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Deena M. Amato-McCoy
Deena M. Amato-McCoy
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Creating Virtual Value

By integrating business channels, consolidating customer histories and beefing up security, banks are improving their online offerings to provide customers with all the conveniences of branch banking in the comfort of their own homes.

Self-Sufficient

"The key to self service is to maintain customer touch points without sacrificing customer service," says Andrew Feit, senior vice president and general manager for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Verity, a provider of search and analytics software. "All banks are focused on reducing the costs of servicing customers and scaling their customer reach," he says. "By leveraging automated tools that provide a simple and functional customer experience, they will achieve both goals."

Some of the most popular self-service tools are e-mail communications, live text chat and e-mail-based alerts or notifications. According to Feit, some banks are working with Verity to add search tools similar to those used on Google and Yahoo! to their Web sites. "Users input keywords into our search box, then it is presented to the bank," he explains. "The bank returns data and answers the query."

Ghana International Bank ($412.2 million in total assets) relies on customer feedback to determine its essential self-service tools. The London-based bank, which is owned by the Ghanaian government, caters to corporate customers on an international basis. A majority of its customers are Ghanaian cooperates who reside in Ghana. Ghana International obtains feedback from customers through both formal meetings and questionnaires. For example, a team of representatives based in Ghana regularly visits customers "to obtain feedback about any issues or improvements that can foster easier management of their accounts online," explains Francis Aidoo, IT manager for the bank. "By meeting their demands, our customer base continues to increase."

To address customer demand for more control over amending account information, Ghana International now enables its corporate customers to change status information online. "We allow them to view a history of transactions as well as to amend specific details," says Aidoo. "They can reconcile accounts electronically and amend item posting details as transactions hit the system. This gives them more freedom."

Looking ahead, self-service tools will help consumers stay connected to their financial portfolios at home or on the go. Through self-service tools that can be accessed remotely from a laptop, WAP-enabled cellphone or PDA, visitors no longer need to wait for information to be sent to them.

"It is about making information more accessible to users when they need it," says Verity's Feit. "Banks need to be proactive about sending customer-specific information to them before they need it."

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