Study: Businesses Improve Online Service

The largest U.S. corporations have shown improvement in handling online customer interactions but many still fall short, according to a new study.

The Customer Respect Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based consultancy, released the findings in its 2003 Online Customer Respect Study, showing that U.S. businesses showed improvement managing customer interactions online. Using its customer respect index — a hodgepodge of a half dozen customer-friendly practices like strong privacy policies and prompt response to inquiries — the 100 largest U.S. companies’ scores rose from an average of 6.5 a year ago to 7.0 this year. The highest possible score is 10.

Despite the gains, the consulting group found many corporations lacking in key areas. About 31 percent fail to respond to online inquiries, an improvement from the 37 percent measured a year ago. Also, 10 percent of companies do not post privacy policies, the same amount measured last year.

“Many companies treat the Web as a necessary evil and online users as second-class citizens — and it shows,” the report said. “One would think that the companies would ‘get with the program’ and treat online customers the same way as good companies do for ‘traditional’ customers.”

The findings underscore the results from a recent survey by Jupiter Research, which is owned by the parent company of this site. Jupiter found that just over half of respondents were satisfied with the response to their e-mailed customer-service inquiries. The survey also exposed the high expectations customer have: 88 percent said they expect a response to an e-mail inquiry within 24 hours.

The Customer Respect Group found the tech industry is most clued in to making the online channel a pleasant customer experience, ranking as the top industry in the survey. Hewlett-Packard took top honors for individual companies, scoring 9.7. Dell, Verizon, Intel, IBM and Microsoft all made the top 10. The food, beverage and tobacco category scored lowest of the 10 categories.

Responsiveness remains a shortcoming for many companies. Out of the top 100 companies, just 18 received a perfect 10 for sending an auto-respond e-mail and following up with a full reply in less than 48 hours.

Another area the group found lacking was in the use of personal data. While the top companies scored 7.5 for the transparency of their privacy policies, the study rated them lower for their obtuse language. Further, the study gave the businesses a 6.6 rating for their “principles” in giving the consumer options for how the data will be used. Instead, too many companies collect data and launch e-mail promotional salvos at the customer.

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