Bank websites need stronger connection

As the amount of money Britons are putting away for a rainy day rises, new research reveals that websites operated by savings account providers are failing to meet consumer expectations. By Louise Jack

The quality of consumers’ online experience with savings providers in the UK is failing to meet their expectations, according to research from customer experience agency Global Reviews.

The report suggests that savings providers in the UK have two main areas requiring improvement – how they communicate their products online and how they meet their customers’ needs.

This is worrying news for marketers, especially considering that the National Savings & Investments quarterly survey reported this summer that savings levels have hit the highest point in almost five years. On average, Britons are setting aside £92.41 each month, up from £90.12 in winter 2008/09; the amount saved as a percentage of income increased from 6.35% in spring 2008 and 6.48% in winter 2008/09 to 6.83% by spring 2009.

Global Reviews director Harvind Bhatti is unsurprised that consumers are expressing their discontent with online savings providers’ offerings because she believes they have been focusing on improving the back end of their operations, rather than the parts people can see.

She says “If you look at the progression of how companies are tackling the internet, a lot of investment has gone on in terms of the back end – just making bits and bytes meet. That’s been a hard slog – full credit for it.”

Behind the scenes
Despite all the work done behind the scenes to fix the basic elements of how consumers can apply for accounts and the processes involved, this is passing consumers by, warns Bhatti.

In the last few years, consumers have been using comparison websites, which allow people to quickly compare savings products. As a result, consumers’ experiences of online savings brands are lagging behind their expectations.

By putting too much emphasis on the technical benefits of products to consumers, brands offering savings accounts have failed to match them to consumers’ goals. The most effective websites operated by savings providers, such as US-based site Allstate, treat customers’ needs as the core focus rather than simply profiling products and interest rates.

The research highlights that even brands with less competitive financial offers can still convert interest to business if they develop a good understanding of their consumers. The study compares the landing pages on financial services providers’ websites and finds that good product landing pages could convert up to 100% better than poor ones.

Critically, the results highlight that the majority of factors that contribute to a good landing page are customer experience values. In essence, if a provider matches a product to a user’s goal (product appropriateness) and manages to balance highlighting customer needs and technical specifications (eg interest rate) with good next step signposts, these pages will convert better than those with just the technical product details on display.

While the UK lags behind its rivals in other regions – notably Australia, where providers are receiving very high average scores – brands offering savings in the UK are at least improving the online experience they offer customers from previous years.

Since 2007, average scores have increased by 23% (from 43% to 53%) in the Global Reviews quarterly benchmark. Abbey and Halifax have made the most significant improvements to their websites with increases of 15% on their scores.

However, results across the industry are very flat, with a difference of just 10% between the highest and lowest scores and a difference of only 3% between the top four providers.

Lloyds offers the best customer experience online with a score of 58%, followed by Barclays, Nationwide and Abbey at 55%. All the providers in the study cover the key services required online, but no providers are judged to offer an exceptional customer experience.

Only Lloyds, Barclays, Nationwide and Abbey meet customer expectations and none of the websites exceed them. Websites need to score above 55% to meet customer expectations, and more than 69% to exceed them.

Global Reviews rates each website against hundreds of criteria, within five key categories – “applications”, “customer support”, “prospects”, “utility” and “content”.

Within these five categories, customers’ experience of online applications has improved by an average of 11%, with Nationwide (+23%) and HSBC (+19%) the biggest upward movers in this category.

Interestingly, Natwest and ING’s application scores have both slightly dropped. Both brands have made changes to their online applications in the past two years, but while some have improved the customer experience, other changes do not seem to have had an impact.

To improve their scores, the study suggests that both websites might want to consider focusing on the ability for customers to review their applications before submission and Natwest might want to focus on the post-submission information available to customers.

Customer support online has improved by 11% on average, prospective customer information by 13% and content by 5%. However, scores for all the categories except site utility and prospective customers are significantly below the 55% level required to meet customer expectations.

Customers’ experience of site utility (which means a website’s navigation, the quality of its homepage and the site’s search function) has improved by just 1.4% in the last two years from 69% to 70%; however, this relies on the structure of the website, which is much harder to change and develop. Furthermore, with websites securing average ratings of 69% in 2007 – and therefore exceeding customer expectations – there wasn’t as much need for improvement in this area as in others.

Bhatti says marketing and communications need to come to the fore now savings providers have gone through the agony of getting a good application processes established.

She says: “Consumers don’t appreciate the legwork that has gone into those processes up and running. But they notice if a bank’s website is not efficient or if they get an error message in the middle of making an application.”

Bhatti says the next industry shift has to be about showcasing savings products in a way that helps users make decisions easily. “Choices are available on comparison websites,” she says. “The question is now: how do providers use the technical benefits of their products to help users make decisions?”

Bhatti suggests the challenge for marketers is to use these technical aspects to tell a story. “It’s a matter of presentation really,” she says. “That is the nature of the web, which is about marrying good copywriting with good marketing and good processes.”

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