To reduce the cost of serving customers, credit card providers must focus on right-channeling — migrating transactions from higher-cost, human-assisted channels to the Web. According to a new Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR) report, “How To Right-Channel Credit Card Customers,” most card providers have yet to succeed at right-channeling.

“To achieve right-channeling success, providers need to convince their customers to do more than check balances online. The more customers who increase their use of self-service channels and transfer balances online, the greater the economic benefits for providers,” said Catherine Graeber, principal analyst at Forrester. “Unfortunately, our data shows that card providers haven’t demonstrated the benefits of accessing account information online to more than half of their online customers.”

Forrester surveyed 4,500 US consumers about their online credit card behaviors and attitudes. Although 78 percent of respondents have access to the Internet, only 36 percent have enrolled for online account access. Additionally, a weighty 81 percent of those who do not access their accounts online say that they never plan to do so.

Credit card providers’ success in right-channeling their customers varies widely. Forrester looked at 15 providers to determine which have the greatest right-channeling success. Wells Fargo took the top spot. Twenty percent of its online card customers conduct self-service transactions, which is double the average of all other card issuers. Wells and other top- scoring firms use offline human assistance — through the branch and call center — to drive their credit card customers online.

American Express and Providian also scored well. American Express has the highest percentage of card customers paying their bills online at 22 percent, and Providian’s card customers used email channels for customer service at almost double the average of other card issuers. BankOne and MBNA — two of the largest Visa/MasterCard issuers — landed in the bottom third of Forrester’s ranking. Compared with other firms, BankOne had 26 percent fewer customers viewing balances online, while MBNA had 24 percent fewer using its site to self-serve.