April 25, 2006

Three studies recently were released by online solutions provider Keynote Systems (San Mateo, Calif.) that ranked the top banks' Web sites on several measures, including customer experience, site reliability and best practices. The results yielded insights into what makes a financial institution's foray onto the Web a successful one.

The trio of reports consisted of a customer experience ranking, the WebExcellence scorecard and a service-level ranking. A total of 29 banks were involved in the study, all selected by Keynote.

In the first study, 200 prospective customers visited 10 bank sites and spent about an hour interacting with each one, performing real tasks assigned by the researchers.

Keynote Customer Experience Rankings (Overall customer satisfaction/experience):
1. Wachovia
2. National City
3. Bank of America

The WebExcellence scorecard looked at the implementation of best practices on bank sites from the point of view of financial services experts. This was previously known as the Gomez scorecard of bank Web sites. Keynote purchased GomezPro and incorporated its know-how into its own research. The scorecard ranked sites across over 290 best practices, such as ease of use, security, quality and availability.

Keynote WebExcellence Scorecard (Overall online excellence/implementation of best practices):
1. Chase
2. Citibank
3. Bank of America, Wells Fargo (tied)

The final study— service-level ranking, which looked at responsiveness and reliability of Web sites— scored bank sites on how quickly they respond to user commands and such factors as average downtime. Keynote employed its software agents for this performance measure and collected 6,500 measures a month across 10 locations in the United States.

Keynote Service Level Rankings— Reliability:
1. National City
2. Citibank
3. Wells Fargo

Keynote Service Level Rankings— Responsiveness:
1. Wachovia
2. Chase
3. National City

There is some obvious consistency in terms of the banks that appear on the three lists. According to Lance Jones, associate director of research at Keynote, the studies provide a look into the areas to which these different banks are dedicating their resources. "At certain banks, the senior executives really understand how important the online experience is overall for driving business," Jones explains. "But you see differences in senior executives whose priority is on Web site service levels versus customer experience."

There could be a variety of reasons for this disparity, including budgets and who speaks up the loudest at the bank, he says. However, "We tell them they have to look at both these things— service levels and customer experience— [in order to succeed online]."

National City (Cleveland) actually is a top-three bank in three of the rankings— customer experience, reliability and responsiveness. Jones says that National City has done particularly well over the last few years, showing it takes service levels seriously. He also points to Bank of America (Charlotte, N.C.) as understanding the benefits of the online channel in terms of the cost savings it can generate. "Bank of America is trying to move people to the idea of paperless statements. In a parallel study, we asked consumers if they received paper statements, and the majority that said 'no' were Bank of America customers."

Overall, Jones thinks bank sites are quite healthy when compared to those of other industries, contrary to other research. "We look at sites in the search industry, retail, travel and others. Financial services sites are absolutely competitive. Banks are really trying to drive people online. The self-service model is being taken seriously so they want to make sure their sites are available, responsive and allow users to do as many things as possible."

In the end, Jones says banks must tie these three factors together— customer experience, best practices and reliability/responsiveness— to have an effective Web presence. "We want banks to understand that they can't go hard into one particular area and ignore the others. They have to understand what's available versus their competitors, what consumers think of their sites versus competitors' and how their sites are performing. You cannot stand still here or else you will get passed at some point."

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