Mystery shopper research highlights failure to facilitate person-to-person contact via the web

Woking (UK), October, 2008 – A new financial service benchmark report shows the industry is missing out on online sales opportunities by failing to provide online visitors with easy access to human contact. The mystery shopper research, commissioned by Rostrvm Solutions, reveals that while 92% of financial services clearly display a telephone number, just 14% provide a Call Me Back facility and a tiny 3% offer a Live Chat instant messenger option.

The mystery shopper looked at the web sites of more than 100 financial services providers spanning mortgages, personal pensions, insurance and loan products. It investigated out how easy it is for consumers to instigate a telephone or live chat conversation with brands while they are online; in particular the research focused on the availability and reliability of Call Me Back features, which allow online visitors to request a call back from a call centre agent at a time and date of their choice.

Industry research shows that while the majority of buyers research financial services products online, a significant number still view human contact as key to the actual purchase itself*. In addition, Call Me Backs have been shown to achieve significantly higher conversion rates than online transactions. Yet just a tiny minority (14%) of financial services web sites offer a Call Me Back facility.

Mortgage companies are most likely to offer a Call Me Back, with 25% of web sites providing this option (Barclays, Bradford & Bingley, Cheltenham & Gloucester and The Woolwich). They are closely followed by personal pensions providers, at 21% (RBS, Fairfax Life and Pensions, and Scottish Widows).

Surprisingly, the highly competitive motor and home insurance sector performed less well with just 12% of web sites offering a Call Me Back (AA Insurance, Endsleigh, Hiscox and MORE TH>N). Loan providers were at the bottom of the league, with 7% of credit card and personal loans providers offering a call back service (Abbey National and Barclays). Other financial providers offering a Call Me Back button are AA Insurance, Endsleigh, More Th>n, and Hiscox.

The mystery shopper research found that even those web sites offering Call Me Back are not necessarily getting it right; just 64% of the financial services providers called back within the allotted timeframe, 29% called hours or even days later, and 7% failed to call back at all. Among mortgage providers, only Cheltenham & Gloucester and The Woolwich called back at the specified time. Barclays didn’t call back until two days after the request, which, given that it is part of the same group as The Woolwich indicates inconsistency within a single organisation. There was no call back from Bradford & Bingley.

Among personal pensions providers, Fairfax Life and Pensions called back three days later than scheduled (the request was on Friday and the call on Monday evening), explaining that the ‘email got lost in our system’, while Scottish Widows called back on Tuesday afternoon instead of Monday afternoon.

Ken Reid, Marketing Director of Rostrvm Solutions says the research highlights an important missed opportunity for financial services providers: “There is plenty of evidence to show that while consumers research financial services products online, as many as 64% still want to purchase by phone. So it is astonishing that the industry is still largely ignoring Call Me Backs, which have been proven to significantly increase online conversion rates. Autonet Insurance, for example, achieved conversion rates for call back business of 25%, compared with 1% for online quotes.

“Call Me Back technology is readily available, allowing organisations to integrate their web site with the call centre so that the process of calling back is fully automated. Given that purchasers will make as many as seven searches when researching a financial product online, a Call Me Back significantly increases their likelihood of engaging with a brand. If consumers want to engage with a human representative, why not make it easy for them?”

Dr. Max Blumberg, Customer Management Strategist and Visiting Researcher at the University of London, who specialises in motivating workforces, leadership teams and sales forces said: “While the Internet is a cost-effective channel for driving new customer acquisition, it is well-documented that a significant percentage of customers still want to speak to a human representative as part of the buying process. This is particularly true for areas such as mortgages or health insurance which require complex user decisions and the penalty for buyer error is high; but it also applies to insurance products. In fact, even in more commoditised market-places high-value consumers regard service as a key differentiator, alongside product and price. By offering easy access to person-to-person communication channels such as telephone, online chat or VOIP, financial services brands have a clear opportunity to maximise conversion rates, even if the customers were initially acquired online.”