By Christina P. O’Neill
Bank customers, particularly those of the larger banks, are used to email and phone inquiries asking them about their experience with a recent branch or online transaction. For banks, evaluating the quality of customer contact has become a priority as the role of the bank branch has been supplanted by online transactions. Survey results can drive critical decisions about how to transform or close an existing bank branch, or how to evaluate staff performance, with the granting of bonuses strongly in the mix.
Bill Bannon, president of Bannon & Co., a Mass.-based market research firm with a focus on community financial institutions, said his company always asks clients at the beginning why they want to do a survey and what they plan to do with the results. (Disclosure: Bannon & Co. prepares the reader surveys for Banker & Tradesman and The Commercial Record, published by The Warren Group.) Some clients use surveys as part of the evaluation of staff performance, and conducting a study to ensure that service quality is up to institutional standards is usually the broad goal. That’s particularly important to banks that have merged or have acquired other banks, Bannon said.
The mathematical rating scores that are an integral part of most surveys are important, but “customers are people, and verbatim comments provide the skin and bones element,” he said, particularly for low-satisfaction comments on particular issues, which include follow-ups on specific situations.
While simple transactions may be served well with mathematical ratings alone, measures of the quality of service are particularly important with more complex transactions. “Little things can create big problems,” Bannon said. Examples include customers with legitimate standing in a transaction, but who don’t fit into the customary definitions of recognized parties. That’s when a bank staffer who knows the customer can provide information essential to verify the individual’s standing.
Controlling The Exchange
Will social media outlets eventually disrupt and replace traditional bank-generated customer satisfaction surveys? Not likely, Bannon said, because social media and online surveys attract the extremes. Bank-generated phone surveys provide better control of responses, whether it’s choosing customers by accounts held and/or balances, geography and age, if it’s available. But survey customers should also be chosen with an element of randomness and the imposition of a reasonable margin of error.
Bannon & Co.’s response rate is 15 percent to email surveys, but he advises it’s more important to consider the total number of responses – the higher that is, the more reliable the data. Millennial respondents prove to be particularly difficult to reach, he said.
I Infer What You Imply
A famous phrase from the legal profession is, to paraphrase: “Never ask a question to which you don’t know the answer.” That’s the province of Personetics Technologies Ltd., which provides predictive interactive software for the banking industry. Company President David Sosna said today’s technology can track responses and allow surveyors to derive a lot of insight before presenting questions to customers. It takes more time up front, but the results are more specific, he indicated.
An example: When recommending that a client bank’s customers use the bank’s bill pay service, Personetics found that customers used the service for regularly recurring utility bills, but not for credit card payments. It turns out that some customers didn’t know they had the option of paying either a preferred set amount or the minimum balance, as an alternative to the full balance. To get that result from a standard survey would require a sample size so large it would be unrealistic to obtain under standard conditions.
The other thing about presenting the question “tell me what you think” is that it must be implemented in a very thoughtful way, Sosna said.
For example, he said, if customer contact is conducted through a more interactive route, whether through interactive voice response or on the web, with customer-sensitive questions, “that is probably a better time to get an opinion.”
Customers’ gravitation to digital communication is inevitable, so automation of responses is the best way to start gathering information. But an open questionnaire – the kind that includes a follow-on question, “Why did you say that?” – provides greater depth.
“I don’t think you can cover everything with one approach. [Not to ask a] customer for their opinion, but to try to derive it from the input you’re collecting,” Sosna said. “We believe in the power of analytics to arrive at conclusions.”
Christina O’Neill is editor of custom publications for The Warren Group.