January 3, 2002, 12:00 AM

E-retailers still struggle to respond quickly to customer service queries

Only 30% of retailers answered customer service e-mails within six hours, says Jupiter Media Metrix.

“Santa might be relaxing now, but retailers can’t,” says Jupiter Media Metrix senior analyst David Daniels. The weeks after Christmas represent peak demand on returns and customer service operations, and they’re a critical time for retailers to focus on retaining customers acquired during holiday shopping, he notes. New data from Jupiter show that retailers still have a ways to go on customer service online: only 30% of retailers tracked by Jupiter during the holiday resolved basic customer service requests online within six hours.

Online-only retailers did slightly better than the average on response times, with 33% responding to customer service e-mails within six hours. By contrast, only 28% of brick-and-mortar retailers responded within that time frame. However, the brick-and-mortar retailers still did better overall on responding to customer service requests online. Only 28% of them didn’t answer within three days or failed to respond at all to online customer queries, compared to 40% of online retailers that did the same.

Some 57% of consumers polled by Jupiter said the speed of a retailer’s response to customer service e-mail inquiries would affect their decision to make future purchases from a web site. And 53% said that they’d be less likely to buy again from a retailer’s offline store if they had a poor experience on the store’s web site, showing that the impact of poor customer service online can spread across channels.

Retailers should invest in e-mail customer service automation systems if they have not yet done so; only 43% of web sites Jupiter tracked had an e-mail automation system, Jupiter found. In addition, retailers should reach out to customers who’ve had poor experiences online with customer service this holiday, not necessarily with discounts, but with an explanation of what they’re doing to improve the quality of service. In addition, suggests Jupiter, retailers should use customer interaction records and historical response time data to profile customers who had a poor online experience with customer service, and use the data to target this audience with personalized marketing campaigns at a later date.

“The implications of unsatisfying online service remain particularly harsh,” says Daniels. “Retailers must scrutinize online customer service response times, contact center service levels and staffing resources.”


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