How much data do you think a bank captures about you?  A digital trail is left by each and every interaction with an institution e.g. payment over a branch counter, phone call to check the status of a mortgage application or a cash withdrawal from an ATM but just how much?  There’s the obvious things such as transaction records (I took £10 out of the ATM which debited my account) but banks actually capture much, much more information about your activity (where the ATM was located, which organisation owned the ATM, whether you got your PIN right first time etc.).  A phone call generates even more information ‘This call may be recorded for training purposes’ is a familiar start to calls with most service organisations but what is recorded?  More importantly, what is done with all this data?

The vast majority of the captured data is used by the organisation. Fed into huge CRM systems to track your relationship, into data warehouses for all manner of analytic purposes such as calculating your propensity to buy the hot new product, fuel for anti fraud systems looking for strange patterns of behaviour.  This data is very valuable to an organisation. This data is also very valuable to an individual. How many organisations feed back the value of this data to their customers? How many feed back the behaviours this data is showing? How many feed back the changes you could make if you did things slightly differently? I think that data is very thin on the ground…

Here are a few examples of the value of feedback. From one of my favourite forms of transport, trains. Take a look at this tube information display from London Underground. Notice anything missing?

Let’s see what it looks like with the missing piece added.

How does that piece of extra feedback change the whole context of the display? Before it just displayed the ‘what’. The ‘when’ adds so much more value.

Another train based scenario. You are sat on a stationary train admiring a beautiful hedgerow your mind wonders to why have you stopped? When will we be moving again? And what is the impact on the time I will arrive at my destination.  Think how many times the train guard has given you all those bits of information during one of their oh so eloquent Tannoy announcements. Ever had to ask a guard for a bit more information?

Final feedback lesson from trains. Timeliness. On the more modern trains in the East Midlands fleet that operate between Sheffield and London the seat reservations are displayed on small digital screens above the seat. At busy times (it seems) the reservation notices are not enabled when you first get on the train. Only once the train is 10 minutes out of the station do they get switched on causing a nightmare domino effect as people move seats, other people end up standing and generally the atmosphere on the train plummets to levels below the normal disdain laden malaise to outright annoyance. Provide the feedback on time and the problem would be avoided.

So what about an example from banking. Here is a line showing charges are due to be applied to an account.

What is missing from this information? The why...the what....the WTF?!

Personal Financial Management Tools such as Mint, Strands etc. Have been showing users more about their money for several years now. Pretty graphs showing your spending in a more usable way than a list of transactions. Allowing customers to see if they made a change to the amount of coffee they buy they could save an extra £x a year which could be used to pay off their mortgage x years earlier. Banks in the UK seem to be finally catching on. Lloyds recently launched their Money Manager platform. Rumours suggest Barclays will do something similar at some point this year.

Pretty feedback graphs from Lloyds MoneyManager

Natwest have been sending out an annual statement. A paper based PFM if you like that shows your annual expenditure highlighting where you spent the most money e.g. Tesco. To me these things feels very much like stage one. This is what you spend. This is where you spend it. This is what will happen if you change this behaviour. The quicker stage one becomes the normal functionality level for all banks the better. What interests me is what comes next. Feedback on your financial behaviour is only one element of a banking relationship and while it may be the most important, what insights can be gleaned from all the other forms of interaction?

The telephone call. So much information related to the act of dialing a beloved call center. Where you dialed from, the menu options you chose, did you correctly enter your security details, the length of time spent in a queue, the length of time on a call, the number of times you were passed around departments, what those departments were, who you spoke to, call reference numbers, the actions of what you actually called up to do, the entries on the various systems those actions incurred…oh and of course the audio of your call that was recorded for training purposes. All that information is captured. Next to none of it is fed back. You get the call length on your phone bill and if the actions were transactional ones i.e. move some money, you will see that in your online banking. But what is the value of feedback from the rest?

Relaying the menu options you chose might make the route easier next time you call, who you actually spoke with and your call reference number at hand online instead of scribbled on the back of an envelope, the time it took you to complete your transaction or the number of times you have called to try to get something resolved, call information could be linked to transactions/complaints and show you the trail of activity and if you do not remember what the operator said you can even listen back to your call to jog your memory.

Another area where I feel banks are poor is around security, or rather feedback to customers about security. Let me explain. Today I have no record of who and when someone logged onto my internet banking or accessed my account via telephone banking or wondered into a branch and tried to do something, even if it is me doing the accessing. Now hopefully strangers attempting to access my accounts does not occur too often but this data is most certainly captured by a bank and if something strange is noticed let me know (and not just by suspending my accounts). Why not play it back? Show logon/call/visit times, show IP/Mac Address of the device used to access (in fact why don’t banks certify devices you might use to access Internet banking? home laptop, work laptop, my mobile etc.). Modern browsers can send location data as well. Why not ask if users would like this information saved and shown to them in their logon activity records? Any suspicious logons (or attempts) could be highlighted to the customer as well as being flagged internally.  Yes  this might scare some people and generate calls but it should also act as a reassuring log to check.  Data already captured, fed back to people for their benefit. Feedback.

The Facebook attempted logon warning is an excellent piece of user security feedback.

As well as logon activity why not show a record of my actions undertaken online. Clicked on this advert, transferred this money, canceled a standing order,  called the mortgage helpline, placed a complaint. Show me what my relationship with your organisation looks like. Which leads onto how my relationship with your organisation is perceived. The above data is captured, stored in huge data warehouses and is fed into analytic engines to work out things about you based on your activity. Calculations are undertaken and you may get fed into a marketing campaign based on not only your demographics but your interactions with the bank. Scores may be calculated on your behaviours and applied to your profile showing what your actions mean today and what they may mean for the future.  If you make a decision about me why not feed that back to me. Show me how you worked it out and why. Honesty is the best policy isn’t it?

Applying for a product. The sales process of some banking products is less than straight forward. The mortgage is an especially complex process and one that is distinctly lacking in feedback, especially online feedback. Moving house is stressful. The complexity in arranging the mortgage adds to that. The amount of chasing that needs to be done between solicitor and bank. Chasing up to find out where the mortgage process is up to. Who or what is holding it up? When will my money be available. Today a lot of that information can only be gleaned by telephone calls or face to face meetings. Let us switch tangents wildly and consider Dominos Pizzas. Today I can order a pizza of my choice, personalised to the nth degree, I can see who is making it, I can see when it goes in the oven and I can see when it is ready for collection or where the delivery boy is in relation to my house. I can track a £15 pizza to this extent, all via my mobile, but I can’t track a £250,000 mortgage to anything like this level. The milestones/progress of this application must be captured but is not fed back. Something is wrong here.

Ever since I first set eyes on Friendfeed about 3/4 years ago it was obvious to me that banking relationships are very much like activity streams. Today the activity feedback is almost entirely transactional, one way broadcast i.e. marketing messages and customer service issues. This needs to change. So much more happens and is captured but it is not fed back. It would seem our enlightened government also agrees.

A recent publication called Better Choices, Better Deals, sets out ‘To put consumers in charge so that they are better able to get the best deals for themselves individually and collectively as well as looking at ways to empower the most vulnerable who may not otherwise benefit from these exciting developments.‘ On of the key themes of this piece is ‘A shift away from a world in which certain businesses tightly control the information they hold about consumers, towards one in which individuals, acting alone or in groups, can use their data or feedback for their own or mutual benefit.’ It will be interesting to see where this goes.

We are also seeing tighter regulation on what kind of tracking companies can take online. The new EU tracking cookie directives are making companies think about how they track what customers do online. Why not ask permission and show them what you are doing and why? The recent Apple location tracking furor shows what happens when companies are sneaky/negligent but look at how many people then went and visualised the data Apple captured. If they had asked and fed back would their have been an in issue and would it just have been another case of Apple doing something cool?

This stance also aligns with the work by Doc Searls on Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), Which aims to make customer data available to the people who create and allow them to take it where ever they want and to use how ever they want.

Is this just some Utopian pipe dream? Or do we need to see a shift in the way data is fed back to people? What implications have I avoided/glossed over? What compliance/legal issues have I willfully disregarded? What customer needs have I failed to take into account? Please give feedback.