence I got from the bank last week. 


1. Chase bill payment activity screen (14 Feb 2012)

Chase bill payment activity area within online banking

2. Chase proof-of-payment screen
Note: Print to PDF option

Chase bill payment details page

3. Chase automatically generated “Note to Payee” letter in PDF format

Chase proof of payment letter

Note: See our Online Banking Report for more info on bill payment, messaging, customer service and much more.

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.