Article | Management Science

The Cost Structure, Customer Profitability, and Retention Implications of Self-Service Distribution Channels: Evidence from Customer Behavior in an Online Banking Channel

by Dennis Campbell and Frances X. Frei

Abstract

This paper uses the context of online banking to investigate the consequences of employing self-service distribution channels to alter customer interactions with the firm. Using a sample of retail banking customers observed over a 30-month period at a large U.S. bank, we test whether changes in service consumption, cost-to-serve, and customer profitability are associated with the adoption of online banking. We find that customer adoption of online banking is associated with (1) substitution primarily from incrementally more costly self-service delivery channels (ATM and voice response unit); (2) augmentation of service consumption in more costly service delivery channels (branch and call center); (3) a substantial increase in total transaction volume; (4) an increase in estimated average cost-to-serve resulting from the combination of (1) through (3); and (5) a reduction in short-term customer profitability. However, we find that use of the online banking channel is associated with higher customer retention rates over one-, two-, and three-year horizons. The documented relationship between the use of online banking and customer retention remains positive even after controlling for self-selection into the online channel. We also find evidence that future market shares for our sample firm are systematically higher in markets with high contemporaneous utilization rates for the online banking channel. This finding holds even after controlling for contemporaneous market share suggesting it is not simply the result of increased market power leading to the acquisition of online banking customers.

Keywords: Cost; Service Operations; Distribution Channels; Consumer Behavior; Online Technology; Banks and Banking; Technology Adoption; Service Delivery; Market Transactions; Market Participation; Profit; Retail Industry; Banking Industry; United States;

Citation:

Campbell, Dennis, and Frances X. Frei. "The Cost Structure, Customer Profitability, and Retention Implications of Self-Service Distribution Channels: Evidence from Customer Behavior in an Online Banking Channel." Management Science 56, no. 1 (January 2010): 4–24. (Lead Article.)