Firms have begun to respond to customer demand for quicker replies, strengthening brands and relationships in the process.
Posted Aug 18, 2006
Retailers have improved their responses to customers' email requests and are realizing better than companies in other industries that those customer emails provide excellent customer relationship building opportunities, according to The Customer Respect Group's "Third Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of Retailers."
The Customer Respect Group (CRG) is an international research and consulting firm that focuses on how corporations treat their online customers. Beyond email, the study looks at firms' Web site usability and how well firms could be trusted with personal data. The report analyzes 51 major retail companies in the now substantial online retail industry, which last year generated $143.2 billion. The industry as a whole scored 6.2 on the 10 point CRI index, equal to the telecommunications industry, which ranked at the top of the industry table.
"They've jumped on the fact that when customers are asking [email] questions, it's an excellent time to elicit additional customer information," says Terry Golesworthy, president of CRG. "They've begun a real thrust looking at customers on a one to one basis and marketing to them on an ongoing basis. They don't see email as [a nuisance]. They realize that when customers ask more questions [the companies] can gather more information as a result. They've made that circle very nicely, unlike a lot of other industries."
Saks is one company that has made marked improvement in its email responses, answering most questions within a couple of hours, according to Golesworthy. While an answer within 24 hours has long been the acceptable email response time, customers are starting to expect answers in a much shorter time frame, he says. "The bar has been raised on timeliness."
While retailers as a whole scored very well in terms of communications, there were some notable exceptions; Golesworthy cites Target, Office Depot, Lowe's, and CompUSA as being far behind their peers. The CompUSA failure to adequately handle emails is particularly notable, Golesworthy adds, because its customers are technologically savvier, and therefore more likely to use email than customers of the average retailer.
"The way a company handles customers' emails has a tremendous impact. It goes a long way in determining how customers see the company's brand," Golesworthy says. He adds that those who are already doing an adequate or excellent job should look at adding or improving Web chat in order to continue to improve.
"Web chat takes advantage of the time a customer takes to respond," Golesworthy explains. "While [an agent] can handle only one call at a time, he can handle two or three Web chats at once. Any more than that results in long gaps in replies."
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