Being technologically advanced doesn't always mean that a company will provide a high-quality web site experience, according to a new survey from The Customer Respect Group.
The Customer Respect Group has determined the attributes that combine to create the entire 'online customer experience'. These attributes have been grouped together and measured as indicators of simplicity (ease of navigation), privacy (respects customer privacy), attitude (customer-focus of the site), transparency (open and honest policies), responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to enquiries) and principles (the company values and respects customer data).
Combined, these attributes measure each company's level of customer respect. The study assigns a Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating to each company on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest achievable score.
Looking specifically at the computer products & services sector, the results are mixed. Overall, most sites were easy to navigate, 59 out of 61 having privacy policies, and most doing a fair job of explaining their privacy policies fully and clearly.
On the flip side, however, surveyed firms fared worse than average on principles, in which they are evaluated based upon how they protect personal data submitted to them online. In fact, a shocking 29% of companies share customers' data with unaffiliated third parties without seeking their permission.
In addition, many firms demonstrated poor responsiveness, the sector's lowest scoring attribute. Some 32% of this sector didn't respond to any enquires while another 23% only responded to half of submitted questions. Moreover, of those firms using auto-responder technology in which they let customers know that their enquiry has been received and will be dealt with in a timely manner - an incredible 42% either never followed up with a response or only responded half of the time.
Other key findings of the customer respect survey included:
- Surveyed firms receive the best overall rating (CRI: 8.2) for Simplicity and the worst (CRI: 4.9) for Responsiveness.
- Of those 93% that provide a viable means of response, 32% of firms did not respond to any online enquiries.
- 45% responded to all enquiries. Of these, 89% responded within 48 hours, four percent responded within 72 hours and seven percent responded after four days.
- 23% of firms responded to half of the enquiries received. Of these, all responded within 48 hours.
- Some 52% of all sector firms use auto-responder technology, in which emails are automatically sent back to users to confirm the receipt of their enquiry and let them know when they should expect a response. Of these, 58% followed with a full response, 29% followed up half of their auto-responses with a reply and 13% never followed up with a response.
- Some 75% of companies provide email forms for online enquiries.
- 18% provide email addresses. Another 5% provide online contacts inappropriate to general consumers. An additional 2% provide only offline contacts such as phone numbers or postal addresses.
- Some 82% provide a keyword search function on their site.
- Almost all (97%) firms have privacy policies on their sites explaining how customers' personal data is being used. Of those that do, 15% need to be more explicit about how they use personal data, 44% do not collect data or use collected data only for internal purposes, 12% share data with affiliates or subsidiaries and 29% share data without permission from users.
- Some 90% use cookie technology. Of these, 20% provide a full explanation of how cookies can be disabled, 44% mention that they can be disabled, 22% explain how cookies work and 14% don't mention cookies at all.
"Research indicates that 82% of internet users decline to provide any personal information because too many details were asked for that didn't seem necessary, and 64% decide not to buy online because they aren't certain how their personal data might be used," explained Roger Fairchild, president for The Customer Respect Group.
"High-tech firms need to wake up to the fact that sharing information without permission is bad for business. And since, on average, users abandon 20% of web sites they visit due to an unsatisfactory experience, you have to wonder why more than half of high-tech firms aren't responding to questions directly posed to them. Clearly, being technologically savvy doesn't correlate directly to providing a high-quality Web site experience."