May 9, 2002, 12:00 AM

Slow e-mail response gets slower--and that loses customers, says Jupiter

In Q4 last year, 46% of online retailers took three days or more to respond to an inquiry, up from 31% in Q2, a new report from Jupiter says. But while response times need to improve, 70% of consumers prefer live help to handle customer service queries.

 

As customers` communication to retailers increases, retailers’ response time on e-mail is deteriorating, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. In fact, Jupiter predicts that slow e-mail response will become the top reason for defection among online customers in the next few years.

In the second quarter of 2001, 31% of sites tracked took three days or longer to respond or did not respond at all to a sample query from Jupiter. By the fourth quarter, that number rose to 46%. “Often, at times of heavy demand, e-mail service reps are pressed to handle phone calls, leaving customer queries such as e-mail for another day,” says Jupiter analyst David Daniels. Only 43% of the companies surveyed by Jupiter had invested in automated e-mail systems.

But even though slow e-mail response can affect customer retention, companies must still make the handling of phone queries a top priority as the phone will remain the primary service channel in the near future, adds Daniels. Phone quires about online orders or transactions will continue to rise as affluent and middle-income consumers who prefer phone to online customer service increase their use of the online channel.

Companies looking to improve the handling of customer phone queries should consider technology that lets the Internet initiate calls to customers, Daniels adds. Web visitors would click a link to get a call back from a representative, eliminating their having to wait in queue for an available rep. But companies should take note: consumers want a live rep on the call-back. Jupiter says that the consumers it polled gave touch-tone activated, automated voice response the lowest marks on customer satisfaction of any service tool. Only 30% said they were satisfied with this interaction, versus 70% who said they were satisfied by a phone call with a live rep.

 

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