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Self-Service Support Techniques

Techniques: search, FAQs, help centers, tutorials, wizards, forums,
product selectors

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
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,
an early innovator in search tapping Ask Jeeves
for natural-language search years ago. The bank also implemented
graphical-FAQ approach in early.

Table 15

Site Search Usage for Banking Product

% of using site search feature

Age Range Usage









Approximate average*


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,
, 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.


Table 18

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)

Table 19

Site Reference Material Used for Banking Product Research

% of using site feature

Age Range Usage









Approximate average*


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.