ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Making it easy makes it work. And that makes for a satisfied user who comes back for more.
That's the big takeaway from a new survey of consumer satisfaction with online financial services just released by ForeSee Results (www.foreseeresults.com) of Ann Arbor, Mich.
The 2008 ForeSee Results/Forbes.com Online Financial Services Study compares satisfaction among bank and credit union, credit card and investment Web sites, based on responses from 1,600 people polled online during the first three months of 2008.
The respondents included subscribers to Forbes.com and online panelists from FGI Research, and the results were assessed using an index based on the University of Michigan's widely used American Customer Satisfaction Index for assessing the quality of goods and services available in the United States.
The study was the fourth of its kind that ForeSee Results has done since 2003 and found that customer satisfaction with bank and credit union sites has gone up 12% since the first study. They now are on par with e-retail site satisfaction and ahead of credit card and investment sites.
Why the relatively strong showing?
"Banks have finally gotten the online formula right by making it easy for customers to access the information they need and conduct transactions at their convenience," said the report, authored by Larry Freed, ForeSee Results' president/CEO.
"Over the years, banks have managed to convince large numbers of customers of the convenience, value and security of using the online channel," Freed said. "They have also proven they know how to use the Web as a tool in building stronger customer relationships."
Meanwhile, Freed said, credit cards tend to be viewed as a commodity and have a weaker relationship with consumers, while investment firms struggle with providing a user-friendly Web site for "what are often complex financial transactions."
Using the ACSI Index, Web sites of national and regional banks and credit unions received a satisfaction score of 82 out of 100 this time around, compared with 75 each for credit card and investment Web sites.
The likelihood of continuing use of that financial outfit's services was even higher, 90 out of 100, compared with 71 for credit card sites and 83 for investment sites. Similar spreads were found in the likelihood to purchase more services, recommend the Web site and the firm and to use the Web as a primary channel.
"Looking at these future behaviors shows just how important online customer satisfaction can be to a financial services company," Freed said.
"As banks offer more investment and credit card services, they are in the superior position to compete with other financial services companies that offer more specialized services," he said.
"Even a one-point increases in customer satisfaction can have a significant impact on a customer's loyalty, share of wallet, propensity to engage in positive word of mouth and likelihood to generate cost efficiencies for the financial institution," Freed said in the report.
He also said the "site experience" is the "highest priority for improvement" if credit unions and banks want to boost loyalty and wallet share--"specifically the ease of finding information, the features and tools available and the site organization."
Transaction and other site performance improvements could yield big rewards, Freed said in the report.
He also warned against "buying loyalty," specifically from credit card users.
"The availability of a rewards program is named by 45% of online credit card customers as very significant in their decision to use a particular card, while 34% said rewards were not very significant," the report said.
"However, the danger with rewards programs is that they don't build true loyalty. Rather, a customer's loyalty is 'bought' with rewards...until someone else offers a better rewards program. Improving the Web experience, however, is a way to build more enduring loyalty."
ForeSee Results provides consumer satisfaction measurement and management services to a variety of industries and said its clients include Citibank, the World Bank, Nationwide Insurance, CUNA Mutual and Patelco Credit Union.
The 22-page report is available at www.foreseeresults.com.