Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the financial system in the United States has been going through a lot of upheaval lately. Many banks have been taken over by other banks. If you want to learn how that’s all gone down, I highly recommend listening to Chana Joffe-Walt’s story, Unbreaking the Bank, which aired on This American Life on March 27, 2009.
But let’s focus for a minute on the customers of those banks that were taken over, and more specifically, let’s focus on me. Because I happened to have accounts at two banks that were taken over by other banks. The new banks handled the transitions in each of those cases in radically different ways – one was an excellent user experience for me as the customer, and the other was such a nightmare, I’m going to be closing my account.
There’s a lot to be learned about customer care and user experience from these stories – all businesses go through some sort of internal upheaval at some point. The challenge is, how to deal with that all while taking care of your customers in the best possible way.
The Excellent User Experience or
Washington Mutual becomes Chase
Shortly before the takeover of Washington Mutual by Chase, I’d actually had a pretty rotten experience which involved someone cloning my debit card and using it to withdraw upwards of $1,000 from my checking account without my consent or knowledge. The way Washington Mutual handled that was abominable, and I was on the verge of closing my account there when I learned the bank was being taken over by Chase.
I braced for the worst. I had no idea what was going to happen. Did I need to get a new debit card? Did I need new checks? Would I have to change my direct deposit information? Would I have access to my money? I was a little stressed out about the whole thing.
But you know what? It went off flawlessly. I continued logging into my account at Washington Mutual’s web site until one day I tried to visit and was greeted by a message telling me I now had to log into my account at chase.com. I headed over to chase.com, and lo and behold, the exact same username and password I’d used at Washington Mutual worked at Chase.com, and there was my account, every penny intact.
Shortly afterward, I received a Chase debit card in the mail. My Washington Mutual debit card continued to work until I activated the Chase debit card, making the transition from one to the other seamless.
I never changed my direct deposit information, it just continued to work.
My checks continued to work, and still work to this day, even though they say Washington Mutual on them.
In short, this was an excellent user experience. I was taken care of every step of the way. I did not have to call customer service even once for help figuring out what was going on. I always had access to my account, always had a debit card and checks that worked, and could always access my account online. Chase did it up right. Kudos to them.
The Horrible User Experience or
California National Bank becomes US Bank
A few months after Washington Mutual became Chase, I got word that my other bank, California National Bank was being taken over by US Bank. Lulled into a false sense of security by the beauty and simplicity of my experience with Chase’s bank takeover, I shrugged off the news and went on with my life.
Oh, how naive I was.
Everything that Chase did right for its customers, US Bank did wrong. All those worries I’d had when I first learned about Chase taking over Washington Mutual were realized.
First, let’s talk about online account access. When the California National Bank web site stopped working, I headed over to US Bank to sign in. But the username and password from the CalNational site didn’t work. I tried a few times, then remembered seeing a letter about online account access in the mail from US Bank. I dug it out of my pile of mail and read through it. It gave step by step instructions for setting up online account access. Basically, my account had been moved over to US Bank, but online account access didn’t get moved over.
I tried to follow the instructions in the letter, but they were complicated and I kept running into roadblocks. Frustrated, I called US Bank customer service. The department handling transitioned accounts was closed for the day. I had to call back the next day.
The next morning, I finally talked to someone who could help me out and got online account access set up for my account. Whew. One thing done.
But now, let’s talk about my debit card. One Sunday evening, I headed to the ATM at the bank to deposit my birthday check from my mom. I noticed the ATM had been replaced with a US Bank ATM machine. I walked up, put my CalNational debit card in the slot and…nothing happened. Nothing.
The screen never updated, pushing buttons did nothing, and I couldn’t get my card back. I had to go into the bank the next morning to deposit my check and tell them what had happened to my debit card. The teller checked with the manager to see if my card had been found in the ATM that morning but it had not. They marked the card stolen in their system, and told me that they couldn’t order me a new debit card that day and that I would have to wait for my US Bank debit card to arrive in the mail, which should be within the next two weeks.
Two weeks went by, three weeks. I called customer service to ask how much longer it would be before the US Bank debit card arrived. The customer service rep said he did not know and could not tell me but that it shouldn’t be much longer. A couple weeks later, I called back again and was told the same thing. A couple weeks after that I called again, and was told the same thing.
Finally, I went into the bank to speak with a teller directly. She looked up my account and said I had not been issued a US Bank debit card simply because there had been no active debit card on my account when the account was transitioned. I had to fill out an application for a debit card and wait 10 more days before I finally had the card in my hands, about three months after it was eaten by the ATM.
Do you really even want to get me started on direct deposit? I never received any notices from the bank that my direct deposit information had to be updated. Just suddenly one day, my employer attempted to deposit my check and got a message saying the routing and account number were invalid. This was just two weeks ago, months after the bank takeover. I’m now waiting for my checks to be returned to me for the same reason, even though I’ve received no notices about needing new checks.
I tried to go on US Bank’s web site and order new checks, but the user experience for ordering new checks is absurd and horrible and I couldn’t figure out how to place an order for checks that cost less than $80.
Customers Come First
No matter what is going on internally in your business, customers come first. Without customers, you have no business, and they should be treated like first-class citizens. They should know what to expect, and you should do everything you can to provide an excellent user experience for them, no matter how they choose to interact with your business. That means your web site is easy to use and helpful, whoever answers the phone when they call is helpful and friendly, whoever is there to greet them when they walk through your door is helpful and friendly, and so on.
There are so many ways that your business touches the lives of your customers. Make sure that each and every time it happens, the experience is as great as it can be. Be like Chase, not like US Bank.