Banks slow to answer customers: survey - Gomez Canada Financial Services' scorecard report

Banks slow to answer customers: survey - Gomez Canada Financial Services' scorecard reportCanadian banks may be continually improving their Web sites, but their customer response times are slowing down, according to a recent research report.

Gomez Canada Financial Services, the firm that compiled the scorecard report, issued its preliminary findings early this month. Of the 13 banks ranked, only five were able to provide a response to customer queries within a 24-hour time frame.

"I don't know whether it's a matter of insufficient staffing levels," says Gomez Canada senior consultant Cindy Lunderville. "We certainly haven't tried to trip them up, such as calling them at awkward times. We've tried to ensure we're putting them all on a level playing field. Some of them are just better at it than others."

Scotiabank topped the Gomez rankings this year, up from No. 3 last year. The bank narrowly beat out TD Canada Trust which slipped a spot to No. 2. It may be customer responsiveness that made the difference, says Lunderville.

Scotiabank installed an "Ask Scotia" section on its Web site in June, which has resulted in a 30 per cent drop in the number of e-mail and phone customer queries the bank receives,according to senior vice-president of electronic banking Bob Grant.

"You can type in plain language any question you may have about the bank or products and services and get a plain language answer back on that," says Grant.

Royal Bank of Canada (down to No. 3 from No. 2 last year) ensures all of its customers receive responses within 24 hours, says Carolyn Burke, the bank's e-commerce manager. RBC went through a major Web site redesign last fall.

"One of the things we highlighted with our redesign was the ability for a client to e-mail us with questions or instructions," says Burke. "That worked really well--so well at first we were a little slower than we would have liked getting back to people, but we've remedied that since then."

The various Internet banking alternatives available to Canadian consumers are becoming less diverse, says Lunderville.

"It's not a mystery to the banks as to what consumers are looking for," she says. "Over time, through their research as well as debriefs we've given to the bank, they understand what they need to do to satisfy customers. That may be why we're seeing some convergence."

Differentiators such as response time speeds or account aggregation services that allow a single view of a customer's financial records may make the difference, she says.

Account aggregation has been adopted by some of the Canadian banks, such as the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, but Grant says he hasn't seen any conclusive evidence to make it a priority at Scotia.

"We tested account aggregation to death," he says. "I asked my customers--without exaggeration--a dozen times if they want it. There's no interest."

Grant says Scotia's continual improvement program may have helped propel it to the top of the Gomez list this year.

"We do probably close to 50 functional enhancements a year on the service," he says.