Most banks continue to have a lot to learn about online customer service., according to Richard Bell, research manager at research and consulting firm Financial Insights (Framingham, Mass.). "The bottom line is that the technologies to do a pretty good job are out there," Bell said. "But institutions are not doing a very good job of using those technologies. They need to move beyond the content and look very seriously at support."
For example, in a past study, Bell e-mailed two typical customer questions to each of the top 50 U.S. banks by assets, then monitored the results. One in four never responded, while 18 percent took more than one day to answer and another third of the answers were unclear or otherwise problematic. Banks "need to get serious about doing a good job of e-mail response," he said. Bell also addressed five commonly used service approaches:
- Frequently asked questions (FAQs): "For an enormous portion of the questions, they are absolutely effective. On the downside, they do not work well if the question is specific to that person."
- Search and query: "It has the capacity to examine a great number of sources of information," but "the results are pretty uneven." Simple search technologies depend on words-a dicey proposition, Bell pointed out. "In the English language we use lots of different words rather imprecisely."
- Applications-supported self-service: "It is a very rich service model, and can guide the user to a resolution" as it handles complex questions. The downsides include the need to come up with an approach for each question the bank wants to engage. "You cannot afford to do them in many cases. They are best when the question is not simple and the answer has high value."
- E-mail responses to consumers' questions: "The good news is you can ask virtually any question. The bad news is the per-incident cost tends to be quite high. They are useful from a customer point of view, and difficult from an institutional standpoint. You probably want to limit where and how you do e-mail."
- Live Web service: With this approach, a CSR can answer questions live, over the Internet. "It is outstanding support. The parties can interact in real time." But, Bell added, "these things really require broadband for consumers, and it is expensive."