British e-tailers failing to help online customers

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on March 24, 2005

Many leading e-retailing companies in the UK have demonstrated a "catastrophic inability" to answer basic questions from existing and potential customers, according to research by e-customer service software provider Transversal.

The research surveyed 50 leading organisations in the travel, banking, insurance, consumer goods, and telecommunications sectors. The survey asked ten common, sector-specific questions at each web site, as well as e-mailing a single question to the organisation's customer service department. Responses were evaluated based on the relevance of the information returned, and also on the length of time taken for the response to be sent.

Online answers
Transversal's study showed that even the simplest customer queries are often left unanswered. In fact, 64% of leading consumer web sites answered fewer than 2 out of 10 of the most often-asked customer questions. Only 16% could answer 5 or more questions successfully.

Rank Sector Answer rate
1. Banking 30%
2. Insurance 25%
3. Consumer Electronics 24%
4. Travel 12%
5. Telecommunications 10%
Overall average: 21%

Table 1: Average no. of questions answered online
Source: Transversal (Feb. 2005)

Email responses
Almost half of the organisations surveyed (44%) also failed to respond to customer questions escalated by email, and those that did so took an average of 33 hours to reply. According to Transversal, these figures highlight a critical flaw in how many e-retail companies approach the market.

Rank Sector Response rate
1. Telecommunications 70%
2. Banking 60%
Consumer Electronics 60%
3. Insurance 50%
4. Travel 40%
Overall average: 56%

Table 2: E-mailed query response rates
Source: Transversal (Feb. 2005)

Response times
Web sites in the strongest sector - banking - provided adequate answers to three out of the ten questions asked. The worst sector was telecommunications, which answered only one out of the ten questions on average. Scores varied greatly between individual companies surveyed, with one-third of them (34%) appearing unable to answer any questions at all.

For frustrated customers forced to submit questions by e-mail, the response rates were equally poor. Six out of ten travel companies (60%) did not bother to answer e-mails at all, and those that did so took an average of 42 hours to respond. The highest number of responses came from telecoms companies (70%) but they still took more than a day to reply (32 hours on average).

The slowest of all were consumer electronics companies, taking an average of 51 hours to respond to e-mailed questions. The fastest average response time came from the banking sector; while one stood out with a response within 2 hours, the rest averaged 17 hours. Still, these are hardly the immediate answers that online consumers are looking for. Response rates calculated based only on those organisations that actually answered the question, and excluded the automated responses that tell consumers their query has been received.

Rank Sector Response time
1. Banking 17 hours
2. Insurance 25 hours
3. Travel 32 hours
4. Telecommunications 33 hours
5. Consumer Electronics 51 hours
Overall average: 33 hours

Table 3: Average e-mail query response times
Source: Transversal (Feb. 2005)

Consumer frustration
Nearly 50% of the UK's consumers say they use the web as part of the purchasing process for goods and services, and it is estimated that more than 60% of e-mails to contact centres are generated by consumers who are unable to find answers on company web sites.

According to Yap, consumers on the internet usually want immediate answers, and certainly don't want to wait days for an e-mail response or be forced to call a contact centre. But, the research suggests, many companies do seem to be forcing customers who prefer the internet to use these traditional channels because of a basic inability to answer simple questions in a timely manner.

"Given the growth in the online channel over the past five years, these figures demonstrate an astonishing lack of understanding by the average organisation," said Davin Yap, CEO for Transversal. "Our research shows that there is a growing customer service gap between those companies that take the online channel seriously and those that don't." Details of Transversal's knowledge management solution for contact centres, which provides information to customer service agents from natural language support database, are available from Transversal, whose clients include Sony, Nissan, JP Morgan Chase, Proctor & Gamble, and the British Army.

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