Website benchmark survey: Credit card companies need to up their game online

Rebecca Jennings, senior client advisor at international benchmarking firm Global Reviews, provides an insight into the performance of credit card companies online.

According to Datamonitor, there are around 60 million credit cards in circulation in the UK right now. Over £100 billion a year is spent using these cards, generating millions in profit for the banks and other card issuing companies; this is big, competitive, business. Some 50% of credit card applications are now filled in online every year.As befits brands operating in a crowded, competitive online marketplace, many UK providers have spent millions on developing their credit card information and application websites. However, according to a recent Global Reviews survey, the majority of credit card providers still struggle with meeting their customer needs online, both in terms of providing a simple online application process and also in terms of providing the necessary information and tools to help applicants in their decision and application processes. The Global Reviews Credit Card benchmark survey looked at the online customer experience provided by twelve of the major UK credit card issuers, such as Barclays, American Express and MBNA. The survey looks at several hundred online criteria designed around the needs of consumers researching and applying for credit cards online. The criteria are scored and then weighted to produce an overall customer experience score for each website, expressed as a percentage. A score overall of 55% to 67% is required for the site to be deemed to be meeting basic customer expectations, whilst a site scoring between 68% and 83% would be exceeding expectations. Scoring above 83% would be exceptional – so much so that it spoils nothing to reveal right now that no brand in our survey breaks that barrier!So how does the credit card industry perform overall? Well, on average, the sites in our survey score just 48%, which would suggest that the industry has some room for improvement. Particular problem areas would appear to be around the application itself (which scores an average of 37%), the supply of useful content and tools (43%) and also onsite support (43%) (see graphic 1). In terms of brand performance, there is quite a step between the highest performing brand – LloydsTSB, which scores a very respectable 63% - and the lowest, First Direct, who records a score of 28%. LloydsTSB actually performs well across the board, scoring 55% or above in each of the five categories in our survey, the only brand to do so. Let’s look at some of the key areas in detail. The biggest industry problem area is a biggie; the application tool itself. For example, none of the brands we surveyed allow users to save their application forms to return to later, nor do they inform users whether application forms have a time-out feature (e.g. if a user takes too long to fill the form in or fails to type anything for a specified period, the application form automatically quits). No site gives forms that can be easily printed out to use for postal applications; indeed, no site gives clear options for other ways to apply. These omissions put users under undue pressure to complete an application form in one go, which is likely to lead to a relatively high level of application abandonment; whether it be for users to look up relevant information leading to the form timing out, or because real life – a phone ringing, a child crying – intervenes and the applicant is unable to save their progress.Other problem areas with the application areas of sites in the survey include the lack of information included in the application introduction page (see graphic 2). Most brands in our survey (one exception being Capital One) fail to tell users up front how long they can expect to wait until they find out whether their application has been successful; most fail to give users any information about what happens to their application after submission. Introductory pages usually fail to tell users whether additional card holders can be added during the online application process, and eight of the twelve sites surveyed lacked information on the introductory pages about whether a balance transfer can be applied for in the online application. The omission of basic information about how the application process works and what can be achieved is also likely to result in abandoned applications, as users discover some way down the process that they cannot add their partner, for example, or are not prepared to wait for the eventually specified time for a decision. Giving users all the information they need to decide whether to complete an application, and telling them all the pieces of information they need to do so, are basic needs satisfaction criteria that the credit card industry still fails to meet. When it comes to content and tools, the biggest industry failures are around the provision (or lack of!) a comprehensive glossary, and the lack of useful tools to help applicants, for example, calculate the benefits of balance transfers or determine the best card for them. Of these, the poor (or, in many cases, non-existent) glossaries are the biggest failure; as with many financially related industries, the credit card business often uses terms and jargon that the average applicant may not fully understand. A comprehensive, user-friendly glossary – like that provided by First Direct – is a requirement for meeting user needs at a basic level; many applicants are likely to be turned away if they cannot understand the nuances of the products they are applying for. Tools such a calculator to illustrate the cost savings from balance transfers or specific card for them are a simple way for sites to illustrate the concrete benefits of their offerings, whilst demonstrating value to individual consumers; reassuring users that the provider has a product suitable for your specific needs as a person. For example, the card selector wizard on the Amex site – the only one offered by the sites in the survey –is entitled “Find the card that suits you”. It’s not perfect – users can’t specify anything about balance transfers in their criteria, and there is no direct link from the wizard to apply for the cards, a seemingly glaring omission – but it’s a good start in personalising the search for a suitable credit card. In a market where brands and products struggle to stand out from each other and application choices will often be made on ease of choice, such tools should be standard. Overall, it’s obvious that the credit card market in the UK has some way to go before it can consider itself to be meeting customer expectations. What would Global Reviews suggest the first steps should be? Well, a simple glossary is a necessity, as well as clear information up front of the application process. Sites wanting to demonstrate leadership in the online market would do well to work on a comprehensive card selection tool, allowing users to determine their priorities from a comprehensive predetermined list. Real leaders would allow for comparisons not only between their own products, but with competitor offerings too. However, this mustn’t come at the expense of the basics. This report provides the first of our monthly website benchmarking surveys - bringing premium subscribers of The Drum an exclusive insight into research into customer experience online in a variety of sectors.To find out more, visit Global Reviews

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