The UK's online retailers have a long way to go to improve their customer service if they are to reap the rewards of the growing e-commerce market, which is expected to be worth some 60 billion in 2012, according to a study by customer service firm Talisma.
In a mystery shopper exercise, as many as 45% of retailers failed to reply to customer e-mails, with only 47% of those who did so actually providing accurate and complete information in their response.
Common questions asked
Talisma contacted 62 leading online retailers in the UK to ask two simple questions - the first being "what are your shipping charges?" and the second being "what credit or debit cards can I use to make payment?". The results were assessed based on a range of customer service criteria, and each retailer was awarded a score out of 100.
Health and beauty retailers provided the best customer experience, with an average score of 65. All e-mails and phone calls were answered promptly, and accurate information given in all cases. The UK's supermarket chains and toy retailers also fared better than average, achieving 55 and 56 points respectively.
However, clothing and accessories retailers provided a poor level of service, with an average score of only 45. Worryingly only 23% of e-mails were responded to and 31% of phone calls went unanswered. Only 31% of retailers in this category provided accurate information via e-mail.
The average score for all retailers was 51, suggesting that much improvement is still needed in terms of responsiveness to simple customer queries. The average scores for each category were as follows:
· Health and beauty: 65
· Toys and children: 56
· Supermarkets: 55
· Electricals: 55
· Home furnishings and DIY: 53
· Books, CDs, DVDs and games: 52
· Department/general stores: 51.5
· Jewellers: 50
· Clothing and accessories: 45
Three key pain points
Overall, the study concluded that online retailers are failing in three key areas:
- Speed of response
All 62 retailers encouraged internet users to contact them via e-mail, but 45% did not respond to these enquiries at all. On a positive note, only 6% of telephone calls went unanswered;
- Accuracy of information provided
Only 47% of the e-mails that were answered actually provided useful information, with the majority of retailers giving either inaccurate or incomplete responses;
- Personalisation of customer service
While 94% of telephone calls were answered, only 2% were handled with any form of personalisation, such as the agent introducing themselves or addressing the customer by name. E-mail responses were only slightly better, with 37% of responses being personalised.
It was also apparent that many online retailers do not offer their customers a choice of communication channel, or even blend their channels internally. A worrying 87% of the retailers surveyed showed no evidence of having integrated their e-mail and telephone channels, while only 2% provided online chat services and (although 71% offered a frequently answered questions section on their web site) only 10% provided a web-based self-service option. Only one retailer out of the 62 examined provided access to all four channels.
"The online retail market is growing rapidly but its highly competitive nature means that customer satisfaction and loyalty will be key for retailers to generate repeat business and growth from the 25 million people that now shop online in the UK. Dissatisfied customers not only defect but - on average - they also tell ten people about their bad experience," warned Jon McNerney, vice president and general manager of international operations at Talisma.
McNerney concluded that increasingly sophisticated, internet-savvy shoppers have come to expect speed and efficiency, and the most successful online retailers will be the ones that respond to enquiries quickly with accurate and personalised information, treating each consumer as an individual and interacting with them through channels of their choice.
The survey report has been made available to download from Talisma's web site - click here (free registration required).