I once read that, along with the death of a child and divorce, changing residences ranks among the most stressful events that can occur during one's life. So when I recently moved from Connecticut to California, I wanted to incur as little stress as possible. Never did I think opening a bank account online could cause such aggravation.
I don't want to embarrass the popular nation-wide bank headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., so I'll refrain from using the name. And I won't tell you that it's the bank whose slogan, "Your Customer is No Longer Your Customer, He's Your Client," plasters buses and billboards.
The bank I refer to is one for which I completed online banking forms a couple weeks prior to my move, only to receive no checkbook or bankcard in my mailbox when I arrived at my new home. Instead I found a signature card and instructions to return it to the bank through the good ol' U.S. Postal Service to activate my account.
I still thought I could get immediate activation by hand-delivering the card to a branch during my lunch hour. Silly me. The service rep admitted that opening an account at the bank is instantaneous; opening one online is not.
So I admitted defeat and mailed the card. After 10 days, still nothing. During a second visit to the bank--during another lunch hour--I discovered that the card had yet to be processed. The teller, understanding my pain, broke the rules and activated the account.
Although this situation eventually resolved itself, the experience left me with a sour taste for my bank and for online financial services in general. Is this vertical marketplace still woefully unprepared to offer online banking services? And don't increasing numbers of customers want these services?
No Deposit, No Return
Jim Bruene, editor of industry newsletter Online Banking Report, confirms that 12 million households have used online banking this year, up from 8 million in 1999. "[Online banking] is no longer a niche. It has become the majority."
But will the niche stay strong, or will people run scared back to their banks to wait in line during lunch if and when they have the same experience as mine? To avoid this situation, banks must increase efficiency, engender loyalty and provide superior levels of customer service. At the heart of this convergence rests the call center, which must provide a 360-degree view of all banking options and services. Deploying an integrated contact point to address the kinds of problems I and many others encounter when dealing with banks is the first step toward customer retention. What happened to my integrated experience? Had my bank not heard of CRM?
The problem, says Bruene, lies in traditional bank infrastructure. Many banks are small and autonomous, and if branch managers aren't e-mail savvy, they may not fully embrace online service requests. And large banks, he says, tend to experience communication difficulties, but on a much grander scale. "Often there are a lot of chains in getting something resolved. Systems have been in place for many years, but online banking is new...There are more chances for errors," Bruene explains.
Marco Emrich, CEO and president, Sedona, an eCRM solutions provider for financial services, says most community banks with limited assets don't have the expertise to deploy such systems. And even if they do, there's another problem: "It's not a software or hardware problem; I call it a 'peopleware' problem," says Emrich.
My sister recently encountered a "peopleware" problem when she moved to Pennsylvania and attempted to open an online account prior to the move. She, too, had no new account information waiting for her when she arrived. Her bank representative told her the woman who processes online requests left on a maternity leave. My sister's account application was left untouched because one woman in the entire bank decided to have a baby.