August 02, 2011

I've edited literally thousands of articles on financial services firms' use of technology to attract and retain customers, improve efficiency, gain a competitive advantage and, ultimately, boost the bottom line as the group content manager for TechWeb's InformationWeek Financial Services group for the past three years (and as managing editor for four years before that). I've rarely felt compelled to share my own experiences, however. Until now.

That said, the opinions expressed in this post are my own, not those of TechWeb or any of my colleagues.

For years, financial services companies have looked to the retail sector as an example of what's possible when creating the customer experience -- both online and in brick-and-mortar "stores." But my recent experience -- which touched on many of the technologies we've covered over the years -- with Walmart.com serves as an example of everything not to do when providing customer service.

The incident started innocently enough: After considerable research on the best product and price for my needs (conducted online, of course), I pulled up Walmart.com on my iPad, placed the item in my cart and then attempted to checkout. That's where things started to go horribly wrong.

Despite providing all of my correct payment information, the site repeatedly cited an error with my credit card ID number -- you know, the three-digit code on the back of your card that's supposed to provide added security. Finally, the site informed me that due to too many failed attempts, I could no longer use that card to make a purchase on the site. Customer experience failure No. 1.

My first move was to look for a phone number to contact the retailer and sort out the issue. Unfortunately, no phone number can be found anywhere on Walmart's site -- only email addresses for customer support. Customer experience failure No. 2.

Naturally, assuming there was a problem with my card, my next move was to call my credit card company. After navigating a frustrating interactive voice response system (IVR) and waiting on hold for several minutes (Customer experience failure No. 3), to my surprise, the bank's customer service rep told me the charge had been authorized! Questioned if that meant the company would pay the retailer even if I didn't receive the product I ordered, the rep said (again, to my surprise), "Yes." It's our job to make the payment, not to confirm that you receive what you ordered, she explained to me.

Really? So now my credit card issuer is denying any responsibility to help me combat online fraud? Customer experience failure No. 4.

I promptly instructed the CSR to cancel any authorization for payment to ensure that I didn't pay for an item I wouldn't receive.