North American retailers have been underperforming in terms of customer service through their electronic channels, according to the latest research from knowledge management software firm eGain.
eGain's 2008 international benchmarking report for the retail sector compared e-mail customer service and web-based self service offerings from leading retailers in the US, Canada, and the UK, and found that North American retailers performed worse than those in the UK in terms of e-mail response quality, but better in terms of web self-service and speed of e-mail responses.
However, the company's research also suggests that there is still significant room for improvement in both e-mail and web-based service. eGain used a mystery shopping approach, posing as prospective buyers of high-value products and services. The company's researchers contacted leading retail businesses via e-mail, showing an obvious intent to buy, and also evaluated the self-service capabilities offered by those retailers.
Key findings from the North American part of the survey included:
- 25% of the companies failed to respond to customer e-mails;
- Although 65% responded to e-mails within 24 hours, 55% of the responses were poor or below average in terms of quality;
- 45% were rated either 'above average' or 'exceptional' for web self-service but 55% were rated 'poor' or 'below average'.
When comparing North America with the UK market, the key differences included:
- North America trailed the UK in terms of e-mail response quality, with only 45% of the North America sample receiving an above average or exceptional rating, compared to 56% in the UK.
- North America performed better than the UK in terms of e-mail responsiveness, with 65% of the North America sample responding to e-mails within 24 hours, compared to only 36% in the UK. Only 25% of the North America sample completely failed to respond to customer e-mails, compared to 35% in the UK.
- Web self-service performance was poor across the board, although North America was ahead of the UK, as 45% of North American companies were rated either above average or exceptional, compared to only 16% in the UK.
"These scores are concerning, especially since e-mail customer service and web self-service are key requirements to attract and retain customers in today's volatile economic environment, and increasing movement of bricks-and-mortar purchases to online channels," warned Ashu Roy, chairman and CEO for eGain.
A full report on the findings of the study have been made available for download from eGain's web site - click here (free registration required).