Web World

By Dysart, Joe; Lobdell, Kelly | Independent Banker, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Web World


Dysart, Joe, Lobdell, Kelly, Independent Banker


You've Got Service

Implemented correctly, online customer service can be a plus for bankers

While the general populace continues to be regaled with an onslaught of media stories detailing dot.com excess, a number of community bankers are quietly realizing that at least one facet of the Web-online customer service-represents a gold rush in potential cost savings when implemented expertly.

Indeed, according to a 2001 survey by Doculabs (www.doculabs.com), an Internet market research firm in Chicago, adroitly designed, Webbased customer service centers reduced the cost of the typical customer service call from an average $32.74 per incident, to an average $1.17 per incident.

"Based on the results of more than 3.7 million customer service requests made via the Web to over 200 companies, the cumulative total quarterly savings exceeded $100 million," says James Watson, Doculab's CEO. "The experience of these companies, which spanned 22 vertical markets, clearly indicates that Web-based self-service provides a distinctively high ROI 'sweet spot' in the customer relations management market space."

A big believer in online customer service, Parish National Bank (www.parishnational.com) in Covington, La., has experienced some staff savings to go along with its technology-based service culture. Indeed, after opening a customer service channel over the Web, Parish National actually reduced its call center staff from six full-time workers to five full-time workers and one part-time worker.

So far, Parish National's Web master has been able to handle all the incoming e-mail, which is turned around twice daily, according to Tammy R. Gennusa, the bank's vice president of marketing and sales. Recently, the bank also decided to expand its online service by adding secure Document Exchange. The system alerts customers via e-mail that their bank statement is available for download from the bank's Web site.

Time, Cost Savings

"The benefit to customers is that they receive their bank statements much faster-usually the next morning after the statements cut off," Gennusa says. For the bank, each customer who signs up for Web-delivery of statements represents an estimated $1 per month savings in statement printing, stuffing and mailing costs. "We already have over 3,000 accounts on the system," Gennusa says.

The customer care team at Alpine Bank, a $1,10 million-asset bank in Glenwood Springs, CoIo., fields about 200 online customer inquiries each week, setting a standard to respond to each customer e-mail within 24 hours. A three-person team, using software developed in house, handles all calls and other inquiries. While the bank doesn't keep track of the cost per communication, John Cooper, executive vice president of marketing at Alpine Bank, believes customers feel comfortable when they have more options for initiating contact with the bank.

"New online banking customers want the convenience of a 24-hour delivery channel," he says. "It's a control issue. When we give control to customers, they feel powerful and engaged."

At Union Savings Bank in Danbury, Conn., all customer service calls and e-mail are routed to a six-person call center. The limited volume of online messages at the $1 billion-asset bank makes it easy for e-mails to be handled manually, but John Kline, executive vice president and chief operating officer, warns that the confidential nature of banking often requires alternative methods of contact such as a telephone call or letter.

"You need to respond quickly and quite often the easiest response is via e-mail, but that creates an issue of confidentiality and privacy," Kline says. "You may have to include other responses."

Despite the challenges, Kline says he believes that maintaining a responsive online service program at Union Savings Bank is critical part of a being a service-oriented bank. "We're a mutual savings bank and when we look at that kind of cost of doing business, it's important to our service image, and we're willing to pay for it. …

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