Among technology projects green-lit in a shaky economy, perhaps none are more important than customer-facing ones. After all, customer retention is essential in tough times, and it's often a customer-focused initiative that proves the difference between satisfaction and churn.
That's why Wells Fargo's decision to remake its legion of ATMs was so critical. With ATMs, one of the leading touch points for customers to handle their banking needs, the stakes are always high. Moreover, in banking, seamless self-service is key to keeping down the costs of customer service.
This year, Wells Fargo ATMs received a UI face-lift, thanks in part to five developers who spent 13 months in a special laboratory in San Francisco creating and testing the next-generation ATM prototype. "Our business partners wanted this," says Jimmy Wang, vice president and technology manager of WebATM development at Wells Fargo. "They wanted us to maintain our [technology] edge."
Ambitious graphic designers wanted to add a personalized look and cutting-edge UI functionality to ATM screens. Most notably, they wanted breadcrumb buttons on-screen to show completed steps and allow customers to easily navigate through transactions. Another sought-after feature was a set of shortcut buttons to offer customers one-touch access to their most-performed transactions, thus enabling them to withdraw cash, deposit funds, or perform other, frequent transactions without having to go through multiple steps.
But to create these seemingly simple, customer-friendly features, Wang and team needed to perform some heavy technical work behind the scenes.
Because Wells Fargo ATMs run on Windows XP, Wang brought in a Microsoft toolkit for object-oriented programming and multithreaded concurrent processing. This would allow designers and programmers to work closely together: A designer could mock up a screen using objects that plug into the toolkit, essentially generating code without writing it. (In the past, designers had to send creative requests to programmers, who, in turn, had to interpret these requests and write code that reflected them.)
The new toolkit shaved 15 percent off development time.
"This may not sound like a lot," says Wang, "but we test our product to death, and testing takes time."
The toolkit itself offered a considerable learning curve, as designers and programmers took between three and nine months to get up to speed. "Our biggest challenge was skill-set transformation," he says.
Moreover, the new features required significant back-end work. For instance, shortcut buttons rely on capturing historical data -- what a customer did most recently and most often. This required improving database efficiency and developing additional data-mining functionality into the mainframe host.
"This was the most difficult feature from a development point of view," Wang says. "It may take a long time to massage the data."
Initial development for the next-generation ATM took about five months, followed by eight months of rigorous quality-assurance work. The fruits of this effort came in the spring of this year when the new ATMs began their nationwide rollout.
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