Back in May of last year, Amazon and Synchrony Bank made a financial connection by agreeing to use Amazon’s popular Virtual Assistant, Alexa, to check on the details of a customer’s Synchrony Bank account. For those who have heard the name Alexa but are unfamiliar with the basics, you need to have an Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or other Alexa-friendly mobile device to access Alexa. You then can use voice communication to give specific instructions to the device and either get a voice response or it will allow a specific task to be performed, such as turning on the lights.
If you are wondering why Synchrony Bank was Amazon’s first choice for this function, it is because both Amazon’s regular store card and their Prime store card both use Synchrony Bank as their credit source. This is a relationship that has existed for decades, and it has been profitable for both businesses. That friendly offer you run into every time you go to check out which says you can pay $50 less by applying for an Amazon store card is possible largely because of the relationship between Amazon and Synchrony.
To move forward and make voice commands the wave of the future, an app has been developed by the bank for downloading on to an Alexa compatible device. The app will give the customer access to their Synchrony Bank account. In order to use the app you must have a mobile operating system, either iOS 9.0 or higher or Android 5.0 or higher, and an Amazon store card account from Synchrony Bank. Once confirmed you will be asked to create a four digit voice PIN that will connect you to your account. You can then access your account information at any time afterwards by using the command, “Alexa, open store card.”
The concept was developed with Synchrony’s Internal Innovation department which intends to use their Alexa app as a foundation to expand voice recognition services to their entire array of credit cards. Choosing Amazon as an initial partner makes sense given the vast resources of the company and their years long partnership. The large number of Amazon customer using Amazon credit cards is a sizable testing ground to work out all the possible voice communication quirks that are certain to be present in any new app. From Amazon’s end, a successful app will encourage customers to buy more and more often due to the ease of accessing their store card account financed by Synchrony.
One interesting aspect of the Synchrony app is its ability for the customer to ask for help on their account. Amazon is not the only company the bank deals with, so the number of customer service phone calls received every day is enormous. But using the app to request help takes a significant amount of stress off of the phone lines, reducing waiting time for phone customers while making greater use of their online help resources. There is almost certainly a bottom line benefit for encouraging Alexa users to use the app.
But this benefit has not come without a cost in the development process. In order for the app to work properly it must be able to decipher the many ways a user can request an account balance or ask for help. This includes the various regional dialects and accents that may be troublesome when dealing with native English language speakers – which the app has been first designed to accommodate. For example, the term “cash station” does not have any meaning to most people in the United States, but in certain parts of the Midwest such as Chicago, it is just another name for an ATM. The key is to avoid having the app constantly repeat, “Can you please repeat that.”
On Amazon’s end of the financial equation, significant resources are used dealing with problems with orders, refunds, exchanges, and general account activity that occur every day at Amazon. The number of Prime account holders exceeds 100 million, and they are the most likely to be using Amazon’s wide range of Amazon’s services. Rerouting that traffic, indirectly, to Synchrony through the app will also reduce the number of telephone inquiries and help to provide information that will allow customers to resolve many of the problems themselves. As it turns out, Amazon is actually the middleman in this customer-Amazon-Synchrony Bank relationship because it only provides the product or service. The financial transactions almost always have little or nothing to do with Amazon.
In this respect, Amazon was taking a risk by agreeing to the innovation set forth by Synchrony bank. One reason is that while Synchrony is behind the Amazon store card and often unseen or unnoticed by the applicants, the bank does not have the general reputation of being one of the most customer-friendly financial institutions. Complaints of poor customer service, unfair credit reporting activities, and rejection of a credit application for sketchy reasons are mong the major group of complainants. Should the app fail or customers recoil at the thought of its association with Synchrony Bank, it could affect the bottom line sales of the company.
To better understand the app there are a few new terms to become familiar with. Apps installed using Alexa are appropriately called Skills. Synchrony’s app is technically a Skill in the eyes of the developer because it does require the user to become familiar with a list of commands and the technology in general to get the maximum benefit from the installed app. The developers cite the Skill as the best way to get the most out of the customer experience. With Amazon leading the way, the future of customer service may one day actually be easier than making a phone call.
According to TechCrunch, more than 100 million Alexa friendly devices have been sold as of January, 2019. This means more people have the opportunity to discover the ease and user-friendliness of the Synchrony Skill. Amazon has made it a prominent feature on its website complete with step by step installation instructions and a list of commands. Yet the Skill continues to take second place to the advertising of the store card which Amazon users meet every time they go to check out with their cart.
This last statement leads to the question of whether both Amazon and Synchrony bank can add new customers to their base by offering the app to their customers. As will be seen shortly, several reviews of the Skill make the complaint that they were unable to open a new Synchrony bank account. Simply the ability to get their account information through Alexa was enough of an incentive to attempt to open a new account. Though not stated by either Amazon or Synchrony Bank, research may have indicated that there are a fair number of people who prefer to do their banking through Alexa in the form of having access to a credit line.
Terms and Conditions of apps often are more fine print than commonly understood words. Amazingly, the Terms and Conditions for installing and using the Synchrony Skill are fairly basic. It is a document that a customer can actually read in about 10 minutes and get the gist of their privacy rights and account responsibility. The only thing that is significantly different is once you make the Alexa connection it remains in place until you specifically request the link to be broken. As long as you remember to disconnect, there should be no problem.
With the customer in the position of being at both the beginning and end of the new service, the success of the app inevitably comes down to the customer experience. Regardless of the technological savvy of the developers or the well-meaning intentions of Amazon, if the customer cannot see any direct benefit from the app the effort will be a waste of time and money. Since Synchrony bank had the greater investment in time and money, they incurred the greater risk. Let’s begin with the dissatisfied customers.
On the Amazon website, about 1 of every 5 people who reviewed the app were dissatisfied. The reasons range from the high interest rate of the Amazon store card (a rate which is clearly stated in the customer agreement) or that Synchrony Bank declined their credit application. This first group apparently are new card applicants and failed to carefully read the not-so-fine print. The second group consisted of technical problems where the app failed to connect to the bank, the app did not install properly, or customers who preferred to use the more traditional online and telephone support methods to retrieve their information or pay their bill.
This second group accounts for about 60 percent of the negative reviews. Some technical glitches were to be expected, and Synchrony Bank continues to address them. As for customers who prefer the more traditional methods of payment and support, they cannot rightly be included in the group of dissatisfied users as this is merely a preference on their part. The overall number of 1 star reviews was statistically insignificant when both of these factors are taken into account. This spells success for the two companies.
The positive reviews were overwhelmingly positive. More than 60 percent gave the app 5 stars. The general consensus was that it was easy to install and easy to use. With security on the minds of many users, the presence of a voice pass code key was one of the positive features most often mentioned. There is a unique flaw to the voice pass code though. One user said that if you try saying “zero” instead of “oh” your digit will not be recognized. It appears the logic is that because the pass code must be all numeric there will be no confusion as to whether “oh” is a letter or a number. No word yet on whether Synchrony plans on making any changes.
What is likely to come as a surprise to many people, especially those who are not using voice command systems like Alexa, is how time saving the technology can really be. The business end of time saving was discussed earlier, but from the end user perspective many people do not realize how much time is used navigating through menu and login screens. The days of companies advertising “just a few clicks” is likely to soon be replaced by a voice command. Reviewers often commented on the fact they were in and out within 30 seconds – from login to getting the information they needed and then out.
Despite the minor glitches, Amazon and Synchrony Bank have teamed up to develop an app where both companies mutually benefit financially from the collaboration. Yet this profit motive is largely unseen by the customer. The user is always the focal point these days, and the majority of the reviewers are very happy with the ease and performance of the app. Not many companies can develop a product or service that benefits everyone, but this is the result of mutual collaboration with their sights set on a long term, progressive technology.
An underlying long term goal might be to increase the number of Amazon store card users. VISA, MasterCard, and the like cost Amazon a percentage to accept as payment. With the large volume of purchases made every day on the website, those non-Amazon store card purchases can cost the company millions of dollars every year. Even though Amazon’s basic store card has an APR of about 29%, it remains one of the most popular ways to pay. The Synchrony Bank app makes personal money management easier, giving customers another reason to use their card.