Monday, October 1, 2007

Survey Reveals Top 100 U.S. Online Retailers’ Customer Service Shortfalls

With U.S. online retail sales for Q1 2007 totaling $31.5 billion, an new independent study has revealed that U.S. online retailers are failing in key areas of customer service, which has the potential to be devastating to the online retail market which is forecasted to reach $329 billion in 2010.

In a mystery shopper exercise conducted from April to June 2007, 34% of emails went unanswered by 100 of America’s top online retailers, with just over 50% of responses providing accurate and complete information. The findings of the audit are highlighted in a report published by Talisma Corporation.

Talisma asked the leading U.S. online retailers the following questions:

• What credit/debit cards can I use to make payment?
• What are your shipment charges?

Talisma’s audit awarded each online retailer a score out of 100, based on a range of customer service criteria, including speed of response, accuracy, completeness of information provided, and the personalization of interactions. Although 93% of companies audited responded to phone queries within 30 seconds, only 5% were able to communicate with personalized content – by referring to caller ID or a customer profile. Personalization is increasingly being recognized as a critical factor in delivering customer service excellence. In fact, customers are beginning to expect to be acknowledged and treated as “special” on return visits across all channels of communication.

Of the estimated 230 million U.S. Internet users, many are well versed with the use of chat, and prefer to communicate with online retailers that way. However, only 30% of the audited retailers are able to accommodate that channel preference. Even worse, for those customers who prefer to find information themselves before contacting customer service, a mere 3% of online retailers offer full-fledged Web self-service.

However, there were some bright points in the audit, including the fact that 100% of the audited companies provided access to phone-based customer service, with 95% providing it for free, and 96% provided access to email. Unfortunately, while 78% of U.S. Internet users shopped online in 2006, online retailers aren’t taking full advantage of the Internet channels. In effect, they are missing out on tremendous opportunities for both revenue growth and customer service cost savings.

Overall, the survey revealed that online retailers are failing in three key areas:

1. One-third of email queries were ignored - Email is generally accepted as one of the most efficient communication tools. This seems to have been overlooked by many online retailers as 34% didn’t reply to customer emails.

2. Lack of Self-Help Tools - 97% of online retailers had no knowledge base to help prospective buyers make an informed decision based on product features and suitability, known issues, or customer service accessibility and policies.

3. Accuracy of information provided - only 51% of emails and 72% of phone calls answered provided accurate information.

Additionally, the audit revealed that 89% of online retailers do not provide agents with a unified customer history of all customer interactions across channels.

More information can be found at

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