January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

"Lip Service" CRM Not Good Enough, Gartner

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Even the most popular e-retailers have only average execution when it comes to customer service on the Web, says a new study released by Gartner Group Inc., Stamford, Conn. According to the eTail eService Functionality Study of the top 50 consumer e-retail sites, no sites were rated excellent or even good; 23% were average, 73% were fair and 4% were poor.

"The message to consumers is clear. For customer service on retail Web sites, pick up the phone," says Gartner's Carol Ferrara. "Most retail call centers treat Web customers like strangers. Marketers are not integrating the Web site with the call center. Customers who are disappointed at the Web site pick up the phone only to inform again all of their basic information to a representative who is blind to their Web activities and transactions."

Of the sites surveyed, half were virtual retailers and half were traditional retailers. The virtual retailers were more adept at customer relationship management on the Web than the traditional retailers. CRM on e-retail sites "amounts to little more than lip service," says Ferrara. The survey details that only 10% of sites surveyed allow customers to track inquiries through to resolution. Only 6% offer a feature asking the retailer to call the customer. Some 24% have instant messaging, and only 28% will even acknowledge that an email inquiry was received.

Fully 90% of the sites featured a Frequently Asked Questions section. That "static" approach to CRM is the starting point, advises Gartner. As far as customer interaction, satisfaction and loyalty, e-retailers must implement the enabling technology that will keep their customers on the Web and out of the call centers, it says.

"It's easier to build CRM entirely on the Web with no offline component," says Ferrara. "Traditional retailers that are integrating the offline and online CRM must master their databases and streams to stay with their customers as they move between selling channels."

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