July 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

America’s 100 largest companies still don’t get it online, says new study

The 100 largest companies in America aren’t very good at responding to e-mail inquiries at their web sites. Most of them aren’t very good at managing any customer interactions at their web sites, says the 2005 Online Customer Respect Study.

The 100 largest companies in America aren’t very good at responding to e-mail inquiries at their web sites. In fact, most of them aren’t very good at managing any customer interactions at their web sites, says the 2005 Online Customer Respect Study of the country`s largest 100 companies, conducted by consultants the Customer Respect Group.

The Customer Respect Group determines the attributes that combine to create the entire online customer experience by interviewing a representative sample of the adult Internet population, then analyzing and categorizing more than 2,000 corporate web sites across a spectrum of industries in detail over the past four years. It groups these attributes under the terms simplicity (ease of navigation), responsiveness (quick and helpful responses to inquiries), privacy (respect for the privacy of the customer), attitude (customer–focus of site), transparency (open and honest policies) and principles (values and respects customer data).

While Responsiveness improved overall in the past year, it remained the lowest scoring area with a score of 5.3 out of 10; 28 of the top 100 companies had a rating of “very poor ” in their dealing with online inquiries, including Morgan Stanley, Viacom and Merck. Overall, 15% of all online inquiries sent were ignored. While this is better than last year, the Customer Respect Group notes that all of the overall improvement can be accounted for by the top quarter of companies in this category. Some 58% of all e-mails were responded to within a day, of which about half were judged to be helpful.

"Customer Respect, or lack of, is a significant factor that influences online behavior. It’s no surprise that companies that do more business via the Internet are doing better. Simply put, they get it," said Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group. “No organization, however, can ignore the online customer, regardless of what percentage of its sales are derived from the Internet today. The web site is now the front door for most companies; online customers are looking for an interactive relationship, something new for many companies. Customers increasingly make assumptions on a company and its brands based on the online experience.”

The good news is that the average Customer Respect Index score among the 100 largest companies improved 6.2 in 2004 to 6.5 this year. The bad news is that the improvement was relatively small and most, if not all, increases were accounted for by the top 25% rated companies of each attribute, the survey says. “Thus, the gap between the most and least respectful companies is widening,” the report said.

The study also found that 30% of companies continue to share user information with business partners or are unclear about what they do with data. 39% do not share data or do so only with the express permission of customers. In addition, 24% of companies provide no obvious way for customers to remove themselves from mailing lists, while 29% are clear in their opt-out instructions.

Only six companies achieved “excellent” ratings (HP, Medco Health Solutions, Sprint, Intel, American Express and UPS) and another 29 of the top 100 reached “good.” The Customer Respect Group says the remaining 65 did not meet the standard expected by online customers.

Here are the best and worst in overall customer respect:
Top 10 Performers
1 Hewlett-Packard Co., 8.7
2 Medco Health Solutions, 8.6
3 Sprint Corp., 8.3
4 Intel, 8.2
5 American Express Co., 8.1
6 United Parcel Service Inc., 8.1
7 Bank of America Corp., 7.9
8 Microsoft Corp., 7.9
9 Dell Inc., 7.8
10 Wachovia Corp., 7.8

Bottom 10 Performers
91 Wellpoint Health Networks Inc., 4.8
92 Johnson Controls Inc., 4.7
93 Marathon Oil Corp., 4.7
94 Plains All American Pipeline L.P., 4.6
95 Northrop Grumman Corp., 4.5
96 The Boeing Co., 4.5
97 Weyerhaeuser Co., 4.5
98 Honeywell International Inc. 4.4
99 Morgan Stanley 4.0
100 Berkshire Hathaway 3.7

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