February 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Serving the customer

(Page 2 of 2)

Some online retailers such as PersonalCreations.com have sophisticated live chat programs. For example, Personal Creations is running a float box across the home page that invites customers to engage in a dialogue. The approach is helping Personal Creations personalize a customer’s shopping experience and react more quickly to changing behavior.

The 8-hour response

But unlike PersonalCreations.com, most web retailers in this survey still have a wait-and-see attitude _regarding live chat. Only 22.4% of retailers offer customers live chat. None of the retailers who don’t offer the option have plans to implement a live chat program. Of the web retailers that are offering a live chat tool, the daily number of online episodes is small. 47.9% of retailers conduct fewer than 25 live chats each _business day, compared with 17.8% with daily volume of 26 to 50 chats, 19.1% with daily volume of 51 to 250; and 5.5% with more than 250. 9.7% don’t know their live chat volume.

Overall, responsiveness remains a customer hot button and shoppers naturally expect that web retailers will respond to all serious inquiries within a reasonable period of time. While consumers may expect an almost instant reply to an e-mail message, the industry practice is within eight hours, according to the survey.

While 18.4% of retailers in the survey take longer than eight hours to e-mail back a customer with a message other than an auto responder and 9.4% don’t know, 19.4% respond in fewer than 60 minutes, compared with 36.5% between two and four hours and 16.5% between five and eight hours. Surprisingly, catalogers, usually among the most responsive of all online retailer groups, were the least likely to respond to an e-mail correspondence in less than one hour. Just 11.1% of catalog companies return e-mails within 60 minutes, compared with 21.6% of virtual merchants, 20.6% of manufacturers and 19.4% of chain retailers.

mark@verticalwebmedia.com

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