A lesson from Bank of America — Keeping a customer perspective



As an internet retailer, I have had to learn the hard way that our customers do not necessarily see our sites the way we see them. In fact, when we conduct usability studies, I am often shocked to find that what is very obvious to me escapes them completely.

Does that make them stupid? Of course not. Their perspective is just different. In their eyes, the retailer is the one that is stupid.

This hit home to me this week in a confrontation I had with Bank of America. I had one of those 0% teaser rates and set up the account online to deduct the minimum each month. The day the teaser rate expired, I paid off the account in full and closed the account.

The next month, they took money out of my checking account to pay the account even though it had no balance and was closed. I called them and asked them why. They told me I had to go in online and turn off the autopayment even though the account was closed. I told them that was a stupid policy, but logged in and cancelled (I thought) the auto-payment.

Next month, they took money from my checking account again. I called and asked why. They told me that I did not really cancel the auto-payment but just cancelled one month of the auto-payment. I asked them to just stop the payments from their end and they said that they could not–only I had the ability to do that. I told them how stupid that was, but spent a few minutes searching my online account for a way to turn off auto-payments for good.

As hard as I tried, I could not find a place to stop auto-payments for good. I told them that, and they told me it was my fault (even though they were unable to tell me how to do it over the phone). Finally, they said they would take care of it on their end.

That brings us to this week. I noticed again that they hit my checking account two more times during the past two months. I called and asked why (I may have again mentioned how stupid I thought Bank of America is). Again, they told me that they were unable to stop auto-payments on their end–only I could do that online. I logged in again, and try as hard as I could, I found no way to stop auto-payments. After the conversation took a rude turn, she finally went and found someone to turn off auto-payments for the account.

My guess is that I will see another debit on my checking account next month. I may have to change bank accounts before this all over. Let me say to Bank of America–you are very stupid. Your online account functionality is stupid, and your customer service is ridiculous.

But, I can’t be too upset. Thanks Bank of America for lending me so much money with no interest for a year. And if you send me another offer for large amounts of money at no interest, I will be glad to take you up on it again.

That brings me back to internet retail. Don’t fall to the Bank of America level of stupidity. Here are some things that online retailers simply have to do.

1) Find a way to design from a customer perspective. That means you cannot rely on designers to design something that looks good. You have to run usability tests or surveys or something else to collect data that helps you design for your customers instead of yourself.

2) Make sure your customer service understands the functionality of the site. Give classes, let them place test orders, etc. Also, drill into their heads that it is not the customers’ problem if they find your site hard to use–it is your problem. If an average customer struggles with your site, they are not the ones that are stupid!

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Hey Greg,

    I had a related story about banking and customer service earlier this week at the link below. It’s not about the online experience but is more broadly based on the talk value of a standard commodity of banking. It relates to your story because BOA did something exceptional to generate talk … in your case exceptionally wrong. My hope is that they’ll read your post, my post and turn the tide.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

    http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/2007/12/11/why-corporations-dont-understand-sharing/

  • http://www.seowoman.com/ Adrienne Doss

    This is a good article, but the use of “prospective” instead of “perspective” throughout the story is making my inner Grammar Cop all twitchy. O.o

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Adrienne – good eye – we’ve all made those mistakes. The article has been updated.

  • http://www.vitabase.com Greg Howlett

    Thanks Adrienne. I will pull out my dictionary and fix my own perspective.

  • Nick

    Click on bill pay, then payments, then automatic payments. I think it would be in there…?

  • http://www.steventruong.com Steven

    I hate BofA, they suck as a bank. I’ve had them several years ago, needless to say, my account was opened for less than a week. Yeah, its that bad…

  • http://prmeetsmarketing.wordpress.com CSalomon-Lee

    LOL – I don’t bank with BOA but had some similar issues with Citibank. There is no way for me to stop getting their emails every month since I no longer have an account, but guess where I have to go to turn this off? Yep – my online account.

    I’ve written to them TWICE, called several times to no avail. Check out the full deets on my blog:
    http://prmeetsmarketing.wordpress.com/2007/10/30/where-dell-succeeds-citibank-fails/

  • http://www.planetmike.com Michael Clark

    Not to be cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you closed your accounts, then the next month when they try to steal money from you and can’t, you’ll be hit with an enormous non-payment penalty that they’ll report to the credit reporting agencies.

  • http://www.interfaithnetworking.com/myblog Glenn

    Andy,
    You have brought a real life situation home for the web developer. That was a nice Wake Up call from the customer’s perspective. Of course I have to say, you aren’t the only BOA Customer to think they are insanely stupid. My parent’s complained about BOA’s insistence on charging late fees even if a payment was received at a BOA branch on the Due date, and it didn’t matter if it was in cash and in person.

    (In fact I received an Credit Card offer from them yesterday that I promptly shredded)
    (Bad Customer Service costs more than a single customer or a single transaction it costs a possible lifetime of transactions and could cost transactions of whomever that person influences)

    Thanks for the real life saga!

    Glenn

  • http://www.ychange.com Small Business Marketing

    One of the usability tests a large computer company had was to let a group of 3rd graders use whatever they were trying to test. If it passed they considered it almost user friendly. However, the ultimate test was to give it to a group of their executives to use. If they could use it and not have problems, then it was considered acceptable for prime time usage.

    I suggest that you write a letter to the Corporate VP of BofA in charge of Customer Relations and make that suggestion.

    Whatever you do, don’t think that by changing banks it will get better. Wells Fargo did something like that to me and they keep doing it to my significant other.

  • Joe Buhler

    Agree with your comment about the stupidity of BofA and most of their brethren out there, they’re one of a kind!
    For that very reason I never enter into any auto payments but use reminders for manual monthly payments. Remember the Milk is a great web based tool for that.

  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    Are they really that stupid? I do agree with your advice in general for retailers, but think about it. Bank of America is essentially stealing money from your account every month and you still thanked them in this post.

    Maybe they’re not as stupid as it first appears.