Integration between the Internet bank and branch banking channels is key to improving the customer experience, according to a pan-European study conducted by TNS on behalf of Fujitsu Services.
The research - which examined the experiences of 2500 retail financial services customers in the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden - found that customers want the convenience and choice of the Web, integrated seamlessly with face-to-face contact in high street branches.
When receiving customer support, the majority (65%) now prefer going online but face-to-face contact in a branch is still very popular, with over half (53%) citing it as a preference. Call centre contact came in as the third choice at 43%, while mobile services - involving the Internet or SMS - came bottom of the list at just five per cent.
Fujitsu says not only are the Web and branch the most preferred options, but there is a strong desire that the experience should not fall down between the two.
"Although much has been said in recent years about the importance of multi-channel integration, the survey suggests that integration is most critical between the two most used channels - Internet and branch," says Andy Stewart, European strategy director, financial services, Fujitsu Services. "The other channels are important, and standards of service need to remain high, but there is less of an imperative for them to work with each other."
The research also suggests that technology-driven services that are easy to use are even more important to the overall customer experience than security. When asked about what inspired their loyalty, 37% of all respondents said a good experience of automated services was most important, with less than half that number (18%) citing security of personal details as the chief factor.
The study also reveals a disparity between what banks think customers want and what users would really like.
Providers believe that the range of products - and the number of products that the customer has with one provider - has the biggest impact on their customers' loyalty, says the report.
But customers disagree, scoring the range of products as their joint lowest priority (important for 11% of respondents), along with brand reputation and provision of product information. For 43% of customers value for money is most likely to engender loyalty, closely followed by customer service at 41%.
The research also found little difference in customer attitude towards financial services based on gender, income or age. This contrasts with a recent survey carried out for the American Bankers Association that demonstrated a clear generational divide over banking channels with people over 55 preferring to visit their local branch and those under 34 choosing to bank online.