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Tim Carpenter, Gomez Inc.
Tim Carpenter, Gomez Inc.
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Favored Customers Don't Always Receive Superior Service

Recent Gomez research suggests that some top banks are providing existing customers with service that doesn't meet the standard provided through contact methods open to the public.

Supplying unique customer service options for existing customers extends to the fulfillment of inquiries submitted through secure e-mail. Through the use of authenticated account management areas, the identity of customers is ensured through secure Web-based forms that are available only after account log-in.

When an existing customer accesses an authenticated Web-based e-mail form, 800-number or IVR path provided within the customer service section of the account management area, he expects to get answers to general and specific account-related questions and to do so effectively within his chosen service channel. The existing customer, first and foremost, expects the quality and speed of service will match or exceed that provided for non-account holders and the general public. Recent Gomez research, however, suggests that some top banks are providing existing customers with service that doesn't meet the standard provided through contact methods open to the public.

Gomez analysts conducted five rounds of both e-mail and phone customer service testing over two weeks asking the three largest U.S. banks (by retail deposits) a series of non-account-specific questions through the authenticated e-mail and phone service channels. Using the 800 numbers and Web forms supplied in the account management area of Bank of America's California offering, Wachovia's First Union offering and Wells Fargo's national offering, we tested the customer service quality of the offerings that service the customers of each bank's most populous state.

Our test results of these three leading banks, when compared with previous testing of non-authenticated phone and e-mail customer service, suggest the industry needs to be more sensitive to responsiveness, accuracy and cross-sell opportunities when serving existing customers. Our recommendations include:

Show appreciation with preferred responsiveness. Our data suggests that many banks are effectively using the authenticated account management area to identify e-mail inquiries submitted by existing customers and deliver more timely responses to them. Wachovia and Wells Fargo, in fact, significantly improved their average response times for inquiries submitted through the e-mail form available in the public area of the site. Through its First Union offering, Wachovia, whose average response time to non-authenticated e-mails was an adequate nineteen hours and thirty-nine minutes, exhibited stellar response time to existing customers' e-mails with an average of one hour and twenty-six minutes. Bank of America's response time, however, deteriorated by 41% with an average response time to existing customers' e-mails of over four days.

On the telephone customer service front, the banks provided inferior responsiveness to calls made by authenticated customers when benchmarked against non-authenticated customers. Bank of America and Wells Fargo posted average response times to existing customers' calls of more than eleven minutes despite average response times of under six minutes to calls initiated through (public) customer service phone numbers. Allocating customer service staff to provide existing customers with preferred responsiveness sends the message that banks value their customers' time and business. Additionally, timely e-mail responses reinforce the speed and simplicity of the Internet and encourage more self-service behavior.

Accuracy needs to be improved. During both phone and e-mail testing, only Wachovia provided a higher percentage of acceptable answers to its authenticated customers (100% for phone; 80% for e-mail) than it provided through non-authenticated phone and e-mail customer service (80% phone; 60% e-mail). Part of the accuracy issue for e-mail accuracy lies with the use of natural-language CRM systems, which are designed to resolve inquiries in a timely and cost-effective manner, but do not interpret every inquiry correctly.

The customer experience is cheapened when an existing customer requests an explanation of the difference between the APY and the interest rate, only to receive a seemingly software-generated response that lists the interest rates of the bank's various savings accounts. The relationship cost associated with poorly performing CRM systems requires that banks either improve these systems or subject responses to more intensive human review before they are sent. Additionally, banks should spare existing customers unnecessary frustration by putting top performing service representatives on their phone inquiries.

Selling the cross-sell. Grand cross-sell opportunities exist for banks within authenticated customer service interactions with existing customers. These touch points facilitate an effective cross-sell because the customer initiates communication and his inquiry allows for a more personal proposition. The selling point of the cross-sell is the bank's keen understanding of what the customer wants or needs at that time, coupled with the speed and ease with which the customer can engage the proposition. Because the cross-sell is delivered alongside a requested service, the value of the proposition, as interpreted by the consumer, will be influenced by the overall customer experience of the touch point.

However, an existing customer who waits on the phone for twenty minutes or receives a response to his e-mail three days after he submitted it only to find that it doesn't even address his question is not going to be confident in the bank's understanding of his needs, nor its ability to provide any product/service in a timely and convenient fashion. If banks want to sell ancillary products to existing customers through authenticated service interactions, they must look at how the image the project affects customers' openness to doing more business with them.

To remain competitive, banks need to address phone inquiries from existing customers in less than four minutes and provide accurate responses to e-mails within six to twelve hours. However, our testing indicates that existing customers of at least two top banks would be better off ignoring the contact options provided in their account management area, and instead use the non-authenticated Web form, 800 number or IVR options provided for the general public.

Given banks' stated online objectives and the current economic environment, it seems counter-intuitive to advertise customer care options in the account management area that will ultimately provide existing customers with inferior service.

Tim Carpenter is a financial services research analyst at www.gomez.com, a Waltham, MA market research and advisory services firm specializing in Internet quality measurement. Please send any comments or feedback to "mailto:tcarpenter@gomez.com"> tcarpenter@gomez.com.

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