The latest report from Online Banking Report was published today, E-Service 2.0: Service with a 🙂
Subscribers may access the report immediately at Online Banking Report.
Others may download the abstract.
Now that Google has begun identifying search engine users by their IP addresses, advertising via Google has become a whole lot more lucrative for community banks and credit unions.
Financial institutions now have the ability to target their keyword ads via city, state, or MSA.
See OBR 95 for a full report on search engine marketing.
We’ve been a proponent of increasing your presence on the desktop through browser toolbars, pushed content, and other means . We were looking at it from a usability and marketing standpoint. It turns out there’s another use, as a security enhancement.
Leave it to eBay to come up with the first proactive anti-phishing system. Ebay toolbar users received the Account Guard upgrade in February. It has two functions. First, whenever a user visits a valid eBay URL, the background color of the account-alert section of the toolbar changes to green. It’s a subtle but effective technique – quite noticeable when a spot on the top browser controls suddenly changes color, and much more effective than a locked or unlocked padlock in the lower corner. Second, an optional feature launches an alert box whenever you type your eBay username into a non-eBay URL.
It’s not a foolproof system. It only protects against browser-based phishing. It wouldn’t guard against phishing attacks that ask users to update their account within the body of a phony HTML email. We’ve also heard that it’s possible to spoof the toolbar itself, pasting a phony one at the top of a fake browser.
It’s difficult for outsiders to judge a bank’s service levels unless you
interview a number of customers as Vividence and others are doing or use the
bank’s products yourself. However, the bank’s website does provide clues to
the relative value placed on e-service. Here are the things we would look
for as a prospective customer, all of which are affordable even to the
Ten Clues You Are Dealing with a Top E-Service
1. Help function accessible from every page
2. Easy-to-find prices (not buried on the eighth page of the
3. Contact Us or About Us section prominently
displays telephone numbers, email,
and mail addresses
4. Service standards and guarantees prominently posted
5. Detailed and up-to-date FAQs
6. Customer feedback encouraged; for example, suggestion box or
7. Third-party endorsements/affiliations displayed, such as
Member Better Business Bureau, Chamber of Commerce, TrustE,
8. Hours of operation displayed in appropriate areas
9. Customer service staff and/or line management (especially branch
managers) identified by name with online bios/pictures
10. Customer testimonials and/or Q&A forums with actual customer
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
Customer Experience at Major U.S. Card Issuers*
|Bank of America|
|Bank One (First USA)|
Source: Vividence, 4/04; Evaluations took place in July and August 2003;
Banks evaluated but not making the top 5 were: Fleet, US Bank, Wachovia
In terms of actual service experiences, we can only judge the companies
we’ve personally used, they include: American Bank, American Express, Bank
One (card only), Bank of America (card only), Capital One, Centura,
CharterOne, Chase (card only), Citibank (card and account aggregation),
DeepGreen Bank, Everbank, ING Direct, Juniper Bank, National City
(aggregation only), NextCard, Providian, Security First Network Bank, U.S.
Bank, Wells Fargo (card only), X.com/PayPal. Many of these accounts are
little-used, so we don’t have much opportunity to experience the entirety of
the company’s service efforts. However, among those accounts only ING
Direct, PayPal, and before they went out of business, NextCard, standout in
terms of overall online delivery. Other places do a great job servicing our
accounts online, but have not provided a truly memorable experience, the
kind of performance that generates unsolicited word-of-mouth referrals.
A number of third parties evaluate financial website usability and
service. One of the most thorough is Vividence,* which evaluates
customer experience at the 10 largest banks and ten largest card issuers. In
its latest analysis completed this month, Vividence ranked Bank of
America tops in customer experience for existing customers, National
City was second, and US Bank third.
The longest-running service evaluation is by Gomez Advisors (now
owned by WatchFire), which ranks online banks across five categories,
including customer confidence. Gomez determines the customer
confidence score by evaluating the bank’s website and mystery shopping
customer service. The most recent Gomez scorecard ranked Citibank first,
Wachovia second, and Wells Fargo third.
Ranking Customer Experience at Major U.S. Banks
Sources: Vividence and Gomez, see below for details
Vividence, 4/04 & 9/03; Evaluations took place in July and August 2003;
Banks evaluated but not making the top 5 were: Fleet, US Bank, Wachovia;
Vividence Customer Experience Rankings are benchmarking studies using
proprietary software tracking behavior and opinions across a 2000-user
Watchfire Gomez Pro 10/03 & 10/99; Banks evaluated in Fall 2003 but not
making the top 5: American Bank/pcbanker.com, American Express-Banking,
Associated Bank (WI), Bank One, Chase, Charter One Bank, Citizens Bank,
Commerce Bank (NJ), E*TRADE Bank, First Internet Bank of Indiana, First
National Bank of Omaha, First Tennessee Bank, Fleet, Hibernia National Bank,
Huntington, NetBank, National City Bank, Key Bank, HSBC, PNC Bank,
SouthTrust Bank, U.S. Bank, Union Bank of California, Washington Mutual,
By Annette M. Jacobs, CEO SafeHarbor
Online banking is no longer a competitive advantage. Today, the value is to offer an experience that is simple, user-friendly and provides the highest completion rates. Customer satisfaction with the quality is critical. Online banking customers have high expectations regarding system reliability and content quality. The level of sophistication among this customer segment is also driving the need for site integration and personalized service options.
It can be difficult for online banking programs to duplicate the high touch of personalized service that customers have grown to expect from a branch-bank experience. Offering customers effective online support can substitute for most of the personal attention offered by the neighborhood teller. Whether customers are finding answers for themselves through a FAQ page or by using assisted alternatives like on-line chat or telephone support, financial institutions need a comprehensive program maintain high customer satisfaction while decreasing support costs. A recent survey of 30 banks and credit union executives by Forrester Research found that 96% felt assisted support is a major priority for the online banking market over the next two years.
Financial institutions can implement and enhance online banking support several ways: purchase a prepackaged program, build a network internally from the ground up, or partner with a business process service company that can integrate and manage the program. In making that decision, consideration must be given to delivery times, costs, ongoing support, assisted support and the ability to gather or consolidate customer data.
1. Purchase support tools: At first glance, out-of-the-box support software appears to be a logical starting point. While many offer a broad range of functionality, the features may not align with your institution’s specific online banking needs. It is important to examine carefully the tool’s range of features and determine the existing infrastructure capability. Institutions should also ensure the software can accurately identify, assess and grow, not only with internal needs but also customers’ needs. Additional functionality will also be tied to internal IT release dates or those of the vendor.
- Build an internal support service network: As an alternative to purchased software, building a service network internally may seem the most effective way to provide an integrated, customized solution. Proprietary systems can be continually upgraded and enhanced to meet expanding customer needs and support new product launches.
- Outsource the process: The third option, outsourcing, can be cost-effective and relatively easy-to-implement. It allows a bank to focus on its business needs by partnering with a business process service company. When you eliminate the organizational burden of building, installing, maintaining and staffing, banks can direct resources to their core competencies of product development, customer relationships and revenue growth.
Partnering also offers the ability for risk sharing. That can be critical as you define the long-term strategy. The vendor generally assumes responsibility for maintaining the software and hardware, which is invaluable to keep pace with technology changes. Many business process service companies can also provide assisted-support staffing, which offers flexibility and leverages the skill development necessary to optimize return on investment.
Business process service companies can bring support systems to market more quickly. Partnering can eliminate time-consuming steps and internal project management. For example, SafeHarbor Technology Corporation delivers a complete customer-interaction support system that can be operational in as little as eight weeks.
Components of a Successful Customer Support System
In designing a customer support system, flexible multi-channel service is the key to increasing satisfaction, loyalty and retention. According to Gartner Research Director Esteban Kolsky, customers would prefer to use self-service if it is comprehensive and easy to use. Below is an example of SafeHarbor’s graphical help function as deployed by Washington Mutual. It walks users through a relatively technical process, upgrading security at AOL, which would be difficult and time-consuming for most bank service reps to handle.
Customers must also have the ability to escalate to other service channels, and the transition must be seamless. Support agents need the ability to track every service-inquiry step. The online banking customer should not be subjected to retracing each step and subsequently reliving the frustration.
Collecting and analyzing this data is also a tremendous opportunity. Identifying customer-user patterns, and the service channels through which they seek support, can be critical to a bank’s ability to accurately assess user needs and provide relevant services.
Financial institutions must take support services to the next level to maximize profitability and ensure customer satisfaction. Support systems can also serve another role by collecting valuable customer data. This should not only guide the strategy, but also identify new opportunities to grow product revenues.
Annette M. Jacobs is the President and CEO for SafeHarbor Technology Corporation, a provider of customer support and delivery services including Web, call center, and analytics to Global 2000 and emerging SMB organizations; founded in 1998, clients include Washington Mutual Bank, SunTrust Banks, T-Mobile, American Airlines, and the State of Washington.
Washington Mutual’s Site Helper powered by SafeHarbor.
SafeHarbor Projections for your Business Case
· Toll-free numbers displayed throughout your website can increase support costs by more than 25%.
· A large portion of online banking support goes
toward educating new users; better “getting started” (aka onboarding) content and messaging can
reduce account cancellations and increase
customer satisfaction by more than 50%.
· Preemptive live-agent support can increase call deflections by 30% or more.
· Providing access to the online banking support environment for call center agents can reduce call handle times and increase agent productivity by
more than 40%.
Customer service is one of those topics that engender passionate calls to action at staff meetings, but little follow-through. Why? Because it’s tedious work, difficult to measure, and expensive. Yankee Group estimates the total cost of a $200,000 Web-based self-service application is $1.3 million over five years, including IT support, knowledge-based maintenance, user training, and so on (see Table 30, below).
However, if you expect to profit from your online services, you must pay attention to the subject. Following are several tables to help you prioritize your investments. Table x lists the high-level priorities. Table y lists 10 ways to get the biggest bang for your buck today. Finally, we list more than 50 techniques for delivering service beyond customer expectations, while deflecting calls from your call center and branches.
Online Service Rules
# 1: Anticipate questions and tripping points;
remove the ambiguity in the product-design phase
# 2: Email users frequently with confirmations and alerts, especially for new accounts in process
# 3: Imbed pop-up Help bubbles for every conceivable question, especially in product applications
# 4: Make sure customer service owns the FAQs,
including the authority/ability to change them on the fly
# 5: Provide prominent Search capabilities;
manage the results to insure relevancy
# 6: Most people still want to want to interact with a live human; put a face on your e-service, and don’t hide phone numbers
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
Total Cost of Ownership
stand-alone Web self-service solution
Source: Yankee Group, 8/02, from Online Selling & eCRM
Strategic E-Service Priorities
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
Ten Low-Cost E-Service Improvements
1. Autoresponse email to Web-based inquiries
2. Help button on every page, especially at login
3. Expanded FAQs, possibly with college intern support
4. Links to FAQs in email responses
5. FAQs written in user-friendly language
6. Published email service standards
7. Opt-in for email communications when submitting Web-based inquiries
8. Templates for email responses
9. E-reps rewarded for improving online FAQs
10. On-hold message referring users to easy to remember URL for Web-based inquiry,
e.g., <www.yourbankservice.com>, or use your toll-free number as the URL <www.1-800-555-BANK>
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
Techniques for Deflecting Service Calls/Visits
Source: Online Banking Report, 4/04
Basic E-Service Implementation Checklist
- Contact Us link in the upper-right corner of every Web page
- Ensure that common search terms entered in your site-search feature result in highly relevant answers and links
- Separate FAQs for customers and non-customers
- FAQs edited by a professional copy writer for grammar and tone; reviewed by customers for clarity
- Web-based inquiry form includes: name, email address, retype email address, customer/noncustomer, subject (choose from drop-down list), and opt-in for future email communications
- Inquiry form includes graphical security assurances and link to privacy and security policie
- Direct customer service email addresses; for example, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
- Identifiable service area with its own intuitive URL; for example, <service.yourbank.com>, <vip.yourbank.com>, <www.yourbank.com/service>, <1800yourcallcenter.com>
- Service department Web and email addresses in company literature and advertising
- Autoresponses for Web-based queries, includes thank-you and estimated response time
- Email response templates for the most common questions
- Procedures for handling undeliverable emails
- Secure password-reset procedure and monitoring program
- Security/privacy guidelines for handling confidential information emailed by user
- Fraud-detection algorithms and procedures for email requests, e.g., password resets, change of address
- Procedures to escalate customer problems
- Guidelines for distributing email questions to the appropriate departments
- Tracking and follow-up mechanisms to ensure all emails are answered in a timely fashion
- Performance metrics and methods to capture the data, e.g., response times; percent resolved within 24/48/72 hours; customer satisfaction with response
- Service standards communicated internally and externally
- Process for maintaining and improving internal and external knowledge base and FAQs
- Guidelines and approval procedures for editing approved email response templates
- Email training program for e-reps, branch staff, and other customer-contact personnel
Source: Online Banking Report, 4/04
Techniques: Email, Web inquiry, chat, instant
messaging, call back, co-browsing
Web self-service may be the key to cutting servicing costs online, but
email support is the key to retaining customers. Responsive support (chat,
email, and telephone) is preferred by about 70% of online banking users
according to Vividence . Concerned, distraught, or impatient customers
aren’t about to wade through FAQs looking for answers. They want immediate
assurances that their concerns are valid and will be addressed. Typically
that’s required a telephone call, but more and more users are turning to
chat and email options. What’s holding back email today is poor service. In
a recent Forrester survey, only 25% of respondents expressed satisfaction
with email service, a satisfaction rate barely one-third that for
traditional branch and phone channel.
Once financial institutions provide a user experience on par with
telephone and branch, email will dominate as the primary medium for service.
Fifteen years from now, telephone and branch service support will be distant
memories. The vast majority of users will fire off an email, instant
message, or Web inquiry without even considering any other option. There is
absolutely no question that electronic channels will eventually dominate,
providing many advantages for both consumers and financial institutions.
The design of the form used for customer inquiries
can impact the timeliness, effectiveness, and cost of your online support.
Make sure you’re not missing an opportunity to make future solicitations to
online customers with an opt-in question. You should also consider tagging
customers with cookies so you can better track future Web activity. Table
21, below, provides more details on form design.
Not only can you deflect phone calls from your
call center and branches by the way of a Web-based inquiry form. You can use
the same form to actually deflect email messages as well. The key is having
the ability to parse likely search terms out of free-form text inquiries. In
the example below, Cloudmark, a provider of consumer spam filters,
applies search algorithms to the free-form question, “Is there a way to make
Cloudmark catch more spam?” (screen 1, below). Rather than sending
the query directly to customer service, the company first provides possible
answers to the question (screen 2, below). Users who still want to
ask the company the question can complete the longer Request for Help form
According iPhrase, which supplied the search solution, Cloudmark has
been able to reduce email volume dramatically.
Responding to emails or Web inquiries should follow a three-step process as
outlined in Table 22 below:
Making Email Responses More User-Friendly
Phase 1: Immediate Autoresponse
- Include bank name in subject field and from
- Thank customer for using e-service and explain the process
and typical response time
- Provide response-time estimates based on averages for that
time of day and/or day of the week/month;
extra credit: provide custom response-time estimates based on current
- Include links to appropriate FAQ sections
- Reference telephone numbers for immediate support
Phase 2: Actual Answer
- Use good formatting:
– physically separate ideas
– white space
– bullet points, lists, tables
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short
- Include “time received” and “time answered” date stamps
- Include service rep name/email address for more personal
feeling and to encourage customer to engage in a conversation until
their question has been answered to their satisfaction
- Include bank name in subject field and from
- Provide tracking number for the customer inquiries
- If responses go to a secure mailbox within the online
banking program, send an additional email to the user’s Internet
mailbox(es) telling them that an answer is waiting (with a link to it)
- Archive customer questions and your answers so users can
refer to them later
- Include intuitive URL and/or email address for customer
comments and feedback, such as <comments.yourbank.com>, or
- Don’t forget to say, “Thanks for using our e-service.”
- Add a telephone number for additional discussion
Phase 3: Follow-up
- Follow-up with the customer at least once to ascertain
their satisfaction with the answer and whether they have additional
- Include a two- or three-question customer-satisfaction
survey to quantify the work done by your e-service department as a
whole, and each e-service rep as individuals
- The simplest approach is to have the followup message
originate from the service rep who handled the original message; an
alternative approach is to have the followup come from a supervisor or
“quality assurance rep;” you may want to test both approaches to see
which works best
- Encourage comments and feedback, either by responding to
this message or entering comments anonymously at <comments.yourbank.com>
- Telephone number for additional discussion or to make
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
The Importance of Response Times
Even though most online transaction times are measured in seconds, users
will still become frustrated if your system is slower than what they are
accustomed to. Search engines, the most widely used Web application, set the
expectations early on. Even as early as 1995 and 1996, search engines were
able to cull through millions of pages of data and deliver results in less
than 20 seconds. With the faster connections used today, search times have
shrunk even more. Banking information, secured behind various log-in
schemes, can take three to four times longer to access, but unless you
forget your password, retrieval times are still under a minute, an
acceptable information-retrieval wait period for most Web users.
Acceptable Wait Times for eService
acceptable wait time in hours for an online
retailer’s customer service department to respond to an email or website
inquiry; survey conducted during holiday shopping season, n = 1019
% of Total
% of Those with Answer
Top 10 Bank Results
|4 hours or less||
|5 to 24 hours||
|5 to 10 hours||
|11 to 23 hours||
|More than 24 hours||
|Don’t know (no answer)||
Sources: Harris Interactive, 11/03 (as cited by eMarketer); research
commission by RightNow Technologies; telephone survey fielded Oct. 2003,
respondents included 1019 U.S. adults age 18+ (511 men and 508 women)
Top-10 Banks: Online Banking Report tests 4/04
Acceptable wait times for human help online are quite different. Web users
have been relatively tolerant of slow responses to email queries, likely
because they use Web-based inquiries for less urgent questions. However,
users are beginning to become more demanding. A recent Harris Interactive
survey (see Table 23, right) found that more than one-third
(36%) of Web users expected a response from customer service within two
hours. If you remove the 15% who said “didn’t know,” the number is close to
In our April 2004 test of the top-10 banks, only two returned an answer
within three hours. Washington Mutual, head and shoulders above the
rest, answered the question within four minutes, Fleet was second at
41 minutes. We received some response from all ten banks, although only
seven answered the question. The three non-answers: Wells Fargo
referred us to their call center; Citibank, apparently playing
Jeopardy provided an answer and made us guess what the question was, because
it clearly wasn’t the one we asked; and Wachovia sent an autoresponse
confirming receipt of the question, but we never got an answer. Most
surprisingly, not a single bank has followed up to see if we needed
additional assistance or perhaps wanted to apply for the account we inquired
Overall, the banks have made great strides in the 4.5 years since our
last test. In 1999, the fastest response time was US Bank at 11 hours
(3.4 hours in 2004); this year the fastest response was Washington Mutual at
4 minutes, quite an improvement over its 19 days in 1999, where its
response was a snail-mailed packet.
In our most recent test, five (50%) returned an answer within 8 hours,
none did in 1999. This year, six (60%) beat the 24-hour threshold, only two
(20%) did so in 1999. Also, the quality of response was much better on
average. In 1999, only two banks emailed us an answer (three if you count
BankBoston), the rest either referred us to other departments or sent a
brochure in the mail. This year, six responded with answers, and only one
(Wells Fargo) tried to pawn us off on the phone center.
One area that needs improvement, identifying the bank name in the message
from and subject lines. Only five of the ten banks identified
themselves in the message header, the remainder used generic subject and
from lines making the messages look suspiciously spam-like.
Large Bank Email Response Times
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04 (questions submitted April 9, Good
Friday and Easter weekend)
and 10/99 (questions submitted Oct. 8-11, Columbus Day holiday weekend)
The question asked of each bank varied in the two tests:
In 2004: “Do you have a checking account that includes unlimited no-fee
transfers from an overdraft line of credit?“
In 1999: “I am relocating to [your city] soon and would like checking
information including pricing.”
*Time shown is elapsed time until an actual response was received, not
in both years, 3 of the 10 banks sent an autoresponse
**after 10 days
Top-10 Banks: 2004 vs. 1999 Performance
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04 and 11/99
Notes: (1) BankBoston answered the question in 22.5 hours; (2) Did not
answer question, referred to other sources of info
(3) No response from First Union
Source: Online Banking Report test conducted between 11 am and 1 pm
Pacific Daylight Time, on Friday April 9 (Good Friday);
Question: “Do you have a checking account that includes unlimited no-fee
transfers from an overdraft line of credit?
Columns: Home Location = location of Contact Us link;
Clicks Away = number of clicks to the inquiry form, starting from the
homepage; Complete Time = time to find and complete the
inquiry form, starting from the homepage; Popup = is the inquiry form
displayed in a popup window; Verify Email = is the user required to
enter their email address twice; Confirm = is user given a final look
at their info and question before submitting; Opt-in = is the user
given the option to opt in or out of future email marketing/service
messages; Required Fields = the fields that must be completed in
order to submit a question; Auto time = how long after we pressed
submit did it take to receive an autoresponse from the financial institution
(blank means no autoresponse received); Time to Answer = how long after
pressing submit before receiving an answer to the question; Quality of
Answer = our subjective evaluation of the answer including tone,
content, layout, and next steps
Legend: E = Email, N = Name, A = mailing address, T = Type of question,
Su = Subject of question, St = state of residence,
Z = zip code, A = complete mailing address; Customer = Customer or
non-customer, How = How did you find us?
Notes: (1) Wells Fargo’s contact page was very slow to download,
increasing the time by 30 seconds
(2) An extra click on one of the screens required to scroll down to the
desired area (only 3 screens to go through)
(3) Washington Mutual does not have a Contact Us link on its home
page; however if you click Search, you’ll see a Contact Us button in
the upper right hand corner
(4) Fleet does not have a Contact Us link on its home page;
however if you click Personal Financial Services, there is a Customer
Service tab on the far right, but still no Contact Us link
(5) Did not specify which fields were required
(6) Subjective evaluation of answer: A = accurate response and what to do
next; B = reasonably accurate response;
C = vague or incomplete answer; D = misleading answer; F = no answer or
(7) Wells Fargo made no attempt to answer the question, just referred
user to someone in the call center
(8) Citibank’s response 7 days later made almost no sense, having nothing
to do with my question; at first I thought it was a bad
phishing attempt; either it was automation gone awry, a service rep having a
very bad day, or I got an answer meant for someone else
Example Service Standards
Source: Online Banking Report, 3/04
Example #1: Generic Normal Autoresponse
From: Yourbank Ebanking <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Re: Your question to Yourbank
Thanks for using our online service department.
This is an automatic message to tell you that we received your message at
10:12 AM Sept. 29 and have forwarded it to the proper department for a priority
Most questions are answered within a few hours, but it could take up to 24
hours in certain instances.
Ebanking Customer Support
Example #2: Personalized VIP Autoresponse
From: Pat P. Smythe <email@example.com>
Re: Your question to Yourbank
Thanks for using online VIP service.
This is an automatic message to tell you that I received your message at
10:12 AM and we are currently working on a response. Within an hour you will
receive a either a complete answer or a preliminary response (depending on the
complexity of the request).
Please email or call if you have further questions. Regards,
Pat Smythe, VP – VIP Service
Phone Direct: (415) 555-1234 Toll-free (888) 555-9876
P.S. If for any reason you are not satisfied with my response, please feel
free to contact
Kim Bradford, VP & Manager VIP Service, (415) 555-6789, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Example #3: Referral to Web-based form
To: Yourcustomer <email@example.com>
From: E-Service <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Re: Your Question to Yourbank
Thanks for your email question received a few minutes ago. This is an
automatic response to let you know that we appreciate your interest in
yourbank.com. However, due to the volume of junk mail and spam coming to our
public mailboxes, we can only respond in a timely manner to questions submitted
via our Web-based form. Click here to go directly to that form (if you can’t
click on it, then type this address into your browser):
Or if you prefer, customer service specialists are currently awaiting your
call at 1-800-yourbank. Generally, wait times are less than two minutes except
during the peak hours of 8:00 AM to 9:00 AM.
Thanks again for your interest in yourbank.com. Based on current volume, we
should be able to respond to your question within 24 hours. Thanks for your
Putting a Face on E-Service
We are not enamored with the idea of video conferencing for customer
service. Even with ubiquitous broadband, we’re not sure users really want to
look at the customer service rep as he or she works through a problem (and
we are certain users don’t want anyone looking at them). There may be some
big-ticket sales situations, such as mortgage applications or other
large-dollar investments, where user confidence is increased by seeing the
However, we do think there is a place for static personal information
such as name*, direct email address, and individual Web area where e-reps
can put a human touch on e-service and build rapport with his or her client
*For privacy reasons, reps may want to use pseudonyms, an acceptable
Because online customer service is required for
survival, ecommerce companies often have the most highly evolved
Drive users through self-diagnosis
To maintain high customer satisfaction without driving servicing
costs through the roof, online retailers and consumer service companies
attempt to answer basic questions through a Web-based self-diagnosis.
Only after the user has finished the diagnosis is the option given to
submit questions via webform. Even then, a newer technique called email
deflection uses automated logic to attempt to answer the user’s
free-form text question, before it’s submitted to a human. Cloudmark,
an email filter provider, uses email deflection powered by iPhrase
Financial institutions should use this approach, especially in the
tech support area. But take it slowly, walking before you try to run.
Most customers still prefer the telephone for service problems, so they
may resent your attempts to at call deflection. Most have spent
years dealing with frustrating live-service-rep deflection on
automated telephone systems, so it won’t initially be viewed as a
positive. You need to position the webform as a quick solution for
common problems. Even customers that prefer telephone-based service
appreciate an answer in seconds rather than the minutes required via
What you don’t want to do is force the customer to spend minutes
searching for an answer online, then minutes slogging through your call
center menus and the subsequent wait for someone to help. Make sure that
customers who have tried self-service first are given priority when they
then email or call with their question. You could use special phone
numbers or menu options to identify those that have already exhausted
Users who primarily solve their own problems know they are saving you
an enormous amount of money. An unexpected reward could be a powerful
tool cement online relationships (the opposite of the old adage
the squeaky wheel gets the grease.). Try to make customers see
what’s in it for them to use self-service and electronic channels. One
approach that’s good for you and the customer is to reward self-service
attempts by not requiring account numbers and other information to be
reentered when escalating the question to human service. Data from the
user’s self-service session could be made available to the human rep to
speed up the process. Not only would this make the customer feel better
about the current problem, it would encourage them to use self-service
options for future problems. You have to wean customers off the phone
one problem at a time over the course of many years.
Financial incentives and sweepstakes are another way to reward self
service. Make a game out of it. Provide one sweepstakes entry every time
a customer goes for a month without contacting customer service, or one
entry for every FAQ page viewed, and so on. You could give away one
prize per month, perhaps donated by local merchants for the advertising
benefit. The total annual sweepstakes expense would be the equivalent of
just a few weeks of a single call center employee’s salary.
Provide incentives for registering
Few banks allow non-online banking users to register with the site.
But this limits your ability to track customer visits from the 50% or
more of your online users that have yet to sign up for online banking.
thereby improving your ability to service and sell to them more
effectively. During registration you would capture name, email address,
account ownership at your bank, and opt-in for future email messages.
You could boost registration rates with a sweepstakes or other
benefit. Registered users could receive one sweepstakes entry every time
they visit the site. For customers, you could provide an additional
entry for every product they have with you. The cost of the giveaways
can be kept small. For example, a portable DVD player once per month or
once per quarter would likely suffice for a small or medium financial
institution. The total cost would only be a couple thousand dollars per
To provide quick email responses, it’s important to have users
categorize their questions before they land in your e-rep’s in-box. At
minimum, users need to identify whether they are a current customer and
which product they are asking about.
Mock-up of webform for customer service inquiries.
1. Do you have an account at yourbank?
___ Yes ___ No ___ Don’t know
2. What product does your question concern?
___ Savings, money market, CDs
___ Stocks, mutual funds, or investments
___ Credit card
___ Debit card or ATM transaction
___ Home equity loan or credit line
3. Does your question involve:
___ Solving a problem with an existing account
___ Opening a new account
___ General information
Provide multiple channels for communication
Customers still prefer to resolve questions with a human. So make sure
your customers don’t feel forced into electronic channels. Again, try to
make customers see what’s in it for them to use self-service and electronic
channels, without hiding your other customer service channels. Let your
profitable customers contact you in any way they see fit. If you provide
e-service on par, or better, than call center or branch service, customers
will gradually migrate to the most efficient channel. The reason customers
prefer calling the bank today isn’t because they enjoy reacquainting
themselves with your phone tree and on-hold music selection. They continue
to call because they believe that is the most effective method to resolve
their problem. Once you demonstrate your e-channels to be equally effective,
customers will respond accordingly.
It’s a different story for your unprofitable customers. By all means,
drive them gently into lower cost delivery channels. Just make sure you
don’t create adverse publicity by “forcing” grandma to use email to inquire
about her CD rollover.
Provide proactive communications
You can head off many customer service calls by providing timely email
account alerts and transaction confirmations. Imagine how much Friday
afternoon volume could be displaced if every direct deposit customer
received an email when their paycheck hit their account. Charter One Bank
uses its call center to sign up customers for its alert service. Whenever a
call comes in that could have been handled by an automatic alert, the
customer is given the option to sign up for future alerts. Because Charter
offers phone and fax options the customer needn’t even be online to use
Charter’s system. A significant amount of the bank’s initial alert signups
were obtained in this manner. The alert tool also helps drive users into
online banking. Once account alerts begin arriving, online banking is a
Provide email response times on par with call centers
The last time we tested email response times, the typical reply, if there
was one, took several days. Today, response times are much improved, with
half the sample answering the same day. But enormous room for improvement
still exists. Before e-service can really take off, users must be treated on
par with call-center users. If you answer email questions in 24 hours and
telephone calls in two minutes, customers will continue to pick up the
Within the next year or two, we believe banks will typically answer
routine questions in less than an hour. That will be good enough to deflect
many calls. In our recent test, two top-10 banks beat the 60-minute
standard,* Washington Mutual with an amazing four minute response time and
Fleet with a respectable 46 minutes. With a network of “on call” e-reps to
handle peak loads, email support can eventually be faster than the phone,
without any increase in expense.
*The 60-minute response time doesn’t have to happen over night. You
could start with “same-day responses for questions received before 2:00
PM,” and improve from there.
Cross-sell during service opportunities
Every customer interaction is a potential selling opportunity: overdraft
credit lines when checks bounce, online banking when statements are lost;
transaction alerts when customers call about a specific check. For best
results, emphasize the immediate benefit. For example, “Sure, we can waive
that NSF fee, and as long as you take a moment to request an overdraft line
of credit so that it doesn’t happen again.”
Charge for premium support
Some customers demand the best of everything and are willing to pay for
it. Take advantage of this sentiment by offering a premium bundle of online
services and support. For example, the Platinum E-Account with
unlimited bill payment, VIP support line with guaranteed 15-minute response,
and 100% no-questions-asked fraud protection. Most software companies now
offer fee-based support options that allow customers to select their desired
level of service support.
For $40/yr, Dell buyers can upgrade to Express Tech Support
which allows users to “jump to the front of the line” when placing tech support
Humanize the service experience
One of the main reasons customers prefer branch and telephone service
support is the desire to deal with a human accountable for satisfying the
customer. To recruit users to e-service, you need to provide similar human
accountability for electronic service.
High-value customers could be assigned one or more permanent human
points of contact within the e-service center. Each service inquiry would
automatically be routed to the designated human(s) whenever possible.
Alternate routing sequences would be established for off-hours, holidays,
and vacations. Alternatively, the human rep could be copies on all service
inquiries and could chime in with additional comments or help.
The human point of contact would proactively serve the user, periodically
reaching out to see if the customer had questions. Furthermore, the point of
contact would keep detailed records of prior service contacts so the customer
did not have to reiterate previously communicated information about a problem.
Techniques: search, FAQs, help centers, tutorials, wizards, forums,
The importance of Web self-service is growing
rapidly as financial institutions deploy ever more user-friendly and helpful
tools. In the last six months alone, online users interviewed by
Vividence have shown an almost 50% increase in their preference for
self-service options. Self-service now is the most popular choice among
financial website users, edging out telephone, live chat, and email/online
forms (see Table 13, below). Web self-service at financial
institutions still trails that deployed by online retailers and tech
companies, but those companies have fewer support options. However, we are
beginning to see impressive programs at banking sites, for example,
SunTrust, an early innovator in search tapping Ask Jeeves
for natural-language search years ago. The bank also implemented
SafeHarbor’s graphical-FAQ approach in early.
Site Search Usage for Banking Product
% of using site search feature
Source: Forrester, 3/04,
Percent of each age group using site search the last time they
researched a banking product
*average across all ages not listed, OBR est.
Although search has been the recognized killer app of the
Web since the early days, financial institutions have generally done a poor
job supporting search on their websites, although it’s improved dramatically
during the last year or two. Although there are still two top-20 banks not
offering search, that’s down from 5 last fall. Now that Google has achieved
verb status, you must pay attention to site-search. Recent Forrester
research shows that in the key 29- to 57–year-old segment, half used
site-search the last time they researched a banking product (Table 15). See Table 17 opposite for ideas on how to improve your site
Searching is still hit and miss even at the most
sophisticated banks. We recently searched the top-20 U.S. banks for
“SEP-IRA,” a common savings plan for small business and self-employed
individuals. We found correct results at just eight, or 40% of the total (see
summary Table 16, below). Searches at Citibank, Chase,
Wells, Bank One, and Washington Mutual all failed. The
best results were from SunTrust (screenshot below), the only
top-20 bank using Ask Jeeves natural language search.
Depending on the question, iPhrase powered search at TD Waterhouse
delivers a link to a product area or an answer in a FAQ.
Detail: Financial Institution Search Results
search for “sep-ira””
Source: Online Banking Report test, 4/7/03, 1 to 3 PM
Pacific time on broadband connection
(1) Location of the box for entering the search text, e.g.,
upper right means the box was positioned in the upper-right portion of the
home page, ‘click Search” means you have to click on a search link before
you get to the search box
(2) Did the search results return a link to product
information on SEP-IRAs, a retirement savings product geared to U.S. small
business owners, a topic of great interest in anticipation of the April 15
U.S. federal income tax deadline
(3) Excluding those with zero and Wachovia’s 1109
(4) Only six of 20 banks came back with an immediate good
result, the other 2 required a research within a different area; in total
just 8 of 20 banks were able to help me find SEP-IRA info
FAQs (frequently asked questions)
Site Reference Material Used for Banking Product Research
% of using site feature
Source: Forrester, 3/04,
Percent of each age group using product description or educational material
pages the last time they researched a banking product
*average across all ages not listed, OBR est.
After search, the next most common method to research bank products is to
consult site reference material such as product descriptions, educational
material, and FAQs, which are especially important in self-service. As a
standard Web convention, users are accustomed to turning to the frequently
asked questions to get basic questions answered. More and more the FAQs
provide interactive, detailed, and authoritative support.
Although many online retailers and Web-services companies force
users through the FAQ before displaying customer service phone numbers, that’s
not a recommended practice for most banks. At least not until you are absolutely
sure your FAQs deliver exceptionally reliable answers. Most customers still
expect good telephone support as part of a banking relationship.
FAQ sections have evolved from a bare-bones text-based area to
interactive knowledge bases stocked with graphical solutions and step-by-step
tutorials. Too see how FAQs should be built, look closely at SunTrust’s
HelpCenter, powered by SafeHarbor (see screenshot below).
Even complex technical answers are easy to understand due to the layout,
screenshot visual aids, and good copy writing.
HelpCenter excels at tech support, providing graphical instructions in place
of tedious text-based answers. Here are great instructions for how to enable
cookies in IE 6. Notice how few words are used in the instructions. Screenshots
handle most of the work.
Note: Related articles are posted to the right of the main tutorial.
Note: Feedback is solicited on each page to help SafeHarbor evaluate the
usefulness of its answers to each question.
|Preemptive||Bank solves or identifies potential
problems BEFORE user raises the issue or is even aware of the
|Alerts, instant messages, text
messaging, voice messaging, pushed account information, satisfaction
|Self-service||Users solve their own problems online||FAQs, tutorials, calculators,
troubleshooting modules, imbedded help, search, image & statement
|Responsive||Bank responds to questions online||Email, Web inquiry, chat, instant
messaging, call back, co-browsing
Source: Online Banking Report 4/04; partially adapted from a Mar. 31,
2004 presentation by Forrester’s, Catherine Graeber
Most people think of email when discussing electronic service. But email
is just one part, albeit an important one, when designing a comprehensive
e-service program. Electronic service consists of three distinct classes of
- Preemptive or proactive support: Services that provide
warnings before problems arise. In the branch environment, it used to be the
courtesy call when an overdraft situation was first detected. Online it’s
the triggered account alert telling users their balance has fallen below a
preset limit or an email confirmation when a deposit is made. These services
are fantastic for customer satisfaction, although they could have a
short-term negative impact on fee income.
- Self-service or self-guided support: Self-service options are
growing in acceptance as users begin to understand that high-quality
Web-based support can deliver accurate answers in a fraction of the time it
takes to walk through the problem on the telephone with one or more customer
service reps. While financial institutions can deploy self-service options
relatively inexpensively, resist the temptation to cut development costs to
the bone. Bad self-service support can do more harm than good; driving users
to the phone already in an agitated state after wasting time trying to find
the answer online.
- Responsive or reactive support: This category is most like
traditional phone support. In theory, questions received electronically
(email, Web form, or text-based chat) can be handled more economically with
tools that provide preformatted answer templates for common queries. In
practice, there is a substantial learning curve before cost savings
materialize. However, many banks are beginning to see measurable call
deflection among their online user base. A major credit card issuer told us
that their online cardholders were making 30% fewer telephone calls, a
dramatic cost savings. However, users may not be satisfied with e-service
efforts which will slow adoption. For example, only 25% of users are
satisfied using email for problem resolution compared to 69% satisfaction
for the phone and 76% for face-to-face branch interactions
For 2004, we project growth of 5 million new U.S. financial e-service
households, about 15% fewer newcomers compared to the 6 million added in
2003. Also, the rate of growth will slow to 18% from 2003’s 27%. Because 10
million households use electronic customer service but don’t bank online,
it’s important to capture the email addresses of these users so you can
communicate with them electronically. Only one top-10 U.S. bank currently
allows users to opt-in for email communications even when the user is
already providing their email address in the course of making a web-based
Looking at the research, one is tempted to conclude that e-service is
less important than traditional phone and branch service. Customers are
relatively satisfied with their phone and face-to-face experiences at
financial institutions. According to Forrester, the traditional channels
enjoy an average satisfaction rate of 80%, nearly four times the rate of
e-service options which were in the low-20% range. Only the much-maligned
IVR (automated phone) service was lower at 12% (see Table 6, below).
More recent research shows that the Web is gaining ground in all areas
except problem resolution, where only 25% of respondents are satisfied with
the service received (see Table 7, below).
However, even though satisfaction trails other methods, online users
overwhelmingly prefer electronic channels when dealing with their bank. In
research released just this month, Vividence, a customer-satisfaction
research company, found that three times as many users prefer electronic
channels for service compared to the telephone. Jupiter Research also found
similar results in actual behavior at online retailers. It found that during
2002 year-end holiday period that three-quarters of respondents used email and
Web-based options in their initial attempt to contact an online retailer for
service (see column 1, Table 8, opposite).
Financial institutions should be enthusiastic about these consumer
preferences, given the potential cost savings. According to Gartner, email
service can save $2 per interaction compared to the telephone. Furthermore,
Web-based self service can drive costs down more than 80%, to less than $1 per
interaction (see last column, Table 8, opposite). As always, take these
research results with a grain of salt. It’s early in the learning curve for both
providers and users. Weaning users off high-cost delivery channels will be a
long-term process using both carrots and sticks.