September 18, 2002, 12:00 AM

Slow response to e-mail queries will become a chief source of customer loss

57% of shoppers polled say quick response is one reason to stay as a customer, but only 34% of retail sites acknowledge queries with e-mail replies.

While 92% of sites surveyed in a recent poll by Jupiter Research offer e-mail as a customer support option, only 34% acknowledge the receipt of such queries by sending a reply e-mail to the sender. Industries such as the automotive and CPG manufacturer sectors have speeded up response times to customers` e-mail queries, but retail will lose out while its average e-mail response time lags, says Jupiter. In fact, with 57% of consumers polled by the research company citing customer service response time as a reason for their continued patronage of a company, the research firm projects that poor response times will be the primary reason for the defection of customers in years to come.


Only 31% of retailers surveyed responded to customer’s e-mail queries within 6 hours and another 31% within 24 hours. By contrast, 48% of automotive companies responded in 6 hours and another 31% within 24 hours, while 48% of CPG manufacturers responded in six hours and 21% within 24 hours.


But responding to e-mail queries with a timely acknowledgement is only part of customer service online, notes Jupiter. Of sites that did send an e-mail acknowledgement, almost half offered alternative service methods, chiefly online self-service. While some retailers did suggest customers use the toll free number, fewer are actively promoting their toll free numbers. 91% of retailers did last year, but only 86% are currently.


Though online self-service is less costly for retailers than live help is, its usefulness is limited to only some circumstances and product categories, says Jupiter analyst Corina Matiesanu. “Retailers should be careful not to force customers into their self-service paradigm, especially those with a history of contacting a company by phone,” she says, noting that recommending the use of online self-service without knowing if the customer already has tried it can add to customers’ frustration.

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