Forrester finds financial companies top retailers in customer experience

Although banks are not known for exceptional customer service, a Forrester Research survey released this week shows they’re making progress.

For the second consecutive year, Navy Federal Credit Union and USAA topped Forrester’s Customer Experience Index across industries, ahead of retailers like Lexus, QVC, Zappos and Amazon.

According to Alyson Clarke, principal analyst at Forrester, the two financial institutions set themselves apart because they’ve nurtured a deep understanding of their client base. “There’s a real kind of empathy there; other firms could do the same thing, but they’re too busy trying to drive sales,” she said.

Forrester’s survey of more than 100,000 U.S. consumers rated Navy Federal as the best multi-channel bank and USAA as the best digital-only bank for customer experience. The survey also found Navy Federal provided the best overall customer experience of any brand, beating out retailers such as QVC and Zappos.com. USAA placed second.

Clarke said Navy Federal and USAA focus on knowing their customers and the unique challenges they face as military personnel and family members. They also anticipate needs that might arise, including military personnel moves and employees impacted by recent government shutdowns. 

A physical branch presence also is an important enabler for successful customer engagement. Navy Federal, despite most of its members being under 35 years old, prioritizes a great branch experience because the credit union knows they will want personal contact during big life decisions. Though the credit union has digital products, it has a branch footprint of 332 across the world.

Clarke said many bank executives would be quick to discount the high customer experience scores of Navy Federal and USAA since their customers fit a specific niche, but lessons from their approaches are applicable to all institutions. “Many banks help customers with savings accounts without knowing what the customer is saving for,” she noted.

The survey asked respondents about customer service, communication, pricing and fees, along with website and mobile experiences, day-to-day banking and in-branch services. Clarke said customer service, particularly being responsive to inquiries quickly, is the most important experience factor for banks. 

Marcus by Goldman Sachs placed below the industry average for digital-only banks, the survey noted, but the company improved two full points from 2018, which Forrester called “statistically significant.”