Ally Bank's Prize-Winning Mobile App

Customer Experience
Customer Experience
The bank listened to its customers' requests for a mobile app, reached out to determine their needs, and then designed an application that improves customer experience.

Smartphones are taking over the world, connecting people anytime and anywhere and allowing them to access information that was previously only possible when they were at home. In June the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported that 56 percent of American adults now own smartphones.

It is therefore not surprising that organizations are trying to find ways to leverage this increased popularity of mobile, using mobile devices to connect with customers and prospects without time or geographical constraints.

However, despite the prevalence of mobile, research by FICO found that there is still a large percentage of customers who are yet to use mobile business apps. In fact, while China, Korea, and India ranked as the countries with the highest percentage of mobile native customers, only 16 percent of people in the United States are considered mobile-native responders, why are typically affluent males under the age of 34 who consider themselves as early adopters of technology.

While customers might not always be using mobile apps, this has not stopped companies from developing their own. However, just because a company develops an app it doesn't mean that customers will download it, let alone use it. The brands which have managed to develop engaging apps that capture customers' attention and deliver value are few and far between.

One of the companies that is successfully treading into the realm of mobile is Ally Bank and earlier this year it was awarded Forrester's "Outside In" award in the customer experience design category for its Ally Mobile Banking app that allows customers to conduct a number of banking tasks through their smartphones.

The Ally Mobile Banking app, originally launched in April 2012, provides users with easily accessible and pertinent information and features aimed at helping customers with their banking needs. This includes letting customers know the call wait times before they dial into the contact center, deposit checks remotely, transfer money between accounts, make payments, and view balances and account histories, all from a mobile device. According to Gayle Wellborn, Ally's digital and brand executive, the Ally Mobile Banking App together with a second application to help customers locate ATMs and cash back locations "align with the bank's philosophy of providing customer-friendly products and services as well as placing an emphasis on the end user's experience."

In order for an app to be successful it has to deliver on customers' expectations and improve their experiences. And Ally's customers were asking for a mobile app. Customer requests for a mobile app reached an all time high in the spring of 2011, Wellborn notes. "Ally Bank had a choice to make-go for speed to market with a branded, third-party offering, or design its own proprietary Ally Bank mobile experience." In line with the bank's strategy of delivering a great customer experience, the organization "chose to do the right thing" for customers by creating its own app that was in line with the brand, customers needs, and the overall Ally Bank experience. Further, by creating the ATM & Cash Back Locator app, Ally was extending its reach beyond its own customer base and being relevant to the general public.

Customer insights help the design

With hundreds of apps available for customers to download, it's imperative that a business is able to deliver on customer needs. For Ally Bank the app development process was not an overnight affair but required nine weeks of extensive work. "Ally Bank was determined to find a way to make the experience worth the wait," Wellborn notes. This process started with a two-day creative session by the user experience team during which the members looked at the customer experience they wanted to deliver, the barriers to success, and potential opportunities of touch design and emerging technology. The team then carried out a detailed analysis of the mobile landscape and conducted customer interviews to create personas.

Customer feedback was imperative during the design process and as soon as it had a test plan designed, the team started to recruit mobile banking customers for a baseline focus group that looked at the bank's proposed design and competitors' apps. Customers were asked where they use mobile banking, what they use it for, and why they use their smartphones for their banking needs. The team continued to collect feedback during formal user testing to get information that would help it finalize the product. The feedback was valuable for Ally Bank to create the best experience. For example customers noted that designs that used accordions and drop-down menus were frustrating and annoying. "Users insisted that the design should progressively show the flow and the details," Wellborn explains. This lead to the evolution of "thumb control" and "tap n go" strategies that allow customers to quickly log in, check balances, transfer funds, and pay bills using one hand while on the go. "We knew we had a winner during final testing when a [participant in her 60s] paid a bill with the app and she had never used an iPhone before," notes Wellborn.

While the User Experience team was the group in charge of creating the app, the development process required cross-company collaboration. "Many experts and artists came together across the company and created an experience so seamless that the bank's customers wouldn't see the brushstrokes," Wellborn notes. In fact, the extensive groundwork meant a 96 percent task completion rate during the final round in testing-the highest in Ally Bank's design history.

The app has gone down well with customers who want to carry out transactions while on the go. In fact, following the launch, the average mobile use is representing 32 percent of monthly total bank logins. This, Wellborn notes, reflects customers' ability to access their bank accounts any time using their smartphones. Since launching the eCheck Deposit in November 2012, when the app was updated, Ally Bank has seen a 34 percent increase in the number of such deposits that offer a convenient option for busy bank clients. Further, eCheck volume went up by 41 percent.

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