Before they get too far into offering nifty services like account aggregation and wireless access, some financial institutions are putting renewed emphasis on service fundamentals.
Their efforts reflect a growing recognition that consumers may not select these companies to aggregate their accounts or conduct wireless transactions if they are not confident in the back-end support.
We are going back to basics and focusing on customer service, Tracey Esherick, executive vice president of Fidelity Investments online brokerage, said during a panel discussion at the Internet World conference in New York. If you are not doing your core business well, you will get no permission to do the new things.
Fidelity has hired additional call center representatives and invested in telephone automation technology to help representatives set up customer accounts.
The service policy will support Fidelitys wireless investment service and its account aggregation offerings, Ms. Esherick said.
Through a partnership with Sprint PCS, Fidelity is giving WAP-enabled phones to customers who transfer at least $50,000 of assets to a Fidelity account. The brokerage has 75,000 wireless accounts, Ms. Esherick said.
Fidelity already aggregates its retail and 401(k) accounts and plans to allow the consolidation of accounts held at other financial institutions as well.
The No. 1 reason customers choose us is because we have their trust, and we continue to believe that the most important thing we do every day is service, Ms. Esherick said.
Gregg Sharenow, executive vice president at National Discount Brokers, which has yet to introduce account aggregation or wireless access, said that even the most basic brokerage offerings need to be backed up by consistent customer service.
Customer service is important from the second a customer wants to open an account, he said.
The online discount brokerage has installed workflow software to let its back office communicate with call center representatives while they are on the phone with customers.
NDB also uses the Internet to communicate with customers. We put anything on the Web we can, so customers dont have to call us, Mr. Sharenow said.
If the posted information fails to resolve an inquiry, the company offers chats, so customers can interact with representatives without having to log off and pick up the phone, he said.
FleetBoston Financial Corp. stresses the ability to handle huge volumes of new online customers. Blaise Heltai, managing director of global Internet strategy at FleetBoston, says his company adds the equivalent of NetBanks customer base daily, and the technology companies that we use are not used to those kinds of volume. We make sure that the technology is not only up and running, but that it can handle the volume we throw up there.
Mr. Heltai said he thinks banks will win new business from consumers wishing to consolidate their accounts.
People are uncomfortable giving their passwords to someone they dont know, but we think theyll give it to someone they do know, he said. Customers believe that we are the right place to aggregate, because we are a bank and are better at serving the customers needs.