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E-Tailers Get High Marks For Customer Service Over Holidays

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Posted January 31, 2001 By Staff     Feedback

According to a survey, 74% of shoppers are very satisfied with recent online purchase experiences, yet order fulfillment and returns remain challenges.

ATLANTA--A survey has found that the majority of online shoppers are satisfied with the level of customer service they received in the last three months. While the survey reported that consumer spending for online purchases over the 2000 holiday season came in under projections, that did not seem to impact the level of customer service e-tailers provided.

Of the 50 million U.S. adults covered by the statistical model of the Excellence in Customer Service Survey, 74% who made online purchases over the past three months were very satisfied with their experiences - a significant increase over similar studies conducted last year. Results indicate that the number of repeat purchases will increase as the level of customer service improves, with three-fourths of the online purchasers reporting that they are very likely to make additional purchases from the sites where they received customer service.

The survey, sponsored by Witness Systems and conducted earlier this month by International Communications Research (ICR), highlighted challenges many e-tailers still face, specifically with order fulfillment. According to the results, 19% of online purchasers received an item late, and one in six plan to or have returned their purchases. "If e-tailers want to survive in this market, they must realize that whether a customer walks into a store or visits a Web site online, the expectation for good customer service does not change," said Lisa Hager-Duncan, CRM and business technology analyst for Gartner.

The survey also indicated that consumers value the ability to choose the communications media in which they interact with companies. E-mail was cited above telephone, live text chat and fax, which is good news for retailers since it is one of the most cost-effective channels available today.

Witness Systems says these results support the need for companies to continue focusing on Web-based customer service by raising their standards for these types of interactions. They say e-tailers are beginning to dedicate more resources to effectively communicate with their customers via e-mail and collaborative Web chat by implementing such technologies as multimedia customer interaction recording and performance analysis software.

"Just as agent-handled phone calls need to be reviewed for adherence to internal policies, so do e-mails," said Hager-Duncan. "Companies should establish a formal quality assurance program for outbound e-mails that includes developing quality assurance evaluation forms, an agent evaluation and review process, and agent training to make adjustments for mishandled e-mails."

"These survey results demonstrate that e-tailers have made steady progress toward prioritizing and improving their Web-based customer service," said Dave Gould, president and CEO for Witness Systems. "E-tailers are getting the message that poor customer service over the Web can hurt their businesses. By using such online best practices as recording and analyzing performance, these organizations can help ensure customers are loyal to those sites that provide sound online service."

Other results from the Excellence in Customer Service Survey include:

  • More than two-thirds of those surveyed purchased from an online retailer within the past three months; one-third bought from a technology retailer or travel-related Web site.

  • On average, online shoppers spent $488 on Internet purchases made within the past three months.

  • Men made the most online purchases over the past three months and on average spent $586 versus an average of $388 spent by women.

  • During the recent holiday season, men purchased more than 35 percent of their holiday gifts online, and women's overall purchases during the same period totaled 24 percent.

  • Two-thirds of purchasers cited e-mail as their prefe
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