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27 May 2012

Banking websites perform poorly on publishing customer service standards

A Price Perrott snapshot survey of major high street banking websites in the UK and New Zealand has revealed poor performance in publishing commitments to customer service standards.

A simple test was applied to the major high street banking websites in both the UK and New Zealand, determining the ease with which consumers are able to find out about their bank's commitment to customer service excellence.

Only three of ten global banks performed acceptably, with the remaining seven leaving internet based consumers in the dark as to the standards of service they can expect.

What did we test?

Price Perrott's snapshot survey involved a visual review of the home page of each bank's main website for obvious links.  A search of each website using the search engine provided was made using the following phrases:

  1. Customer charter
  2. Customer promise
  3. Customer service mission
  4. Customer service standards
In New Zealand, the bank websites tested were:
  1. ANZ
  2. National Bank (part of ANZ group)
  3. ASB
  4. BNZ
  5. Westpac
  6. Kiwibank
In the UK, the bank websites tested were:
  1. Barclays
  2. HSBC
  3. National Westminster Bank (NatWest)
  4. Lloyds TSB

What results did we find?

The clear winner was the UK's NatWest bank - the only institution with its customer charter as one of the five key links right in the centre of their home page.

In New Zealand, ANZ emerged as the top performer with the first search engine test providing an immediate link to a clearly presented page setting out the Retail General Manager's customer service promises.  National Bank (a part of ANZ Group) followed closely behind, with customer service standards reached from the 'About us' link in two clicks.

Performance amongst other banks was less impressive.  New Zealand's ASB takes an innovative approach of having a customer experience video available within a couple of clicks, which was felt to be worthy of mention.

The other New Zealand banks had little or no information returned from the search engines of relevance, offering top search returns of basic word matches and lengthy documents (like the code of banking practice) as PDF files.  Westpac returned a page linking to their Retail General Manager's commitment to "the Westpac customer promise". Finding information on what this promise contained proved more elusive.  A search engine test on exactly this phrase gave no significant returns of relevance on the first page of hits.

The UK experience amongst the big four high street banks reflected the New Zealand results.  National Westminster's website was nothing short of exceptional with the most obvious available information of any bank tested.  The prominence of a customer charter as one of the five main links from their homepage gave a high profile and visible commitment to customer service as a high business priority.

NatWest was also considered to have done well in the search engine results. Their customer charter page was returned very quickly in the first page of hits in all but the third search phrase tested.  Where documents were returned, these were found to give customer charter achievement results with a swift link to the charter standards themselves.  NatWest puts the consumer no more than two clicks from its customer charter.

The remaining UK banks tested did not fare very well at all.  With little or no information evident on the home pages, even a search of small links to 'about us' areas of the website revealed little performance information on the standards the customer could expect to receive.

The general impression of the other UK bank results was one of a product based transactional website designed to steer the customer into the product sale the institution wishes to push.  Contact numbers are given in some cases, but little information on the service standards that apply once the consumer has been steered into buying a product.

Our assessment

This was an interesting exercise to perform, from the perspective of an average consumer using the internet to answer the question "what standard of service can I expect from this bank?"

The leaders - NatWest in the UK and ANZ in New Zealand - gave the clear impression of a corporate culture committed to excellence in customer service.  ASB's innovative video approach was felt to be interesting, but quickly began to have the feel of a sophisticated sales qualification tool.

In a competitive market like financial services, it's important to recognise that consumers have high expectations and value the look and feel of personal services.  The global financial crisis has not helped the reputation of bankers in recent years.

Banking institutions demonstrating their commitment to high standards of customer service by making open promises to their customers about performance standards will see the benefits of greater loyalty and lower customer churn.

Three questions you should think about

If you've found this an interesting article, consider what it means for your own organisation and think about the following three questions:
  1. what is it our customers want to know about the service they're going to get from us?
  2. does our website search engine help them find this information quickly and easily?
  3. has my organisation put service excellence at the heart of its customer strategy?
How easy it is to find your commitment to customer service says a lot about how seriously you take the delivery of service excellence.

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