That's according to new report from Forrester Research titled "Solving Online Application Abandonment," which also argues that the problem is growing and must be solved to avoid missing future sales.
An increasing number of online financial product applicants and the potential for business that they offer makes reducing the number of application abandoners critical-the report forecasts that the number of online applicants will double in the next five years and that right now 54% of consumers who start an online application fail to complete it.
Reducing that by one percentage point could increase annual sales by thousands, the think firm said in its report, which included analysis of responses from 21 of its clients in the financial services industry.
So what's the first step to keeping consumers from closing that online application window before clicking the submit button? Iron out any technical issues that may seem minor but can deter many consumers from continuing an application, such as slow-loading pages, faulty front-end business logic and poor information disclosure, the report argued.
"To successfully solve application abandonment, e-business executives must ensure that they have the proper analytics in place and resist the temptation to jump ahead to a particular solution or tactic without first trying easier, more mundane tactics like checking page load times," wrote the report's author, Forrester Analyst Brad Strothkamp.
Understanding why application abandonment occurs is the next important step for financial firms to take, as half of abandoners intend to complete their applications to begin with, Forrester researchers found. Applying strategies such as Web analytics, extensive session logging and visual session playbacks can help e-business executives learn which consumers planned to complete their applications-folks who should then be the targets of their efforts.
"Intenders tend to make it past the first page of the application, spend at least some time researching the product on the site before applying and show a tendency to return and complete an application after initially abandoning it," Strothkamp said.
Beyond these initial steps, Forrester recommends tweaking the characteristics of the information presented in online applications, as well as the marketing strategies.
First, financial firms must let applicants know up front what to expect during the application process-how long it will take to complete, the information they will need and what will happen once the application is submitted. To save time, forms should be prefilled or abbreviated for consumers who submitted an application in the past. "A big headache for consumers purchasing products is when firms that they already do business with fail to recognize them as they purchase additional products," Strothkamp said.
To keep consumers rolling through applications, financial institutions should eliminate unnecessary application information that consumers may not know off-hand (such as account routing numbers and employer addresses), allow applicants to save their work as they go and provide adequate help.
Offering assistance in the forms of both Web page content and access to a live person can keep applicants from quitting, the Forrester report added.
"Just because consumers have started the online application process does not mean they won't need help along the way," Strothkamp said. "In fact, one of the reasons why intenders abandon application is that they wanted to speak with a sales rep."
Sales and marketing efforts are another important piece of solving online application abandonment, but they must be carefully planned, the report said.
Advertising related products to applicants can be effective, but too much cross selling can backfire. Forrester researchers also note the importance of identifying potential abandoners and keeping them on track by, for example, displaying a pop-up message that reminds them of the product's benefits.
"While many of these tactics are centered on getting applicants to complete the application, it is also important to have abandonment strategies to win back abandoners before they leave the application," Strothkamp said. And when consumers do abandon their applications, don't give up hope. According to the report, an e-mail sent 30 minutes after the abandonment that encourages the consumer's return can result in a 28% rise in the online application completion rate.
"Timely follow-up with abandoners is vital to a successful abandonment strategy because abandoners, especially intenders, are the lowest of the low-hanging fruit," Strothkamp said.