Interpreting FIs' Online Customer Satisfaction Scores

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In ForeSee Results’ 2010 online banking customer satisfaction survey, credit unions  scored higher than the top 10 banks. Not surprisingly, credit union publications picked up on this, including a front page blurb in the CU Journal that read  “CUs’ online experience called more satisfying.”

My first reaction: “let’s get real here — there’s no way that CU sites, on the whole, are better than the top 10 banks’ sites.” At least, when considering the public side of the sites, that is.

The ForeSee study did have this to say about the results:

Credit unions don’t have better websites, better products, or better services, yet their customers are more satisfied.”

I’m not sure I’d make the blanket statement that CU don’t have better products or services, but I do think that — again, on the whole — that CU websites aren’t as good as the top 10 banks’ sites. That’s not to say that that there aren’t many credit unions with excellent websites. In presentations that call for a mention of online best practices, I often cite CUs like Qualstar, Altura, and Verity.

But it does raise a question: If CUs don’t have better websites, then why do they score higher in customer satisfaction with the online channel?

ForeSee itself attributes some of the discrepancy to exogenous factors like the low trust that the large banks suffer from.

It goes further than that. The discrepancy also reflects differences in customer demographics. Many CUs are currently trying to lower the average age of their member base. This implies that that average age is older than the average age of banks’ customers (if the CUs don’t have the Gen Yers’ — and to some extent, the Gen Xers’ – business, somebody has to have it).

If the underlying demographics of the CUs’ member base is different, then it’s likely that members’ expectations of the CUs’ websites are different than big bank customers’ expectations. And if expectations differ, then comparing satisfaction with CUs’ sites to the banks is not a valid comparison.

So, with exogenous factors like big bank mistrust and demographic differences impacting website satisfaction, ForeSee’s conclusion that CUs “with higher levels of satisfaction, are positioned to gain market share” doesn’t hold water.

ForeSee has the causal relationship backwards. Satisfaction with CU websites isn’t driving consumers’ likelihood to do business with CUs. It’s the other way around: Consumers’ increasing likelihood to do business with CUs leads them to give CU high scores on satisfaction surveys. It’s a halo effect.

CUs are positioned to gain share – but not because of member satisfaction with their websites. CUs are positioned to gain share because they’re more likely to be perceived as doing what’s right for their customers, and not just their own bottom lines.

And I would further argue that CUs do a better job of fostering that perception offline than they do online.

All of this should make credit unions reevaluate how they use these satisfaction scores. The ForeSee study uses the scores to proscribe improvement priorities. I don’t think any individual CU could possibly use the scores of the study to determine its own priorities.

Some CUs may be inclined to tout the higher satisfaction scores in their advertising and marketing materials. This could backfire. If a CU that employs that tactic has a  site that isn’t very good, then it risks setting  expectations among new members that it can’t live up to. Not a good idea.

If I were at a top 10 bank, I’d be tempted to use the ForeSee scores, as well. My marketing message would be: “Of course CUs’ website satisfaction scores are higher than ours. They cater to your parents’ generation, and really, what do your parents know about a good website?” (I said “tempted” — I didn’t say I’d recommend that any bank actually do this). But this won’t happen, because the big banks don’t obsess over the credit unions (although, maybe they should).

The point of all this is that any firm — let alone a credit union — should be wary about how it uses these satisfaction scores (sorry ForeSee). Statistics have become weapons of mass dissuasion in today’s marketing world. Gotta be careful how you use those weapons.

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