Glasses & Keyboard

Author: Mercedes

With the environment of technology constantly changing, FirstBank has kicked our technological efforts into full gear. We are diligently working to release an app (released on 9/17/13 and can be downloaded from the Apple App store or the Google Play Market place), working with our payment processor to enhance our Bill Pay functions, and collaborating with vendors to find the most convenient and easiest person to person transfer services. With that said, there are much more subtle enhancements we are making to our website as well. There are a plethora of devices on which one can access our site, be it a tablet, smartphone, laptop, or desktop.  A major challenge for all financial institutions (or all businesses for that matter) is designing a website that is accessible across multiple devices. The best solution for this challenge is to design a site with a layout that will change based on the resolution and size of the screen on which it is being viewed. For example, on a larger screen the site will contain more links, and more information, versus on a smaller screen the site will contain less links and less content. This is what we refer to as a flexible or responsive user interface.

FirstBank is working to develop our website layout to eventually be more responsive across multiple devices, but this type of change will not roll-out overnight. We will be releasing smaller enhancements over time to be able to eventually accomplish a responsive user interface. Our first roll-out occurred a few months ago and, working in the Internet Banking department, I am on the front line when it comes to receiving customer feedback. With any change we make on our site, the feedback is always mixed. In this case, I think it would be hard to disagree that the new navigation bar is more fluid, simpler, and very easy to use; unfortunately, not all users found the enhancement to be as exciting and user-friendly as we originally did.

I recently received a complaint from a visually impaired customer who uses a screen reader to access the internet. A screen reader is a software program installed on your computer that uses ‘tab’ navigation to access the internet. Each time you tab to the next link or option the program will read the option aloud. When we introduced the first baby step toward a more flexible user interface to our website, the tab navigation no longer functioned properly; it rendered screen readers incompatible with our site. Upon her first attempt at a complaint, we offered an alternative accessibility device and sent her on her way. After doing some research on the alternative device she was unhappy and called again, frustrated, to lodge her complaint a second time. This is the point at which I became involved.

As this is my first leadership position, resolving complaints and appeasing frustrated customers is sometimes overwhelmingly intimidating; but the minute I heard her story, I was immediately empathetic. Not a day goes by that I do not access the internet for work, for school, for my volunteer efforts, or for just plain fun. I had never thought about what it would be like to experience the internet without sight. I could not imagine the frustration this customer was experiencing not being able to access her banking information online because of our recent enhancements. Furthermore, I could not imagine where to begin to find a solution.

The minute I shared this with the people directly responsible for the user interface changes, my whole perception of my work, my company, and my role changed. We immediately gathered a team of technology wizards to come up with a fix. We invested in several different screen reader programs and got to work to find a solution. After about three weeks we rolled out an update that contained a fix to our site. This change allowed our site to be compatible with screen readers again, without compromising our efforts at developing a responsive user interface. Additionally, to ensure that our future updates maintain accessibility to our site, we have integrated screen readers into our testing process.

When I was finally able to call our customer to share this I was a bit disappointed with her reaction, or lack thereof. Being a customer of the bank and not an employee, she was completely unaware of the effort involved in rolling out this fix, and I do not fault her for that. It was not the recognition or the solution we found and integrated that impressed me the most about this story. It was the sheer power of empathy, and the power of a consumer that really made my work and involvement worthwhile.  Proactively, we took her experience as a customer into consideration and immediately took steps to ensure our site be accessible to everyone. This story not only illustrates the power of empathy, but the power we as consumers hold as well. Without her simple complaint we would have never been aware that our site was no longer accessible; furthermore, we would not be testing our accessibility with future enhancements. In this story, empathy and the power of the consumer were enough to move our corporation, and I am forever grateful to have been here to witness it all.

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