The financial sector may be grim with recession, but their online services win high marks from customers according to research from a ForeSee Results/ study released today. And customers give online banking top marks with a score of 83, up from 82 last year; satisfaction with credit card companies jumped to 80 from 75, while satisfaction with online investment services rose to 78 from 75. “A score of 80 is generally considered the threshold for excellence,” the report notes,” and while individual companies often score higher than 80, very few services industries (online or offline) accomplish this level of customer satisfaction.”

Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, called the increase in satisfaction “a really good sign—it shows that banks are doing a pretty good job of expanding functionality in a very, very difficult economic time.”

Study results show that an improvement of just one point in customers satisfaction would make customers much more likely to “pay bills online, purchase additional services and open new accounts online [and] use the website as their primary channel for interacting with their bank, thereby reducing usage or more costly channels like call centers and branch locations,” according to the report. Increased online satisfaction also encourages customer loyalty, ForeSee Results says. “Highly satisfied online banking customers are 60 percent more satisfied with their bank overall and 41 percent are more likely to use their bank’s services,” the report states. Such customers are also 71 percent more likely to recommend the institution and 80 percent more likely to tout its website.

Banks should keep devoting tight resources to website development, Freed believes. “Online banking increases revenues from customer who are not near branches or have relocated,” he explains, “and there’s a huge cost savings versus generating revenue from a branch of money center.” Equally important, customers are “building stronger relationships with the web, along with high share of wallet and loyalty,” says Freed.

As far as room for improvement goes, functionality and site performance rank as top priorities, followed by making transactions easier, and improving content. Maintaining online bill payment at current levels is important “because any drop could have major repercussions,” the study states. There’s been some slippage in customer perception of websites’ commitment to privacy—a two-point erosion to 84—although the overall impact of these concerns is lower than in prior years. “However, it is still in the banks’ best interest to convey to their customers how they are protecting private information and the security of the sites,” the study notes.

Mobile applications have yet to gain much traction, according the survey. Of the 92 percent of banking customer with cell phones, only 13 percent conduct mobile online banking. There’s even less use of banking apps—just four percent of those surveyed take advantage of those mobile services.  ForeSee Results says that “banks need to proceed carefully and intentionally to develop customer-centric apps that will reinforce and support loyalty, satisfaction, and customer acquisition.”

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