• July 26, 2005
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Financial Services Sites Offer Shoddy Service

Consumer financial sites are failing to provide basic levels of good customer service in 85 percent of cases, with the most common problems being a lack of context-sensitive help, inconsistent presentation and poor readability, according to Forrester Research's "Usability Flaws of Financial Services Web Sites." It evaluates 40 consumer financial sites on 25 criteria in line with a new best-practices model the research firm developed this year. Just 15 percent of Web sites received a passing grade, and none of those performed outstandingly well. The 25 standards fall into four broad categories: value, navigation, presentation, and trust. Succeeding in all 25 areas would garner a score of between 25 and 50 points. The average score for the financial sites is 5.7, well short of passing. The bright side is that this figure is slightly ahead of the average for 600 sites serving a number of industries, a score of just 3.8. "The average is an observation of the status quo, not a target that firms should strive for--it is both possible and desirable to pass every test," says Bruce Temkin, practice director of financial services at Forrester and the author of the study. "Relatively, financial sites are slightly ahead of other consumer-facing Web sites. But on the absolute scale of what's good for consumers, yeah, they're that bad." Lack of contextual help is one of the leading failure points. According to the study, only 25 percent of sites provided adequate task-related help and easy access to human assistance where necessary. Consistency is another weak spot: "To help visitors maintain confidence, [Forrester looks] for sites to use words, colors, positions, and the behavior of navigation elements consistently," the report states. Yet only 38 percent did this well enough to earn passing marks; the others engendered confusion and mistrust in users. The Forrester study provides recommendations to address the other issues, such as the use of data mining and Web analytics to determine which areas see the most help requests. Interface problems share some solutions with legibility, and prove that common sense isn't so common. "People pushing for design wind up winning battles with those whose goal is functionality, and that shouldn't be the case," Temkin says. His report recommends, "Make sure not to fall into the trap of evaluating siloed sets of pages, such as within one product area, if the user is likely to bounce from one area to another." Temkin concludes the best way to focus on the needs of users is to always consider who they are, what their goals are, and how to help them achieve those goals. "Firms know that customer experience is important--but they deal with it haphazardly," Temkin says. "As a result, customers suffer through needlessly painful interactions. That's why firms need a more disciplined approach to customer experience." Related articles: The Road to Self-Service Success
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