Financial services must address e-mail problems

Britain’s financial services sector is failing to deal adequately with customer e-mail enquiries. Web-based enquiry systems barely beat traditional postal and telephone systems.

Building societies, banks and insurance companies, which invite customer enquiries through e-mail addresses to Web-based enquiry forms, are offering an “inadequate level of response”, according to a survey by Incisive Research.

Insurance companies lead the way in soliciting e-mail enquiries, with over half of those surveyed geared up to handle Internet enquiries.

Response times by insurers were generally better than banks and building societies, with Scottish Amicable responding to an e-mail enquiry about PEPs within two hours.

A creditable 40 per cent of e-mail enquiries prompted next-day responses, although Norwich Union took 16 days to respond.

Building societies performed poorly, with a third of those surveyed – including the Bradford & Bingley and Birmingham Midshires – failing to provide any response to an e-mail enquiry.

The Co-operative Bank and TSB were identified as top performers in the retail banking sector. However, Midland, NatWest and Bank of Scotland took over four days to respond, Abbey National eight and Barclays failed to respond at all.

According to Joel Harrison, consultant at Incisive Research: “The UK retail financial services industry needs to realise that averaging four days to respond is wholly unacceptable for an e-mail query.

“Customers want a rapid, personalised response. At present, these companies are using the Internet as a brochure-ordering service and failing to interact with customers to close the sale.”

The survey was commissioned by US company Brightware, which provides electronic customer care systems to US financial services groups, including American Express and Chase Manhattan.

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