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Moriah Campbell-Holt
Moriah Campbell-Holt
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Web Banks Beat Brick and Mortars To The E-Mail Punch

Internet-centric banks get top marks for e-mail customer service, but leave room for improvement.

Internet-centric banks beat their traditional brethren in responding promptly and accurately to e-mail inquiries, according to Gomez research conducted for the most recent Banker Scorecard. The vast majority of Internet-centric banks responded within a day to consumer inquiries sent through the Web interface or by e-mail. Moreover, the top three performers, American Bank, First IB and National City, correctly answered at least five out of six inquiries within three hours.

To test banks' e-mail responsiveness, Gomez analysts conducted six rounds of e-mail inquiries during a one-month period, using e-mail addresses from public providers such as Hotmail or Yahoo and submitting queries as directed in each bank's "contact us" area. Analysts asked questions about how to use the external marketing site and the account management area at each institution and considered a "response" anything other than an auto-reply or confirmation of receipt.

While just four out of 24 (16 percent) brick and mortar firms responded in less than three hours, three out of five (60 percent) Internet-centric banks met this threshold. Furthermore, the majority (70 percent) of Internet-centric banks responded to e-mail in less than 24 hours, with an average response time of 10.21 hours--less than half of the 21.48 hours it took brick and mortar institutions to respond.

One question showed a surprising gap. When asked, "When I am sending an outgoing bill payment that goes via the mail, is there a memo field where I can enter additional information about the payment similar to if I were writing a paper check?" 100 percent of the Internet-centric banks responded both accurately and within 24 hours. Meanwhile, just under 88 percent of traditional banks responded accurately, only 58 percent responded on time, and just 54 percent answered both accurately and within 24 hours.

But although Internet-centric banks are clearly making an effort to serve both prospects and customers via non-authenticated e-mail, there is a marked opportunity for improvement for both kinds of banks--especially when measured against the phone channel.

Although, no inquiry concerned personal information, responses repeatedly stated that additional personal or account information was necessary to complete the request. In a related situation, customers were asked to log into online banking and resubmit the request.

These types of responses are particularly troubling when the inquiry is clearly coming from a prospect. By asking for personal or account information when none is necessary or available, banks miss a resolution opportunity and also risk migrating prospects and customers to a more costly service channel. In fact, in several cases, responses directed customers to phone customer service rather than addressing the inquiry.

While overall performance is relatively strong, if banks wish to migrate online bankers to the Web to complete transactions and service requests, they must make more of an effort to deliver customer service, which is comparable or better than the phone channel and which doesn't simply point customers to that channel.

Moriah Campbell-Holt is an analyst following the online banking and credit cards space at Gomez, Inc., a Waltham, Mass., Internet quality research firm. Please send any comments or feedback to mcampbell-holt@Gomez.com.

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