Banks online service worse than phone, says research

Despite UK banks investing millions in the internet, it is faster to phone contact centres for basic information, according to the latest annual multi-channel customer service research from eService provider Transversal.

Bank websites could only provide answers for 50 per cent of routine questions asked online, with the majority relying on static and complex FAQ pages rather than interacting with customers to deliver the right answers through the right channel.

Demonstrating a growing customer service chasm between banks' customer service channels, 30 per cent of bank websites struggled to answer more than two out of ten product and service questions - while only one scored top marks. For those trying to get answers from banks via email customer service was even worse. Nearly a third (30 per cent) of banks still don't offer the facility to email questions. Of those that did the average reply time was 30 hours for a response - and even then only 3 out of ten satisfactorily answered the question, meaning that customers would then need to phone a contact centre for more information.

In contrast, contact centre response times have improved dramatically with 60 per cent of calls answered within 3 minutes, and the shortest wait times being just a few seconds. During the busiest time in the evening, some longer wait times of between 6 and 15 minutes were experienced, but overall answer times were less than 4 minutes. These findings are pushing customers towards the telephone channel, irrespective of personal preference and demonstrate a failure to adopt a cohesive online customer interaction strategy by many banks.

Transversal's annual research measures customer service by searching for answers to ten common sector-specific questions on the websites, via email and contact centres of ten major UK banks. The 2007 results showed patchy improvements from 2005 and 2006 - overall more questions were answered but it took longer on average to respond to emails (30 versus 22 hours in 2006) and less email questions were answered satisfactorily (30 per cent versus 40 per cent in 2006).

"Banks have invested heavily in the internet channel - but our research shows that in the majority of cases it is very much the poor relation when it comes to customer service," commented Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. "While previously online customers have had to cope with a lack of information we're now seeing more content - but this makes finding the right answer as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack. With the advent of Web 2.0 providing the ability to deliver a personalised service and improved interaction banks need to wake up to the changing needs of their customers - or suffer the consequences as they shift accounts."

15 million people now bank online in the UK, a figure that is growing rapidly due to higher broadband usage and greater choice on the web. However this increase has been matched by an increased impatience by customers, who are now demanding faster answers to more complex queries from their banks.

While 80 per cent of banks surveyed has some sort of customer Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) section (up from 50 per cent in 2006) many of these were extremely large and difficult to navigate to find tailored information.

Overall 2007 average banking results were as follows:

- Average number of questions answered online: 5 out of 10 (2006 findings: 3)

- Percentage of companies that responded to email correctly: 30% (2006 findings: 40%)

- Average email response time: 30 hours (2006 findings: 22 hours)

- Percentage with customer FAQ pages:80% (2005 findings: 50%)

- Percentage with customer search: 60% (2005 findings: 40%)

- Average call wait times:

1-2pm: 1 minute 36 seconds

6-7pm: 3 minute 50 seconds

7-8pm: 3 minute 38 seconds

8-9pm: 2 minute 14 seconds

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