Utilities and banks need to take ecommerce seriously

by Trenton Moss on 5 November 2010

Banks and utility companies have had to improve their use of ecommerce and digital marketing to support customer retention and improve brand reputation in a crowded market.

The UK is financially promiscuous. Consumers have limited loyalty, partly driven by the rise and rise of aggregators and price comparison websites; even the papers are at it, the Daily Mail offering Mail Compare for financial services.

Banks and utility companies have had to improve their use of ecommerce and digital marketing to support customer retention and improve brand reputation in a crowded market.

It's encouraging to know that some of the big brands are doing a good job and for the customer, online is now an accepted way to manage accounts. This blog takes a peek at how big brands are tapping into the value of ecommerce and digital marketing.

Case study: Banking industry - Lloyds TSB

The banking industry has made great leaps in embracing digital commerce, especially in the mobile sector.

Lloyds TSB is a good example:

  • SMS sent to opt-in customers weekly with an account statement summary
  • Every time a payment is set-up on the account, an SMS alert is sent to validate authenticity
  • When the card is used abroad or a foreign company processes a transaction, a security alert SMS is sent for validation

Fraud is the b�te-noire of the Banking industry, so it is logical to see banks embrace digital channels to support security policies. Interestingly, it improves customer service and adds a level of reassurance previously missing without having to make tedious manual checks.

Furthermore, Lloyds TSB uses its website as a core customer communication channel, recognising that people are busy and online banking is now a necessity, not a nice-to-have.

  • Key account messages and business updates flagged as alerts when customers login
  • Ability to upgrade and downgrade accounts online
  • Options to add extra financial services products to your account
  • Account management services including enabling paperless billing and updating contact details
  • Pay utility bills online

The use of digital channels to improve customer service and communication has become norm for the major banks and it has transformed the way individuals interact with their banks; digital marketing has improved the control we have over our finances.

For follow up, read about how Standard Chartered is working on a solution called Commerce 360 to enable services like account balance checks via mobile.

Setting the scene - price comparison makes digital inevitable for utilities

Customers, such a fickle and motley crew. In the utility industry, price comparison websites like uSwitchuse ecommerce to encourage users to search the best deals.

Customer retention is essential to help address the costs of high churn. It is, therefore, a logical progression for major brands to invest in their own ecommerce infrastructure and improve online customer service.

study by eDigital Research put British Gas at the top for online customer experience in a comparison of 12 utility and broadband suppliers. There's a write-up over on Econsultancy written by Graham Charlton.

Case study: Utilities - British Gas

British Gas is a good example of a utility behemoth starting to unravel the potential of self-service via digital channels. Amongst its online services customers can:

  • Check account balances online
  • Submit meter readings electronically
  • Access and edit account information such as contact details
  • Make a payment online
  • Inform British Gas of a home move
  • Find information on energy saving and other products & services

The latest addition to the ecommerce family is an iPhone app enabling customers to send meter readings, view online accounts and view energy usage. Mobile and digital have been integrated into the British Gas core customer service framework.

There's a short and sweet write-up by Steak Digital on the digital marketing that supported British Gas' above-the-line marketing for price cuts in February 2010.

Tapping into the social media melting pot - BT Care

An ecommerce blog can't end without a glowing endorsement of the wonders of social media. The Webcredible take is that social media in itself is not necessarily a solution but if intelligently planned and integrated with other communication channels, then it can be a powerful tool for customer engagement.

@BTCare integrates Twitter into its Customer Service framework. There is a clear focus on supporting customers, not trying to sell direct and push brand messages at followers. The results:

  • Significant follower base (7,277)
  • @BTCare has been added to 262 lists
  • High level of customer interaction with genuine problems being responded to quickly and issues resolved
  • Personal connection is made with customers

Not only does BT Care's Twitter presence reinforce its brand reputation, it helps take some of the strain away from traditional customer service channels like the Call Centre and inbound email.

Sound bite - take away thoughts

Ecommerce is not the preserve of retail. Consumer sophistication marches on and technology adoption rates continue to go ballistic; Apple's iPhone is a prime example.

Banking and utility companies must follow suit and service customers where they hang out. This means embracing digital channels to communicate, using ecommerce to open up services remotely instead of forcing customers to pick up the phone and wait because the line is experiencing a large number of calls.

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