June 28, 2004, 12:00 AM

Online service from offline companies still lags, new survey says

Surveying the 100 largest companies, The Customer Respect Group found that a third don’t respond at all to online inquiries and that half share customer data without permission.

Offline business are still trying to figure out how to treat online customers, says the 2004 Online Customer Respect Study, the 3rd annual such survey from Bellevue, WA-based The Customer Respect Group, a research and consulting firm.

Surveying the 100 largest companies, The Customer Respect Group found that a third don’t respond at all to online inquiries and that half share customer data without permission. The firm gave Microsoft Corp. the highest customer respect score, 8.7 of a possible 10, and Supervalu Inc. the lowest, 2.7. The average score was 6.2.

The Customer Respect Group interviewed a representative sample of the adult Internet population and analyzed more than 1,000 web sites across a spectrum of industries to determine the attributes that create the entire online customer experience. It grouped those attributes and then measured sites on the basis of simplicity (ease of navigation), responsiveness (quick and thorough responses to inquiries), privacy (respects customer privacy), attitude (customer-focus of site), transparency (open and honest policies) and principles (values and respects customer data).

The Customer Respect Group continually enhances its methodology by expanding the list of attributes researched and reported on. Recently, the firm expanded that list to include respect for individuals with disabilities.

"While we`ve seen many firms make positive improvements to their sites, too many still aren`t taking the web seriously enough from a business perspective or aren`t knowledgeable about best practices,” says Roger Fairchild, president of The Customer Respect Group. “For example, about one-third still aren`t responding to all web site inquiries. And more than one-half of firms share submitted customer data with subsidiaries, affiliates or business partners without seeking permission to do so. Moreover, more than three-fourths provide forms that can`t be easily used by those with disabilities.”

Fairchild says 20% of customers with a negative experience click directly to a competitor`s site. “Firms must pay more attention to how they treat customers online or risk losing them," he says.

The Top 10 companies in customers respect and their scores are:
Microsoft Corp., 8.7
Hewlett-Packard Co., 8.6
International Business Machines Corp., 8.5
Bank of America Corp., 8.2
Medco Health Solutions, 8.1
Intel Inc., 7.9
Albertson`s, Inc., 7.8
Kmart Corp., 7.8
Walgreen Co., 7.8
United Parcel Service Inc., 7.7

In addition to Albertsons, Kmart and Walgreen, retailers in the top 100 and their scores are:
The Home Depot Inc., 7.5
J.C. Penney Co. Inc., 7.4
Best Buy Co. Inc., 7.3
ChevronTexaco Corp., 7.2
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7.2
CVS Corp., 7.1
Sears Roebuck and Co., 7.1
Costco Wholesale Corp., 7.0
Lowe`s Cos. Inc., 6.9
Dell Computer Corp., 6.7
The Kroger Co., 6.7
Target Corp., 6.6
Safeway Inc., 5.3
Exxon Mobil Corp., 5.1
Marathon Oil Corp., 4.7
Supervalu Inc., 2.7

The Customer Respect Group earlier released respect rankings for the retail industry. It reported these rankings:

Foot Locker Inc., 7.9
Amazon.Com Inc., 7.9
Albertson`s Inc., 7.8
Kmart Corp., 7.8
Walgreen Co., 7.8
Barnes & Noble Inc., 7.7
Nordstrom Inc., 7.5
The Home Depot Inc., 7.5
Victoria`s Secret, 7.5
NAPA, 7.4
J.C. Penney Co. Inc., 7.4
Staples Inc., 7.4
Toys R Us Inc., 7.4
Best Buy Co. Inc., 7.3
The Gap Inc., 7.3
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 7.2
Sears Roebuck and Co., 7.1
Ace Hardware, 7.1
CVS Corp., 7.1
Costco Wholesale Corp., 7.0
Saks Inc., 7.0
Longs Drug Stores Corp., 6.9
Lowe`s Companies Inc., 6.9
Rite Aid Corp., 6.9
The TJX Companies Inc., 6.8
The Neiman Marcus Group Inc., 6.8
BJ`s Wholesale Club Inc., 6.8
RadioShack Corp., 6.8
Kohl`s Corp., 6.7
The Kroger Co., 6.7
Dillard`s Inc., 6.7
Target Corp., 6.6
Big Lots Inc., 6.5
Circuit City Stores Inc., 6.5
Publix Super Markets Inc., 6.4
W.W. Grainger Inc., 6.3
Dollar General Corp., 6.3
The May Department Stores Co., 6.2
Borders Group Inc., 6.1
Advance Auto Parts Inc., 5.9
Pathmark Stores Inc., 5.8
Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., 5.8
Federated Department Stores Inc., 5.7
Wesco International Inc., 5.7
OfficeMax Inc., 5.7
Ross Stores Inc., 5.4
Safeway Inc., 5.3
Office Depot Inc., 5.1
Family Dollar Stores Inc., 4.5
AutoZone Inc., 4.4
Hughes Supply Inc., 4.1
ShopKo Stores Inc., 3.9
Industry average, 6.6

The survey of the 100 largest companies also reported:
• Companies receive the best overall rating, 7.3, for Simplicity and the worst, 4.4, for Responsiveness. 12% don`t respond to any online inquiries.
• 21% responded to only half of inquiries. Of these, 48% responded in less than a day. 19% responded more than four days later.
• 67% responded to all inquiries. Of these, 60% responded to e-mails in less than a day. 9% responded more than four days later.
• Only 31% use autoresponse technology, in which e-mails are automatically sent back to users to confirm the receipt of their inquiry and let them know when they should expect a response. Of those that do, 55% included details on how quickly they would follow up. 71% of these followed up within the promised timeframe. 17% were late with responses. 12% provided no follow-up responses.
• 85% of companies provide e-mail forms for online inquiries, 14% provide e-mail addresses, 1% provide only offline contact information. • 93% provide a privacy policy that states how they use personal data. Of these, 30% use personal data only for the purposes provided or for internal marketing purposes. 35% share data with affiliates or subsidiaries. 23% share data with business partners. 12% need to be more explicit about personal data usage.
• While 93% use cookies, 89% don`t explain that they can be disabled.
• 47% are not clear about their opt-in/opt-out policy.
• 84% provide forms that can`t be easily used by those with disabilities.

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