Online scorecard says banks slow to answer customers

Canadian 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 on Tuesday. 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. We certainly haven’t tried to trip them up, like calling them at really awkward times. We’ve tried to ensure that we’re putting them all on a level playing field. . . . Some of them are just better at it than others,”” said Gomez Canada senior consultant Cindy Lunderville.

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, said Lunderville.

Scotiabank installed an “”Ask Scotia”” section on its Web site in June, which has resulted in a 30 per cent drop in the amount 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,”” said Grant.

Royal Bank of Canada (down to No.3 from No. 2 last year) ensures that all of its customers receive responses within 24 hours, said the bank’s e-commerce manager Carolyn Burke.

RBC went through a major Web site redesign last fall. “”One of the things that we highlighted with our redesign was the ability for a client to e-mail us with questions or instructions,”” said Burke. “”That worked really, really well. So well that at first we were a little slower than we would have liked getting back to people, but we’ve remedied that since then.””

Burke said she hasn’t seen a detailed breakdown of Gomez’s report yet. The analyst firm recently went through a major management restructuring, she added.

The various Internet banking alternatives available to Canadian consumers are becoming less diverse, said Lunderville. “”It’s not a mystery to the banks as to what consumers are looking for. 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,”” she said.

Differentiators like response time speeds or account aggregation services that allow a single view of a customer’s financial records may make the difference, she said.

Account aggregation has been adopted by some of the Canadian banks, like the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, but Grant said he hasn’t seen any conclusive evidence to make it a priority at Scotia. “”We tested account aggregation to death. I asked my customers — without exaggeration — a dozen times if they want it. There’s no interest in my customer base,”” he said.

Grant added that 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 online) service. . . . We do 10 major releases a year and they each five or six improvements,”” he said.

Most recently, Scotia changed some of the navigation elements on its online investment pages. Customers are able to navigate by function, account or security symbol. Portfolio management is a very different animal from banking, said Marianna Hasold-Schilter managing director of ScotiaMcLeod Direct Investing managing director, and presents different challenges in the online world.

“”From the brokerage and investing side, there’s a little bit more complexity because you’ve got people whose accounts are entitled differently. In the banking world, a chequing account is a chequing account,”” she said.


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