A few months ago I blogged about how the UK’s Co-operative Bank had come top in our UK Bank Content & Functionality Benchmark. The bank has now done it again by coming top in our 2010 European Bank Customer Advocacy Rankings.

Customer advocacy is the perception among customers that the bank does what’s right for them, not just what’s right for its own bottom line. In every country we survey in our Consumer Technographics® research, we’ve found that customers who view their main bank as a customer advocate have more accounts at their main bank, are more likely to consider their bank for their next financial purchase, and are more likely to recommend it to others.

So you would think that banks would make a point of showing customers that they have their best interests at heart. But in fact just 29% of the more than 20,000 Europeans we surveyed believe their main bank does what’s best for them. Overall, the Dutch banks have the best relationships with their customers, and the British and French banks the worst. But the scores within each country vary substantially. Although British banks overall have some of the worst relationships, the UK contains three of the banks with the best relationships: The Co-operative Bank, Nationwide Building Society and First Direct. Other customer advocacy leaders include Germany’s Sparda-Banken, Rabobank in the Netherlands, and Spain’s Bancaja. However, even some of these banks have persuaded less than half their customers that they have their best interests at heart.

So what does this mean for eBusiness and channel strategy executives? We think customer advocacy is a big opportunity for executives to differentiate themselves from their competitors. Digital channels provide a great way for executives to demonstrate customer advocacy by focusing on the four cornerstones of customer advocacy: keeping things simple, operating transparently, treating customers benevolently, and building trust. The Co-operative Bank, for example, keeps things simple for its customers by using its 'good with money' site to explain financial products rather than just promoting them. Svenska Handelsbanken, which came top in Sweden, builds trust by spelling out its ethical policy on its Web site. The policy ensures that financial advice is based on the customer’s needs and that information is clear, factual, and easy to understand. Sparda-Banken offer a security tour where customer personas explain security topics like how to detect phishing or how to choose a secure password in a straightforward way.

Forrester clients can read the full report with detailed results across seven European markets and many more examples of good practice here. Let us know what you think.