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Annoying Customers by Deploying Technology Not Yet Ready for Primetime

Posted by Balwant C Surti (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:47 AM

Some months ago, my workplace Employee ID card was replaced by a smart card with an embedded chip and the simple swipe at the turnstile permitting entry, now also needs a fingerprint scan. Whereas in the past I could enter with one swipe, now I need to scan my fingerprint twice (sometimes more) every day. If I do manage to get in at the first scan, I am unreasonably happy. I am one of those gadget freaks and like to try out new things all the time, but this fingerprint scan at the gate beats me! I thought there was a knack to it that escaped me, but no, that isn't so. Having observed other people go through the multiple scan process has convinced me that this is standard fare! The technology works, in the sense that it lets me in and out everyday and I haven't yet got inextricably stuck. But it's frustrating as compared to the earlier experience where one swipe was enough. Clearly, the fingerprint scanning technology works but I feel that it is not ready for primetime. If this technology were to be used with customers, they would get annoyed and competitors would look to take advantage of that.
Banking today is big on technology. I'll cite a few examples. My bank provides a virtual keyboard for entering the password. It's a picture of a keyboard on the screen, on which you click with the mouse pointer, but the letters, symbols and numbers are all jumbled up. My nine-character password takes forever to enter, as I painstakingly look for each letter, number and special character (all of which are mandatory in my password). And each time I visit the login page (or re-enter the password) the keys get scrambled again! And they are tiny, so sometimes you do click the wrong key. Fortunately, it is optional and unless I am operating from what I feel is an unsafe, public environment, I just skip the virtual keyboard. The bank's idea of safety is not at all user-friendly. And because I don't use it, I'm also circumventing the additional security. The bank feels that they have made the site safer, but it is not really so.

Another example is voice recognition technology. This is rampant in banks in the US and also at most call centers, be they from a car insurance company, a cable operator or a telco. My voice is not designed for recognition by whatever system or software they use and though I try to sound as American as possible, it is to no avail. Fortunately, some of them allow me to use my phone dialing keypad to key in responses and that has made it easy to bypass voice recognition and get the work done. As for the rest, I  struggle until I get to a human call center agent. Voice recognition works but is not a technology for primetime and will just annoy customers if they don't have alternatives.

Right now, mobile phone apps from banks are a real challenge and annoyance for customers. Every bank that I have an account with wants me to use their mobile app on my Android Phone. I resisted the urge until recently, when I decided to install apps from four banks; it was a horrible experience. Installation was painful and I have still not managed to get one of the apps started (it is installed but I can't do anything else with it). Functionality is even worse. For some reason, most of the banks insist that I install the app only on the device with the registered phone number. I use one phone number for making calls and another for data access because I want my voice call phone battery to last longer than a day. It looks like I can't install apps on my data phone unless I register the phone number with the bank. The apps internally send a text message to verify the phone number and do not allow access to my bank data if the phone number does not match! Also, once all the checks are done, the access to the app is protected with a flimsy 4 or 6-digit numerical mPIN, when my Smartphone is easily capable of entering an alphanumeric password! When most customers are worried about security on the mobile phone, protecting the app with a 4 or 6 digit NUMERIC only pin does not make me feel secure. Also most of the apps are not able to show my Term Deposits and that's the one thing I check the most! I prefer viewing the Internet web application through the browser any day. Only one bank app came anywhere near acceptable and would have been had it not got stuck in my very first login! The others are pretty much dull or not so useful or both - clearly not ready for primetime and just there because it seems the thing to do.

I don't know why banks don't get the message that using technology, which annoys customers is doing them no good. I suppose the lure of being the first off the block, or the pressure to at least be "me too" drives this to some extent. Or perhaps it is the pressure of meeting impossible deadlines that results in such technology going out to customers before it is ready for primetime. But study after study shows that customers are not happy with this approach. Technology must either provide a great customer experience or deliver solid value. Gimmicks have no place - they attract customers, then annoy them and often drive them away. That's a lesson that banks are yet to learn.

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