February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

A 10 for customer service

Online retailers still face some challenges in customer service. Of 100 retailing sites that Chicago-based consultants The E-Tailing Group mystery shopped for customer service in the fourth quarter, only 10 earned perfect scores.

Online retailers still face some challenges in customer service. Of 100 retailing sites that Chicago-based consultants The E-Tailing Group Inc. mystery shopped for customer service in the fourth quarter, only 10 earned perfect scores.

Researchers ranked the 100 sites for customer service on the following criteria, which The E-Tailing Group describes as "must have:"

  1.  
    1. 800 or toll-free telephone number
    2. Keyword search
    3. Answer e-mail question within 25 hours, correctly with a specific answer
    4. Four or fewer days to receive package
    5. Six or fewer clicks to checkout
    6. Real time inventory in shopping cart or product page
    7. Online shipping status
    8. Order confirmation in shopping cart
    9. E-mail order confirmation sent w/order number included
    10. Recommended products/features in shopping process
    11. Display customer service hours

Online retailers` performance improved in a number of areas from the same study a year ago. Days to receive an order from one of the top 10, for instance, went from an average of 3.6 to 2.8. In addition, 79% offer real-time inventory, up from 68%.

But there was a serious deterioration in e-mail responsiveness from the top 10. The average reply time went from 6.2 hours to 11.1 hours; 10% didn`t reply at all vs. 6% a year ago; a larger number of responses were automated than a year ago and the proportion that didn`t answer the question also increased.

The E-Tailing Group also reported the following results:

  • 95% of the sites include a toll-free phone number.
  • 71% provided a guarantee vs. just 45% a year earlier.
  • 36% offered first-time users tips.
  • 95% of sites offered keyword search, with a significant increase in correct and relevant results vs. a year ago.
  • 26 hours was the average time for e-mail response, consistent with last year. However, researchers reported many more merchants sending automated responses or referrals to vendors rather than attempting to personally address customer queries.
  • 25% of sites offer live help, with 92% in working order vs. 88% a year ago. However, times to chat were much higher than last year.
  • 92% of sites offer shipping status vs. 91% a year ago. The average number of days to receive a package (4.4) is consistent with a year ago.
  • Average number of clicks to checkout was 4.8 vs. 4.6 a year ago and 4.9 the year before.
  • 56% offer recommendations in the shopping cart vs. 50% a year ago.
  • 38% have one-click checkout vs. 24% a year ago.

 

The customer service Top 10

Ann Taylor
Coldwater Creek
HPShopping
Lands` End
Neiman Marcus
Nordstrom
Petsmart
QVC
Restoration Hardware
Tower Records

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