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Study Finds Companies Lacking in E-mail Customer Service

November 20, 2008
In these times of lower consumer spending, retailers are struggling to capture the attention of its customers. For many, the way to a customer’s wallet is through lower prices and as a result, discounters are noticing a surge in revenues. For others, it isn’t as easy to compete on price – but they may be able to get the edge they need with proper customer service.
 
To study the retail sector’s performance in customer service, eGain Communications Corporation, a provider of multichannel customer service and knowledge management software on-premise or on-demand, has published its 2008 international benchmarking report that focuses on the retail sector.
 
The report benchmarks and compares e-mail customer service and Web self-service offered by leading retail companies in North American and the UK. According to this research, North American retailers performed worse than those in the UK in e-mail response quality.

At the same time, these North American retailers performed better in Web self-service and speed of e-mail response. Despite this performance, the overall results indicate that there is significant room for improvement in both areas. 
 
To evaluate customer service performance, eGain used a “mystery shopping” approach. eGain researchers posed as prospective buyers of high-value products and services and contacted leading retail businesses through e-mail, showing an obvious intent to buy. In these activities, researchers assessed the self-service capabilities offered by these businesses.
 
The objectives of these interactions were to assess the responsiveness and quality of e-mail customer service, the range of “Web self-service” options offered, and the ability to easily escalate to agent-assisted service.

Research on the North American region also included other aspects of customer service such as interaction channels offered, and multichannel and multi-agent service consistency.

In the study, key findings emerged regarding North American retailers. For instance, 25 percent of companies failed to respond to customer e-mails; 65 responded to e-mails within 24 hours, but 55 percent of them were considered poor or below average in quality; 45 percent scored above average or exceptional; and 55 percent received poor or below average ratings.

When comparing North America to the UK, 56 percent of UK companies received the above average or exceptional rating; North America performed better than UK in e-mail responsiveness; and 45 percent of North American companies scored above average or exceptional in Web self-service performance, compared to only 16 percent in the UK.
   
"These scores are concerning, especially since email customer service and web self-service are key requirements to attract and retain customers in today's volatile macroeconomic environment and increasing movement of brick-and-mortar purchases to online channels," said Ashu Roy, Chairman and CEO of eGain, in a Thursday statement.

"It is crucial that retailers invest in robust customer service management solutions that will not only improve online customer service but also unify the customer service experience across channels."

"Retailers must optimize service performance across existing touch points, particularly e-mail and online self-service. Adherence to best practices within both channels will go a long way toward meeting customers' needs this holiday season," wrote Zach McGeary, Associate Analyst for JupiterResearch, a Forrester Research (News - Alert) company, in the research report "Customer Service During the Holidays," dated December 10, 2007.

Companies cannot afford to ignore their customer service initiatives, no matter what segment of the retail sector they serve. Not every customer will be driven by price and even if they are, there is always an alternative.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for TMCnet and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek
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