• May 31, 2007
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Clicking and Chatting in Financial Services

The stereotypical image of financial services salespeople may be changing: The overworked broker in a bad suit making cold calls is becoming a knowledge worker who waits to service potential customers from a multichannel contact center. At least, that's becoming more likely as prospects increasingly turn to the Internet as their sole venue for researching and purchasing financial services products. "The Business Case for Interactive Help in Financial Services," a trend report from Forrester Research, states that online chat and click-to-call should be part of any e-business strategy. According to the report, shopping--whether purchasing products or researching them--is the second biggest Web activity after email. Each was reported by 62 percent of consumers as opposed to e-mail's 95. Online research is increasingly popular among younger generations; 33 percent of Gen Yers and 29 percent of Gen Xers researched their last financial product exclusively online, the report states. "This means financial firms can no longer afford to have poor Web sites," writes Brad Strothkamp, a senior analyst at Forrester and the report author. "Sales may happen in a branch or over the phone, but that doesn't mean consumers don't visit, evaluate, and decide on your firm based on information on your Web site." Consumers prefer the convenience of the online channel in the early stages of product research. According to the report, 85 percent of U.S. consumers who researched a product online did so because there was no time constraint, while 81 percent said the Internet allows easier comparison of providers and products. However, consumers still prefer offline channels when actually applying for or purchasing financial products; 55 percent of respondents did so in person or at a branch office, and another 12 percent over the phone. Regular mail was used 17 percent of the time, and the Internet accounted for just 16 percent of total financial product purchases. People still want the human touch when it comes time to buy. Forrester asserts that technologies like online chat and click-to-call can have "a profound effect on online sales," as they typically have high customer satisfaction rates, are convenient and well-liked by consumers, and deliver incremental results by saving sales that would otherwise have been lost. But the report warns that financial firms should only consider them if they are already delivering a satisfactory Web experience. To achieve best effect from chat and click-to-call, Forrester recommends that financial firms:
  • proactively target Web site visitors, promoting usage through invitations to chat in order to overcome hesitancy;
  • focus efforts on engaged site visitors such as those using the site's product selector or other tools;
  • move shoppers from the Web to the phone, attempting to convert shoppers by transitioning to the venue where they're more likely to finalize; and
  • have a cross-functional organizational dedication, including partnership between e-business and operations, and a devoted team with a deep understanding of the Web site and effective sales practices. The last factor promotes the success of all the others. "The primary difference between a successful implementation of interactive help and one that is unsuccessful is the implementation itself--and not the technology," Strothkamp writes. "What separates a good implementation from a best practice often lies in the personnel supporting the solution." Related articles: The Dead Pool: E- and Phone Service Yackety Clack
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