Interpreting FIs' Online Customer Satisfaction Scores

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.


6 thoughts on “Interpreting FIs' Online Customer Satisfaction Scores

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Interpreting FIs’ Online Customer Satisfaction Scores « Marketing Tea Party --

  2. Totally concur. When we reported on customer satisfaction scores in a report [] we did with McKinsey last year, we found about 7% to 14% better reported satisfaction at CUs compared to big banks. What was anomalous was that even in satisfaction with “online tools” credit unions still enjoyed a 3% to 10% advantage.

    Every CU senior exec team I’ve showed this to knows it can’t be true. Citibank, which scored worst in satisfaction in online tools, would beat the pants off of most CU online services. The theories I’ve heard advanced are that:
    1. CU members have lower expectations and are thus more easily satisfied.
    2. General animosity toward big banks rubs off on all their satisfaction scores.
    3. Credit unions, as you mentioned, enjoy a halo effect of “overall goodness” when members rate their wares.

    I hadn’t considered the demographic scenario, but it also sounds reasonable. After all, I enjoy my large credit union’s services, but I’m still underwhelmed by their online offerings.

  3. Ben: To my mind, the demographic scenario is the cause of your reason #1 (lower expectations). CU members don’t have lower expectations simply because they’re CU members. They have lower expectations because, on average, they’re older, and less reliant on the online channel as the source of their bank/CU satisfaction.

  4. Ahhhh, great minds!

    We looked at these results and came to same conclusion as you did – the Halo effect. Thanks for the confirmation!

  5. Thanks for the discussion on our Customer Satisfaction study of Financial Services. We have been doing this study since 2003 and we see similar results when comparing Credit Unions and Large banks every time. While you are right that there is some demographic differences between large banks and credit unions, I don’t believe that is the causal factor here. A simple way of looking at customer satisfaction (although it is far from a simple concept) is that satisfaction is a combination of what you get and what you expect. The key difference between large banks and credit unions are the expectations of their consumers. Those expectations are going to be influenced by the demographics of the customer base and the perceived and expected sophistication of the financial institution. The average consumer is going to expect more product variety, capability and functionality from a large bank then they will from a credit union. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is not for us to proclaim which site is “better”, but rather to measure which sites provide higher levels of satisfaction to their consumers, which sites better meet the consumers needs and exceed their expectations.

    Another very important point, is our research is not intended to be used in large banks or credit unions marketing messages, although sometimes that does happen. The purpose of our research, both this industry research and the research we do every day for many large and regional banks, credit unions and other financial institutions is to provide insights and intelligence to organizations about their customers’ experience and help them identify how to improve satisfaction of their customers and prospects and the financial institutions financial success. There is no substitute to listening to your customers and measuring them with a proven scientific measurement.

  6. Pingback: Halo Effect and Face Validity – Mr Psyc

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