By Thomas Gronbach, director of mobile & web performance at Keynote
Ten years ago credit cards were a paper-based business. Cards were marketed through the post, consumers applied with paper applications, paper statements arrived every month and paper cheques were written to pay the bill. Today, credit card issuers still post billions of pre-approved offers every year, but increasingly – even if an initial offer is received by snail-mail – credit card applications are being submitted online. Furthermore, once an account is opened, the card holder is likely to manage that account on the issuer’s website.
Credit cards are fast becoming a predominately internet-based business, and a highly competitive one at that. Issuers must prepare their websites to not only facilitate this demand, but also to gain an advantage over competitors, delivering the best possible experience to customers.
A better experience
Issuing credit cards can be a lucrative revenue stream for banks, but in a world where online fraud is such a concern, websites must be well thought-out and run seamlessly to create a reputation for reliability.
Card issuers should also show transparency in the presentation of special offers, packages and promotions to potential customers, and these need to be consistent across mobile, tablet and traditional sites – something that can be especially challenging given the varying form factors between devices. Online deals need to be up-to-date, accurate and available, to ensure consumers know what they are signing up to and can compare between different companies. Over time, this will encourage customers to trust that the website will deliver the required level of service and rates, as standard, across web and mobile devices. Moreover, to maintain this, card issuers need to regularly monitor and test their websites to be completely certain of the service it is delivering. In terms of revenue, this could be the difference between a one-off sale and a loyal, repeat customer.
Navigability also has a big impact on user experience, and this is made even more complex across the multiple screens and devices. The ability for customers to quickly and easily find information, the ease of exploring the credit card issuer’s various online services and the feeling that help is accessible when needed all contribute to a positive predisposition or a sense of frustration. Companies need to test and monitor websites on as many devices, operating systems and networks as possible, to ensure that a quality service is maintained for every user, all of the time, on traditional browsers as well as mobile devices. From simple changes, such as adapting where the search field is, to placing promotions and offers, companies have to maximise their online presence by optimising every online site visitors may use, whether that be a mobile or traditional website, for example. This will maximise sales leads, while creating a better experience for the user.
Levelling the playing field
The internet is a powerful tool for consumers researching their options and this is particularly true when it comes to credit cards. Some potential customers may only spend a few minutes on a website before making a decision as to whether the company will be considered as a credit card provider. For those few minutes, performance is absolutely vital. If a website fails to load, customers will turn to competitor webpages, and even at this early stage of comparison, the credit card issuer will have lost out. If visitors do wait for the page to load, and even if the site eventually loads completely, customers will not be assured that performance will be good when managing the credit card online, and this could be the final nail in the coffin for a prospective credit card issuer – no matter how big the brand.
For larger organisations, rectifying a slow-loading, object-heavy site, often takes time; approval may be needed for what can be removed, scaled-down or added, to improve the performance of the site. This is where smaller credit card issuers can take their chance. Often with less intermediary channels and therefore closer to the consumer, the smaller or newer credit card issuers may have more insight into the customer experience and are nimble enough to be able to adapt a website quickly. The internet is a great levelling ground and is allowing these smaller issuers to compete with the power-house brands; they are able to define their competitive advantage with reliability and speed, delivered through their online performance and targeted multi-device screen and device strategy
Becoming the best
It is important for card issuers to keep an eye on the competition – they must be aware of how well competitor sites perform, across desktop, mobile and tablet devices. Websites need to load quickly and completely to eliminate frustration from users and create confidence in the site.
The performances of banking websites are some of the best across the online world. While this shows how important performance is to banking customers, it also demonstrates the fierce competition. In the recent Keynote benchmarking index, nine out of the sixteen sites loaded in less than one second, with the fastest site, Smile, loading in 0.54 seconds. In terms of availability – the likelihood of a site loading correctly when visited – thirteen sites scored a 100 percent success rate for their homepages.
The online world has matured to such an extent that a website should now form a fundamental part of a credit card issuer’s marketing and sales proposition to potential customers. Branch banking is becoming a thing of the past, as it simply can’t compete with the flexibility and availability of online services. That said, it is also no longer enough to simply have an ‘online presence,’ a website must deliver much more than this as customers want access, and the ability to manage their credit card account – at any time, on any day. Building a website to suit customer demand and preference can be a complex process, as companies try to balance functionality with performance, but businesses need to see this as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from competitors and to create a better relationship with future customers. The crux of the matter is that a reliable website can win and retain credit card customers, whereas a flaky, inconsistent service will slash a company’s chances of generating new credit card business.