Is Anybody Home?

By David Strom

 

Originally appeared in Financial Technology, 9/2000 and Financial Technology.

 

Here are the PDF versions of this article, if you have Acrobat Reader:

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Everyone, these days, is on email. Even most financial services firms with a web site have some way to receive inquiries via email. But receiving and responding to these inquiries are two entirely different matters. And sometimes with all this technology, your best bet if you need more immediate response is to just pick up the telephone and sit on hold until you get a human being to do your bidding. So much for the age of the Internet.

 

We sent out a single test message one random August Thursday morning at 8:30 am Eastern time to 15 financial services firms, ranging from investment managers to banks to Internet traders. Our message asked each firm to provide a location on their respective web sites where we could fill out an application for a new account for a small business. The responses to this amazingly simple request took us by surprise.

 

We picked these firms somewhat at random from the pages of this magazine, and found their web sites by attempting to type in "companyname.com" as a good first attempt or else using a search engine if that didn't work. Some of the firms had extensive customer feedback or query forms on their web site, while others just listed a simple email address (such as "info@" or "support@" on one of their web pages. We composed the same message regardless of the mechanism employed by the site.

 

Actually, we only sent messages to thirteen of the 15 firms. We tried to send email to both USAA and JP Morgan but neither had obvious information about where to send them on their respective web sites, usaa.com and morganonline.com. We suggest site redesigns to highlight this contact information from their home pages.

 

Once our messages were sent, we sat back and timed the responses we got from various companies: both for any automated response as well as the actual response directed to us personally. Granted, this is a very unscientific method: to present a more accurate picture, we should have sent out dozens of query emails over different times and days. But still, the information we gathered shows that financial services firms have a long way to go to deliver better Internet-related customer service. The response rates were longer than we'd like to see for most sites. Our recommended level of service would be an hour for automated responses and no more than one working day for a personal response. Six firms met these criteria, a rather poor showing.

 

The best response was Datek Online: within 15 minutes we had our answer, directed to us personally and with the complete information we requested. However, they were unusual in their speed and accurate answer. The worst (besides USAA and JP Morgan) were Chase, American Express, and US Bancorp. (TK check) In between were the rest. (see table)

 

The prize for most complex feedback form goes to Fidelity. In order to send them a message, we had to qualify our query and step through several screens on their web site. That isn't good business, and could easily frustrate, confuse or eliminate potential customers who just want to fire off a quick question. US Bancorp has two feedback forms, one for current customers only and one for general inquiries. All well and good, but they don't do a good job distinguishing the two and we had to resubmit our query on the right form. Again, some site work is called for here to make it easier for customers to communicate with the bank.

 

BankDirect was the only one of the group that offered customers the ability to track their own queries, through a technology called RightNowWeb. Every query gets assigned a particular web location, which is included in the automated email acknowledgement to the customer so one can find the message on the bank's web site. More institutions should take advantage of similar technologies.

 

Several replies didn't really answer our query. Goldman Sachs took about eight hours to process our query, sent the following reply: "Thank you for visiting the Goldman Sachs Mutual Funds Website. You may visit the following link to request a prospectus and account application for any of our funds." All well and good, except no link was provided in the message. Morgan Stanley recommended we search their site and find the nearest branch and then call them directly.

If our results are any indication of the type of responses a typical customer experiences, most financial services firms have a long way to go before they can implement satisfactory customer service via the web and email.

 

 

- - - - -

David Strom was founding editor in chief of Network Computing magazine and is a frequent contributor to various web and print magazines. He publishes a series of essays about web technologies and marketing called Web Informant at strom.com.

 

 

How long will you wait?

 

Company

Type of submission

Auto reply (if any) received within

Personal reply received within

Datek

Direct email

N/A

15 mins, directly answering our question

PNC Bank

Web form

N/A

45 mins, but reply directed us to call a phone number to open an account

Morgan Stanley

Direct email

10 mins.

One hour, but telling us to call a branch

MONY

Web form

N/A

Two hours answering our question

Bank Direct

Web form(1)

10 mins.

Emailed application forms within three hours but didn't have any web URL

Goldman Sachs

Direct email

N/A

6 hours, not answered (4)

Fidelity

Web form (3)

One hour

10 hours and answered

Schwab

Web form

N/A

10 hours and basically answered

Tucker Federal Bank

Web form

24 hours

25 hours and answered

New York Life

Web form

10 mins.

 

American Express

Web form

One hour

 

Chase

Web form

 

Three days?

US Bancorp

Web form (2)

 

Three days?

JP Morgan

No email address or form

N/A

N/A

USAA

No email address or form

N/A

N/A

 

Notes:

(1) Uses RightNowWeb so you can track your query and replies via a web browser

(2) Initially tried the customer service form, but that requires a current account no.

(3) Had to qualify question with several initial screens before getting the query submission form

(4) Sent the following message, note the lack of any link