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Customer Service Still a Struggle

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Posted January 3, 2002 By Beth Cox     Feedback

Report says only 30 percent of retailers online, both pure-plays and brick-and-mortar operations, managed to resolve an e-mail inquiry within six hours this holiday season.

Both pure-play Internet retailers and brick-and-mortar merchants with online operations struggled to keep up with customer service e-mails this holiday season, according to data from an industry tracking firm.

In fact, only 30 percent of all retailers tracked resolved basic customer service requests online within six hours, according to December figures from the Jupiter Media Metrix Customer Service WebTrack study.

The figures, although not wonderful, actually are a slight improvement over the third quarter's 27 percent.

Analysts at Jupiter are suggesting that retailers concentrate on retaining customers acquired during the holiday season by reaching out to those who bore the brunt of the slow responses.

"Santa might be relaxing now, but retailers can't," said David Daniels, Jupiter senior analyst. "The implications of unsatisfactory online service remain particularly harsh. These are peak return and customer service weeks ... Retailers must scrutinize online customer service response times, contact center service levels and staffing resources."

Interestingly, the WebTrack data showed that while a greater percentage of online-only retailers (33 percent) responded to customer service e-mails within six hours than brick-and-mortar retailers (28 percent), the pure-plays were less responsive overall.

Jupiter said that 40 percent of online-only retailers took more than three days to respond or did not respond to e-mails at all, compared to 28 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers in the same category.

A recent Jupiter Executive Survey found that only 43 percent of Web sites have an e-mail automation system. "This in part explains this season's lackluster online customer service performance," Daniels said.

Jupiter's polls have found that a majority of consumers (57 percent) say that the speed of a retailer's response to customer service e-mail inquiries would affect their decision to make future purchases from the particular Web site.

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