UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 942 January 21, 2013

Problems and Solutions for Financial Smartphone Apps

Smartphones are the most common starting place for many online activities, including managing finances. Financial applications are among the top five categories of smartphone apps downloaded and used today, surpassed only by gaming, social media, and news/reading apps. Not only do they save companies money—Forrester indicates that one large bank reports its mobile app transactions are one-tenth the cost of branch transactions—customers find them extremely helpful.

Customers rely on financial apps to accomplish a wide range of important and time-sensitive tasks, with checking a bank account balance, transferring funds, paying bills, and viewing transaction history being the most frequently performed. Our national study of 600 smartphone financial app users, titled, “Customers Seek One-on-One Service in Real-Time on Their Terms,” investigated user behavior when performing these tasks, and found they often encounter app problems.

The study revealed that even though financial management apps are among the most popular, more than 70% of users have reported frustration with one because they could not accomplish the goal they intended to complete. When these problems cannot be quickly and easily resolved, there are negative consequences for the brand, ranging from a lost opportunity to build customer loyalty to loss of referrals and damage to reputation.

Certainly, that’s not what institutions like Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and CitiBank have in mind. So what are the implications of app problems for brands and how can we create a better user experience?

It’s About Time

Users’ perceptions depend on their perspectives, which shift as they interact with brands in real-time. Often, today’s app user is multi-tasking or even moving from device to device, though smartphones are the backbone of media interactions. According to the recent Google study, “The New Multi-Screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior,” smartphones have the highest number of user interactions per day and serve as the most common starting point for activities across multiple screens.

User experience is affected by contextual elements, like the amount of time available to the user and the amount of time needed to complete the task. Other factors include the user’s goal and its importance, their location, and their attitude or state of mind.

Is the user multi-tasking—attempting to pay a bill while walking the dog or riding in a car? Was the decision to perform the task spur-of-the-moment, resulting from having a device, the app, and some available time? In cases like these, the brand is presented with an opportunity to delight the customer with “found-time”—when the use of technology to accomplish tasks makes us feel more efficient and rewarded.

What if the user is pressed for time and will be penalized if the bill isn’t paid on schedule? What if the task could be more easily completed from another device, but another screen or interface is not readily available? In these cases, the customer might be feeling stress right from the onset. Anything that makes the task take longer is likely to be viewed with greater frustration.

In short, when it comes to productivity, it’s all about time.

Financial App Problems

Our research into financial app use showed that the two biggest issues with financial apps are the same ire-inducing problems users experience with all kinds of apps: 1) the app freezing and 2) a dropped Internet connection. Next on the list are insufficient transaction details and the inability to speak directly to a customer service representative when help is needed. Furthermore, three major categories of app problems were noted: problems managing accounts, problems managing rewards, and, interestingly, problems searching for help.

It became apparent from our research that more frustrating for app users than app problems themselves was the inability to solve them. We refer to that inability as an app “dead end”—a situation where a customer experiences an app problem, seeks help, and can’t obtain it. The research also points to a solution: enabling users to access help more quickly and easily may be the most significant way to improve app user experience.

Problem Resolution Attempts

When financial app users experience a problem with an app, 9% said they simply give up on the app while 35% seek help, and 23% temporarily give up, but try later to get help. Of those who seek help, some actively search for guided help to resolve the problem, but most users seek to speak directly with a customer service representative. At this point, a variety of obstacles prevent them from finding the help they need, resulting in a dead-end experience.

A wide range of causes for dead-ends was identified. The most common is that smartphone calls for help are dropped or disconnected (37.9%) or users simply hang up while waiting on hold because the wait time is too long (31%). Another 27.6% are chalked up to customer service agents lacking the knowledge or authority to help—or because customer cannot reach a customer service representative at a time convenient for them.

Dead ends also result from user error, slow response rates during texting or chatting with customer service representatives, difficulties with email customer service conversations, and various other issues.

Consequences of App Dead Ends

After experiencing an app dead end, about one-third of financial app users say they delete the app from their phones, while others say they use the app less frequently. Still others complain about the brand or the app on social media. Twenty-eight percent complain on Facebook while 18% complain on Twitter.

Twenty-nine percent of customers are less likely to recommend the brand to a friend or colleague. Further, these customers rate the brand, on average, two points lower on a scale of one to 10 than before they experienced the dead-end.

While one of the primary benefits of successful app use is found time, when users are unable to finish the task they set out to perform, the result is often the opposite—a sense of time lost or stolen from them. More than 80% of financial app users surveyed said they want a customer service solution that enables them to request a callback from a customer service representative as soon as possible or at a scheduled time of their own choosing, so they can solve the app problem and complete the task.

Championing the User Experience

One bank that has built a live customer service connection or “Conversation Bridge” into a mobile financial app is Bank Hapaolim. The largest bank in Israel, it has a network of branches and offers an extensive range of commercial banking and financial services to its customers.

Through its app, Bank Hapaolim customers can monitor their banking activity, make account changes, and access customer service without waiting on hold or repeating account information. The result is a lifeline instead of a dead end—a seamless user experience that strengthens brand impression and loyalty.

The Conversation Bridge uses smart business rules to dynamically change the callback options offered to callers based on current, projected, and historical call center staffing and queue conditions to prevent queues from becoming overloaded. Additionally, key metrics for measuring performance are recorded and reported to enable stakeholders and IT support staff to optimize the system. Business rules and reports are managed through a single web-based user interface.

Developers can use web services, application templates, and call flows that make it easy to work with the Conversation Bridge platform. An application program interface (API) provides additional development flexibility when needed.

By valuing the user experience, understanding the frustration and brand damage inflicted by app dead ends, and proactively providing a smooth path to help for its valued customers, the Israeli bank has become a technology leader in a field populated by the largest financial institutions in the world.

Conclusion

Smartphone apps are the most common method for users to interact with banks and other financial institutions online, and app dead ends are one of the fundamental problems that lead to dissatisfied customers and damaged brands. A simple solution in the form of an integrated live customer service connection is a useful strategy for empowering app users, increasing app use and adoption, and enhancing brand reputation.

 

Image of smartphone and credit card courtesy Shutterstock.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Eric Camulli, vice president of marketing for Virtual Hold Technology (VHT) is responsible for building a world-class brand focused on virtual queuing and intelligent callback solutions that bridge the customer service gap between all self-service channels of communication and people who can help in contact centers worldwide. A visionary and passionate customer advocate, he has been at the forefront of the customer experience management movement as a public speaker and published writer for the past ten years.

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Looking at common tasks against dead ends in your study - it appears the highest immediate impact is in recognizing that users do not want a simplified (i.e. limited) contextual use. More transaction details and management features and a better overview of those transactions - reason why Mint is so high up.

However, high drop offs and frustrations cited have very little to do with these being mobile applications and much more with them being inapt solutions for user needs. Major financial institutions are not praised as facilitators of great experiences and their existing models will just not cut it in the immediate demand, flexible and dynamic environment today's users are a part of. That's why I am looking at disruptions in the sector right now - there's a huge gap awaiting to be filled - a newcomer Simple is one of my favorite concepts, not sure how scalable the model is but as far as experience it provides it's all that Ally promised to be (never delivered) and much more.