The online customer service ratings for Britain's banks have dropped to an all-time low, according to research from e-service provider Transversal, which found that half of the major banks were unable to answer a single one of ten basic customer questions asked via their web sites.
Overall, the banking sector averaged a score of only 2.5 out of 10, successfully answering one-quarter of common questions asked. The general level of online customer service in 2006 was substantially worse than in 2005 (when only two banks scored zero and the sector successfully answered an average of three questions out of ten).
For the study, the questions were based on typical customer enquiries, and asked for information on credit card offers, bank loans, and mortgages.
Serious service issues
According to Transversal, the study shows that banks are not generally taking online service seriously, despite 56% of UK consumers now banking on the internet (according to a March 2006 study by Datamonitor). Given widespread branch closures, poor online service is forcing customers to e-mail or call contact centres, which are often off-shore.
To make matters worse for consumers, 60% of the banks' web sites don't allow consumers to contact them by e-mail, forcing them to use telephone-based call centres.
Most banks also failed to provide static customer information, such as FAQs (frequently asked questions) on the web site (only 50% had these). In many cases, the FAQs that were available online were hidden away in obscure parts of the web site, rather than being displayed prominently.
Of those that provided the ability to ask questions by e-mail, the banks took an average of 22 hours to respond. The quickest response took 8 hours, while the slowest response was 69 hours. Transversal's CEO, Davin Yap, quipped that 69 hours is actually enough time to travel to an off-shore contact centre and ask the question in person.
According to Yap, "The immediacy and speed of the online channel suits both consumers and banks, but must be backed up by fast, accurate customer service. While more and more Britons are banking online, overall customer service has taken a dramatic step backward over the past year. Those laggards that fail to understand and invest in online customer service will face frustrated customers that won't hesitate to defect to competitors."