My wallet was stolen yesterday. What a nightmare — I feel violated. This morning I've been making the rounds through all of my financial services institutions. That's what I want to talk about.

Our research shows that most firms agree that improving customer experience is a top priority. My personal experiences this morning tell a sad story. The following reflects my experience with Bank of America, Capital One, and American Express.

  • Automated system hell: All of the stolen/lost numbers I called took me to automated systems which promptly asked for my card #. I don't have my card! Why are you asking me for the number? Finally, after 3-4 times of not answering or just plugging in random numbers, the systems ask you to say "lost or stolen card" or press a number. I told the very friendly voice system at American Express "lost or stolen card" and then got a prompt saying "We will transfer you to our touch key system" (What??), I then got another automated system that asked me to use my keypad to enter my card #! HELP!!
  • Internally focused — not customer focused — process. Not one of the financial institutions handled my call as a single contiguous process. I had to speak to three people at Bank of America (four, actually, but I will get to that in a second), three people at Capital One (one quite rude — who transferred me immediately when I said I didn't have my card number), and two people at American Express. With each transfer, I had to go through another automated phone system which asked for my card number (which I still didn't have). Then, when I got the human, they too, asked for the card number. I'll cut American Epxress a little slack here, because the first rep I spoke with actually hung on through the transfer process.

    That brings me back to Bank of America… The woman I spoke with about my ATM card gave me three other numbers that I she told me I HAD to call. Turns out these were the numbers for card services, business card services, and government card services. But, she didn't tell me that when she gave me the numbers (even when I asked) — she just said I HAD to call. Needless to say, since I don't have any of those accounts, I didn't HAVE to make the calls. The card services woman I spoke was very patronizing, "No, no maam, you don't have an account with us so you don't need to call…" I called the other two numbers to get the intro so I could just find out who I was calling but I didn't bother to talk to anyone.

    Bank of America also asked me for my service password — Huh? You mean my PIN code? "No, your service password, maam." Never heard of it… Turns out they didn't really need it. Also turns out that the service password was my mother's maiden name – so why didn't you ask for that then?

  • Process confusion: Perhaps even worse than the siloed process that requires customers to speak with so many people and make separate calls is the fact that there is confusion with the process. Both Bank of America and American Express tranferred me to the fraud department to deal with the charges on my accounts. As it turns out, the fraud department can't do anything about those charges until they are actually posted (as of now they are pending). So, I have to keep checking and when they are posted, I have to call back — sigh! When I asked why I was transferred in the first place, "I don't know maam, they should have known better…" Capital One also tranferred me to the fraud department but when I didn't have my card # the rep slammed (immediately transferred me with no explanation) me somewhere else. The woman I spoke with told me that I had already given all of the information required to the FIRST person I spoke with and that I would receive a fraud report within 7-10 business days. We'll see what happens…
  • Insensitive CSRs: The service reps from Bank of America and Capital One greeted me with a cheerful, "How are you today!?" How the heck do you think I am? I just called the stolen/lost card line. How about some sympathy folks? And, when we ended the call, "Have a great day!" — do you really think so? I have to say that American Express stands head and shoulders above the others on this count. The service rep said, "Are you OK?" What a small thing, but what a difference — somebody cares about me!

Why can't we get this right?

Reporting a lost or stolen card is a standard issue that, unfortunately, happens all the time. Most customers going through this are stressed and upset when they ring their financial institution to cancel their cards and check their accounts. Here are some steps that financial services firms should take:

  • Someone needs to take ownership for the end-to-end customer experience. Marketing leaders, I nominate you! Aren't you responsible for my future value, my loyalty, my willingness to promote the brand?
  • Enough with the automated systems already. Yeah, I know you save money if the call handling is automated. But, what % of lost/stolen card calls require speaking with a human? My guess, the majority. So, patch me right through to a human please and you can save yourself a few precious seconds by not asking for the card number which very few customers will have if they don't have their card (and which they couldn't provide previously when asked by the automated system).
  • Map out the process… Financial services firms probably get 1000's of stolen card calls every day. It's a standard situation. There are lots of other standard situations too — identify them. Start with the most common and map out the step-by-step process, identify where the handoffs are, figure out what can be done to make the transitions seamless, develop training around the process, educate your employees, give them a process guide. If a fraud case can't be created until transactions are posted (not pending) then don't transfer the customer to the fraud department in the first place (it will save you money!!). Give the customer instructions about what to do. Better, yet, sign them up right then and there for online alerts (this = great service and more data to support future marketing).
  • … from the customer's point of view. I get it, different business groups handle different parts of the process. But why is this at the expense of my time and sanity? Figure out how to seamlessly handoff between your internal silos so that the customer isn't caught in the middle. Long term, you need to get your technology integrated to support seamless data handoff (I understand that it's hard). But, at a minimum, if you are going to pass me around, have person 1 stay on the line and hand me off to person 2. Why should I have to explain my story (and provide my card number) again to person 2, when it was person 1 who told me I had to speak with person 2 (and transferred me). This will help smooth the process for the customer. It will also help teach your internal people the process which they apparently don't know (it's very frustrating to wait to speak to someone for 10 minutes only to be told you shouldn't have been transferred in the first place).
  • Have empathy for the customer. Folks, this one is a simple. I called the lost/stolen card line so don't lead in with the super chipper, "How are you today?!" and close with "Now, you have a great day." Anyone who called that line surely isn't having a great day. Train staff to listen, to emphathize. Although the process I went through with American Express was just as disjointed as what I eperienced with Bank of America and Capital One, my attitude towards American Express is much more positive simply because the service rep said, "Oh, I am so sorry to hear that. Are you ok?" How nice to know someone cares.

This is just my own personal diatribe. Forrester publishes lots of insights that can help financial services marketers improve customer experience. I'll take the liberty of suggesting a few helpful reports:

Moreover, attend Forrester's Finance Forum June 26-27 in NYC. The theme of the event is "Beating The Competition With Superior Customer Experiences." We'll see you there!

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