by Stephanie Overby

Customer experience means never having to repeat yourself

Jan 17, 20143 mins
Consumer ElectronicsCRM SystemsFinancial Services Industry

Bank of America experiments with real-time video and chat in online, in-person and mobile channels to improve customer service

At Bank of America, there’s a simple metric for measuring customer experience: how well a customer’s interaction compares to his expectations. But simple doesn’t mean easy. Consumers assess their experience against all kinds of companies, not just other banks, says Hari Gopalkrishnan, Bank of America’s managing director of ecommerce, architecture and consumer segments technology. “They’re comparing us to Apple and Amazon and the premium customer-service organizations.” That’s pressure.

For the past two years, the bank has been rolling out new customer-facing features and rethinking back-end systems to improve customer experience across channels.

Last April, the $84.2 billion company introduced ATMs with Teller Assist, which makes tasks like cashing a check–which would usually have to happen during banker’s hours because they require a physical exchange with a teller–available to customers anytime they want.

If they need help during the transaction, they can summon a video teller. In banking, there are self-service channels, such as mobile or online banking, and assisted channels, like a contact center or an in-person teller, says Steve Beasty, a consumer banking technology executive at the bank. “This brings the two together.”

Today’s banking customers expect to complete via digital channels transactions that traditionally required a phone call or branch visit, says customer service consultant Micah Solomon. “Banks are wise to recognize this.” Banks must invest in high-touch customer service, benchmarking themselves against the best players in hospitality, says Solomon.

At Bank of America, hybrid technology underpins its teller-less “express centers,” the first of which opened in Manhattan in August. But they were a challenge. “You take for granted how much a teller actually does during a transaction,” says Beasty. Adding video was tricky. When you send data over a network, if something goes wrong, you resend. But resending distorts live video, he says. “It’s a complex coordination.”

It’s also controversial. Traditional tellers recently picketed a Teller Assist ATM in New York, saying the machines threaten their jobs. Beasty says the bank wants to provide customers with choices, adding that tellers “will continue to play a critical role.”

Other new customer features from the bank marry historically separate channels, such as a bank-by-appointment option available online, by phone or via mobile device. Instead of getting stuck waiting with a lollipop at a branch, says Gopalkrishnan, customers are met by a tablet-wielding representative who knows why they’re there.

If a mobile customer sees a fee she doesn’t understand, she’d normally have to call to try to get an answer. Now the bank is testing a mobile Let’s Talk button that will authenticate her and connect her to a call center agent. IT is piloting a system to authenticate customers by phone or app using real-time analysis of vocal patterns.

Someday, Beasty says, the bank will have ongoing conversations with customers across channels. His goal is that customers never have to repeat themselves. Now that’s pressure.

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to’s IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.