November 24, 2008, 12:00 AM

E-retailers still haven’t figured out that e-mail customer service thing

More than a dozen years into the Internet revolution, a significant number of retailers still haven’t figured out how to respond quickly and appropriately to customers’ e-mail inquiries.

More than a dozen years into the Internet revolution, a significant number of retailers still haven’t figured out how to respond quickly and appropriately to customers’ e-mail inquiries.

In a test by eGain Communications Corp., a provider of customer service software, 25% of North American retailers contacted never responded to e-mail inquiries. 65% responded within 24 hours, but that’s not as good as it might appear–eGain ranked 55% of the responses as poor or below average in quality.

Researchers posed as shoppers for high-value products and services and submitted e-mail inquiries to retailers in North America and the U.K.

Retailers also haven’t figured out how to provide adequate web self-service, eGain reports. 55% of retailers in the research study scored poor or below average in that department.

“These scores are concerning, especially since e-mail customer service and web self-service are key requirements to attract and retain customers in today’s volatile macroeconomic environment and increasing movement of bricks-and-mortar purchases to online channels,” says Ashu Roy, chairman and CEO of eGain.

If North American online merchants are bad, their U.K. counterparts are worse. 35% of U.K. retailers never responded to an e-mail inquiry and only 36% responded within 24 hours. U.K. retailers scored better on quality though, with 56% ranking above average or exceptional. However, they lag American retailers in web self-service: only 16% ranked above average or exceptional in self-service.

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