Listening To Your Customers May Help Improve Web Presence

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Todays competitive marketplace demands that financial services companies communicate more effectively with their customers, both intermediaries and consumers, and provide information that is accessible for their personal and professional needs.

Over the past decade, companies have turned to the Internet to distribute critical customer information. Customers now expect the ability to conduct business online and the Internet is increasingly relied upon for two-way communication. In response, companies have begun placing a stronger emphasis on enhancing their Web presence and service offerings.

Yet many companies are developing their online brand in a vacuum, building a site and making large investments based on what they “think” the customer wants. The “if we build it they will come” attitude is extremely risky in an environment where customers and producers alike have endless choices and IT investments are more closely scrutinized than ever.

How can financial services companies produce a more thorough and organized Web site to ensure that producers and consumers are maximizing the Internet and gaining the necessary information they need to do their jobs more efficiently?

Before re-evaluating an existing Web site, companies must first obtain feedback from customers on how their sites can be improved to help them better connect with their clients.

Companies must look at their business from the outside-in and consider the voice of customer (VOC). Through a series of questions and using customer feedback, financial services companies are able to identify areas where they can add significant value and, as a result, create a better online environment.

Research indicates that financial Web sites outscore every other category in depth of usage, including the popular search engines, portals and online communities. With online usage for both consumers and professionals at an all time high, companies must effectively communicate with clients and agents to be sure they are offering a Web site that serves as both an educational resource and selling tool.

Traditionally, producers were forced to process everything manually, which left enormous amounts of paper records and filings to be processed. This system took agents days to complete, wasting valuable time that could have been better spent interacting with clients.

Companies must be aware of the pain these producers are experiencing, and what can be done to ensure they are working in the most efficient environment. With VOC data, companies are able to produce a cohesive and relevant Web site tailored to the customers personal preference and needs. An updated online work environment will enable producers to easily streamline sales and, as a result, ensure a quick turn-around time.

The Internet has allowed agents to store individual files and track information online, doing away with traditional filing systems. Along with an easier filing system, an online environment also allows agents to instantaneously target the appropriate plan for each client and then process a program based on that clients needs. Agents have quickly adapted to the changing buying habits of their customer base and the Internet.

Additional online features such as home office communications, news bulletins and easy access to clients policies and contract data, have been added to financial services Web sites based on insights provided by VOC data. These added functions now allow agents to focus their time and effort where they add the most valueprospecting and facilitating salesnot performing paper intensive application and fulfillment procedures.

In addition to providing producers with Web sites that incorporate the necessary information and tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently, financial services companies also have the responsibility of providing consumers with an accessible platform that caters to all of their personal financial needs.

Corporate Web sites have increasingly become a resource for consumers to monitor their individual portfolios and to educate themselves on specific company products. Consumers want the ability to view their accounts when they want, where they want. More importantly, consumers want to understand and trust the company and the financial products they are purchasing.

More and more financial services companies are offering customer services such as online access to accounts, account balance summaries, the ability to make purchases online and transaction histories.

By gaining feedback on those online elements that are of most interest to the consumer, financial services companies are able to tailor their Web sites exactly to their customers needs. Consumers will feel more comfortable with the financial products they have purchased if they are using a Web site that provides them with relevant and up-to date information and access to their personal accounts.

Based on customer feedback in recent years, many financial services companies have integrated areas on their sites that provide helpful tools for consumers such as links to relevant news sites and financial calculators.

How can companies obtain and use VOC data to improve their Web presence? Through surveys, focus groups and online questionnaires via company Web sites, companies are able to ask consumers direct questions before making strategic changes. Questions and issues raised during this data gathering process allow companies to identify areas where they can add significant value or improvement from the customers perspective.

Additional outlets to obtain feedback include industry trade shows and conferences, which allow companies to interact face-to-face with both current and prospective customers. Through this process, companies are able to gain the valuable information they need to implement changes that directly meet customers needs and wants.

A financial service Web site is not only a channel for distribution and sales for the producer, but also a vehicle for education. Utilizing VOC data also enables financial services companies to be confident that they are supplying their agents and customers with the knowledge and tools they need to reach their personal and financial goals. An effective Web site can be used as an educational tool to help producers ensure that their clients feel comfortable about the financial decisions they are making and where they are investing.

Todays competitive environment leaves no room for error. In order to achieve a relevant site with quality content, it is essential for companies to look at their business from the customers perspective. By obtaining direct input from those who matter the most, companies are able to gain valuable information and create the most effective Web sites possible.

When done effectively, gathering VOC data enables a company to accurately re-design its Web site and improve its services for both the consumer and producer, which in the end, will result in expanded relationships on all accounts.

is vice president of GE FinancialPro (www.gefinancialpro.com), a Web site that is part of GE Financial Assurance Holdings, based in Richmond, Va.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, August 12, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.