It won’t come as much of a surprise to many customers, but a study of 52 leading European financial services companies found that UK banks and building societies deliver poor levels of online customer service.
The survey, commissioned by IBM and Kana Software, was conducted via a “mystery shopping study” of financial services companies in the UK and Germany.
We wouldn’t have fancied the job, but the hapless researchers tested the quality of online customer service available by trying to find an answer to typical customer queries using the available online channels (online help facilities, customer service email etc).
The sample questions seemed simple enough – ‘What savings accounts do you offer?’, ‘What are the interest rates?’ or ‘How do you ensure that the Internet banking you provide is secure?’ – but the study found the just over half of UK financial institutions failed dismally to get with the program, either giving an incorrect answer or going totally schtum.
Over a third of the companies surveyed couldn’t be bothered to include a contact email address on their websites, and almost a fifth weren’t into the concept of answering any emails, ever. No sir.
Although a majority of UK companies had contact information such as telephone numbers and multiple contacts on their websites, few liked the idea of being interrupted by customer communication via email or webforms, and none offered anything as useful as a real-time web-chat option.
The study also found that banks were a bit lackadaisical in their efforts to provide secure channels for consumers, with only 29 per cent offering encrypted and secure communication channels. Two-thirds could only muster non-encrypted communication, leaving punters vulnerable to online theft and eavesdropping.
Eddie Keal, financial services team leader at IBM, was ready and willing to give it to The Man: “Firms that enable customers to easily answer their own questions online using searchable FAQs and convenient web 2.0 capabilities, such as social networking software and live chat, can increase customer satisfaction and cross-selling opportunities.”
Although we fully concur that UK banks offer dismal online customer communication, it has to be said that their ‘human’ offerings are generally dreadful too. In a recent phone call to Barclays’ automated system, we calculated that we had to type in more than 25 digits on our phone and go through no less than 6 prompts over five minutes before we got… a disconnected signal.