How I helped the call centre return to sane levels

eBucks is the multi-partner rewards programme from First National Bank (FNB) and Rand Merchant Bank (RMB).

Members earn eBucks from partners and the bank, then spend them at partners, eBucks Shop or eBucks Travel. The brand was helpful, aspirational and “addictively rewarding”.


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The long read

What was the problem?

Whenever a marketing mailer went out, the call centre almost fell down.

That… wasn’t supposed to happen. Our monthly mailers were happy, positive, and rarely controversial.

What did eBucks try first?

  • Marketing slowed down and staggered the mailers – but the calls still came.
  • The call centre hired and trained their entire Christmas roster early, but what would they do at Christmas?

What was the trigger?

“Your eBucks balance is eB####.”

An example of a marketing email showing an offer and the eBucks balance.
Example of our positive marketing mailers

We didn’t have to dig too deep to find the trigger. Customers were generally calling about the same thing.

Their balance, or rather, how low they thought it was.

Depending on how frustrated they were, they wanted to know if we’d forgotten – or stolen – their eBucks.

The answer was a little more complicated.

What was eBucks great at?

Don’t pass the eBuck. A culture designed to try.

The “MVP” approach of your average company would be to remove the balance. No balance, no problem.

Thankfully, eBucks was not average.

Led by CEO Lezanne Human, eBucks was a learning organisation. Anyone could give ideas or solutions. If it sounded good, they supported us to see it through.

So after I volunteered to see what I could do with our site content, I got the go-ahead to shuffle my time.

What happened to the balance?

Introducing eligibility rules and a tiered points system meant members were earning less.

FNB and RMB had rolled out new earn rules earlier in the year.

There wasn’t a big bump in calls then because members couldn’t guess what the changes would mean to their balance.

The calls only started after the changes had become obvious.

What changed?

The bank’s earn rules switched from predictable, passive earning to tiered, active management.

Back when it launched, eBucks was a straightforward program. Swipe your bank card and earn a flat percentage back in eBucks each month.

But, like most banks, they wanted to increase the profitability of customers by changing the customer’s behaviour. Things like getting customers to take out more products, improve their spending or savings habits, or cut down on paper mail.

They realised they already had a way to drive behaviour. eBucks members were statistically less likely to change banks and more likely to have their FNB or RMB cards “front of wallet” to earn eBucks.

So instead of a flat earn rate, the bank tiered it. If members did all the right things, they’d earn more than their original flat rate. They just had to get there. And that was the tricky bit.

What I had

  • Call centre summary reports describing the complaints
  • Call centre shadow sessions
  • Our site analytics
  • Forums and social media
  • Adobe Creative Suite for wireframes and mockups
  • My development environment for testing and stakeholder feedback

What I didn’t have

  • Direct access to customers
  • Direct access to the bank
  • UX budget for testing or research

Who I worked with

  • Our new bank relationship manager
  • Junior UI developer
  • Call centre team

Who was the audience

  • eBucks customers who didn’t bank with FNB or RMB
  • FNB personal, private and business banking customers
  • RMB private and business banking customers
  • eBucks call centre team members – eBuckers

Bringing it together

The existing rules

Long, boring and confusing.

  • Six products with their own rules.
  • 12-14 minutes of reading time at 300 words per minute.
  • Lots of jargon and big, waffly words.
  • No logical order or hierarchy of information.
  • Inconsistent terminology across the rule sets.

There was one exception. Content written for our basic bank account was shorter and simpler. And that’s the example I used to get people on board before I started designing.

The relationship manager

My way into the bank.

Bank relationship managers were our conduit to each banking division. A new relationship manager had just joined the eBucker team, so it was the perfect opportunity to use that ‘newbie shine’ to let them know we’d be redesigning their rules for our site.

Each banking division was actually already changing the rules the following month (unexpected, since it was usually once a year) so this gave us the opportunity… and a ticking clock.

The call centre team

A UX treasure trove and superheroes.

eBucks encouraged shadowing of the call centre, so jumping onto calls as an observer was easy and so impactful.

I observed call centre eBuckers:

  • Signing into multiple systems during each call just to see the full picture of the person they were helping.
  • Keeping dozens of our site’s pages open in anticipation of any question that might come through.
  • Trying to resolve the calls themselves rather than forward them to the bank’s call centre(they didn’t know how that would turn out).
  • Scrolling down the rules quickly to see what the customer sees, while recalling the customer information from the other systems and tabs.

The junior UI developer

“Preparation, I have often said, is rightly two-thirds of any venture.” Amelia Earhart

I’d already sketched some rough ideas and knew what code we’d need in our UI pattern library:

  • Navigation elements, like sticky side navigation and tabs.
  • Additional analytics tracking to add to the navigation.
  • Sass functions to call the new icons I’d add to our icon library

I asked the developer to create code I could pull into my page template. This gave me the space to concentrate on designing the mock-ups with the content of the new rules.

The content design

Chunks – patterns to improve readability and learnability.

The bank had introduced points, which led to tiers, which led to the earn rate, which led to the number of eBucks you earned. The tier also led to attractive discounts in eBucks Shop and eBucks Travel. Play your cards right and you could get 40% off flights.

It was a lot to process. I wanted to add visual cues to help break the complex concepts into small, manageable chunks. Chunking is a tool to help with learning.

Making sense of the customer complaints

I grouped the complaints by members who:

  • Weren’t eligible and wanted to earn.
  • Wanted to earn the same or more than before.
  • Wanted to know how to work out everything themselves.
  • Hated the changes and wanted them gone.

I couldn’t do too much about the last group, so I concentrated on the first three.

A wealth of questions – an interesting trend

Customers with ‘wealth’ accounts were more likely to call. They also asked the most questions and wanted to know how to work things out themselves.

The analytics matched. They spent more time on the earn rule pages than the other customer types (word counts were similar).

I created simple personas based on earn and spend information from our business data team. The wealth segment often saved up their eBucks until they were ready to spend big on travel, so it made sense for the delay before they noticed their balance.

The page designs

A “minimum useful product” approach to getting more data future decisions.

  • eBucks earn rule overview page
  • eBucks earn rule reward rate page
  • eBucks earn rule comparison page
  • eBucks earn rule calculate eBucks page
  1. The overview – get earning
    A quick primer on how to earn eBucks with this product. This was to address the needs of the customers who weren’t eligible yet or had become ineligible because they hadn’t switched to paperless statements.
  2. The reward rate – get earning more
    The earn rules grouped and summarised. This was to address the user needs of those who wanted to match or increase their old earn rate.
  3. Compare new rules – what’s changed from before
    Since we’d be updating the rules twice in one financial year, I summed up the differences for anyone who had learned the last set.
  4. Calculate your eBucks – how to work it all out
    To address the needs of the detail-oriented and anyone worried we were hiding behind trickery, I was fully transparent about how the bank worked out their eBucks. I added real-world examples so they could follow along.
  5. A quick guide to online banking – how to change behaviour
    For members who wanted to earn more, we gave guidance on some actions they could take on online banking right away.

I had three primary reasons for designing the pages the way I did:

  1. Help the customer do what they needed to.
  2. Help the call centre find the right rules faster.
  3. Get analytics data to understand what members needed.


So many lessons learned, but some warnings too.

What went well
  • I’d cut the earn rules copy by around 30%, making it scannable.
  • The call centre numbers returned to sane levels, helpful because we also saw year-on-year growth on our spend channels during Christmas because of the tiered discounts.
  • The bank adopted a similar structure for their rules.
  • eBucks asked me to rewrite all the call centre scripts to make them more ‘human’ to match the new rules.
  • eBucks management jointly nominated me and the relationship manager for an eBucker award because we’d improved relationships with the bank.
  • Both our teams also jointly won team of the year for continuing to design services that helped both the customer and the bank.
  • The bank invited me to contribute to the bank’s design of their wealth rewards statement and the wealth broker dashboard.
  • The bank asked our team to build an eBucks calculator, an interactive version of the examples in the rules.
What I wished went better

What got you here won’t get you there” Marshall Goldsmith

The relative success of the redesign meant stakeholders wanted to stick with the same design for the next rule change.

Before we launched the eBucks calculator, usability testing showed the remaining sticky bits of the earn rule language. We also saw savvy members on forums helping each other to get more eBucks. It was gold.

Our analytics data showed where our members focused their attention. I still regularly received call centre reports too.

I got ready for the next rule change using the words our members used. Readers could skim each of the new proposed pages in under 3 minutes. An illustrated ‘how it works’ page covered the sticky points.

Sadly. I moved to Scotland before the next rule change, so I wasn’t able to get the proposal across the finish line.