RealTime IT News

Report: 42% of Web Sites Fail At Customer Service

When it comes to customer service, many Web site marketers are failing miserably, according to a new industry study.

In fact, 42 percent of the top-ranked Web sites either took longer than five days to reply to customer e-mail inquiries, never replied at all, or simply were not accessible by e-mail, according to the report from Jupiter Communications in New York City.

Jupiter said the report illustrates that Web sites are ignoring the opportunity to communicate with existing and potential customers, discouraging brand loyalty and opting out of a user-initiated, one-to-one relationship by not offering, delaying, or eliminating responses to e-mail.

The Jupiter report, which was released to its Strategic Planning Services clients, focused on 125 sites in five categories: content, consumer brands, travel, retail, and financial services.

Most retail shopping sites performed the best, with 54 percent responding in less than one day. However, in some segments there is ample room for improvement. For example, 19 percent of the travel sites tested took at least three days or never responded to Jupiter's inquiries.

"This effort illustrates that many Web sites have been unable or unprepared to respond to the flood of user questions that come in via e-mail from their sites," said Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter's Site Operations Strategies.

"Answering thousands of questions per month is an enormous challenge for sites offering complex products and services, especially if they never had a traditional call center. Yet, companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty, and not responding perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web is not a reliable method of doing business with that company."

Since competition is only a few clicks away, Allard suggests that the standard for customer support must be higher for the Web than it is in the offline world.

Jupiter recommends that sites develop or utilize some form of "auto-acknowledge" feature that responds to all incoming requests stating that the question was received and estimates a time frame for how long it will take to respond to the question. A number of companies offer such software; many are sophisticated enough to answer rudimentary questions.

Jupiter said it expects that 85 percent to 90 percent of sites within high-service categories, such as travel, retail and financial services, will be able to respond to questions within one business day by the middle of 1999. An ability to provide customer support in a way that is effective and convenient will become a leading source of competitive differentiation, Jupiter said.

In other words, on the Web as in the real world, you snooze, you lose.