Despite the millions invested by banks in the Internet channel, clients still find it quicker to call contact centres for basic information, according to a UK study conducted by Cambridge-based Transversal.
The annual research measures customer service by searching for answers to ten common sector-specific questions on the Web sites, via e-mail and contact centres of ten major UK banks.
The study found that bank sites could only provide answers for 50% of routine questions asked online, with the majority relying on static and complex FAQ pages rather than interacting with customers to deliver the right answers through the right channel.
Around a third (30%) of sites struggled to answer more than two out of ten product and service questions - while only one scored top marks.
Customer service was even worse for those trying to get answers from banks via e-mail, says Transversal, with a almost third (30%) of the banks surveyed still not offering the facility to e-mail questions. Of those that did, the average reply time to an e-mail was 30 hours - and even then only three out of ten satisfactorily answered the question, so customers would still need to contact a call centre for the information.
In contrast, the study found that 60% of customer service calls to a contact centre were answered within three minutes, with the shortest wait times being just a few seconds. During the busiest time in the evening, some longer wait times of between six and 15 minutes were experienced, but overall answer times were less than four minutes.
Around 80% of banks surveyed have some sort of customer FAQ section - up from 50% in 2006 - but many of these were lengthy and difficult to navigate to find tailored information.
Only 30% have implemented natural language eService solutions that use neural network technology to analyse questions in order to find the best response.
Transversal - a provider of Web-based self-service technology - says the findings demonstrate a failure to adopt a cohesive online customer interaction strategy by many banks.
"Banks have invested heavily in the Internet channel - but our research shows that in the majority of cases it is very much the poor relation when it comes to customer service," says Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. "While previously online customers have had to cope with a lack of information we're now seeing more content - but this makes finding the right answer as difficult as looking for a needle in a haystack."
Yap says with the advent of Web 2.0 providing the ability to deliver a personalised customer service and improved interaction, banks need to "wake up to the changing needs of their customers - or suffer the consequences as they shift accounts".