KeyCorp is aiming to retain more on-line customers by improving service.

It is the first financial institution to install software from Candle Corp. of Santa Monica, Calif., that manages Internet response times and evaluates customers' Web banking experiences.

Attention to customer service "will separate the winners from the losers" on the Internet, said Brian J. Lawton, vice president of Web support services for the Cleveland banking company.

It also will help KeyCorp keep up the customer retention rate, a key element of its Internet banking strategy, said Paul Ayres, manager of on- line services.

Linda Weber, director of e-customer business for the finance industry at American Management Systems of Fairfax, Va., said KeyCorp is on the right track.

"There is a great opportunity to develop innovative customer service- related applications right now," she said. "In the next 18 months, banks must leverage the trust they have with their customers before nonbanks come in and steal them."

Key's on-line customers already are proving less likely to defect.

Mr. Ayres said 5% of customers who bank on-line leave per year, compared with 15% to 20% of KeyCorp customers who don't bank on-line.

Candle's eBA Service Monitor software uses Java mini-applications to track the time it takes to download Web pages and monitor Web server activity, said George A. Brenner, vice president and general manager for e- business application services at Candle.

Key's goal is to download Web pages in three seconds, Mr. Lawton said, adding that the industry benchmark is six seconds.

Mr. Ayres said, "You can put great content up on the Internet, but if it's not accessible, you're missing the mark."

The banking company already uses Candle's eBA Service Network, a data repository and mining tool, to collect information such as site availability and transaction type. Key distributes the information to officials throughout the organization, including the chief operating officer.

This reveals, for example, that 200 to 300 people bank on-line between midnight and 6 a.m., Mr. Lawton said. "We know now that we have to ensure the site is available and robust" at those hours, he said.

The data also point toward potential Web site changes. For example, if most visitors spend more than 10 minutes on a page before making a transaction, Mr. Lawton said, Key might conclude that there is too much content and try to streamline it.

Christopher Musto, senior analyst at Gomez Advisors in Concord, Mass., said KeyCorp is taking "a thoughtful approach to maximizing the customer experience over the Web." Gomez ranked the company's Internet offering in the top 20 among U.S. banks, with customer service and ease of use seen as strong points.

KeyCorp hopes to double its on-line banking enrollments, now about 1,000 a week, when it rolls out a marketing campaign this summer. About 3% of Key customers bank on-line, Mr. Lawton said, doing 60% to 70% of their banking over the Internet.

The marketing effort will focus on bill payment, the least-used service, he said.

Planned Internet technology investments include a continued focus on personalization software from Boston-based Art Technology Group and technologies for cross-selling and increasing customer profitability, Mr. Ayres said.

He did not quantify Key's "huge investment" in Internet technologies. Mr. Lawton said that eventually the Internet would be the cheapest way for the company to do business.

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