Take Care of Online Customers
An annual survey of the top-100 U.S. companies reveals what R E S P E C T means to their Web visitors.
Posted Jul 1, 2005
  

The recently released 2005 "Online Customer Respect Study," conducted annually for the past four years by research and consulting firm The Customer Respect Group (CRG), reveals that the country's largest-100 enterprises do not pay enough respect to their online customers. Only six companies achieved "excellent" ratings: American Express, HP, Intel, Medco Health Solutions, Sprint, and UPS. Another 29 achieved a score of "good" online customer respect, while the remainder of the 100 did not meet the CRG's standard for online customer respect.

That standard is set by the Customer Respect Index (CRI), a CRG performance-measurement tool, which is a qualitative and quantitative analysis and independent measure of a customer's online experience when interacting with companies via the Internet. The study focuses on U.S.-based companies and rates their Web sites in six categories: simplicity (ease of navigation); responsiveness (quick and helpful responses to inquiries); privacy (respect for the privacy of the customer); attitude (customer focus of the Web site); transparency (open and honest policies); and principles (values and respects customer data). The best performing Web site was HP's; Berkshire Hathaway's was the worst. The most improved since last year's study was Prudential. Other low-performing sites were Morgan Stanley's, Pepsi's and Viacom's.

Surveyed firms have implemented a number of improvements since last year's study: The overall average CRI score improved, according to CRG, in five of the six measured attributes, but was primarily accounted for by the top-25 percent rated companies. In specific areas covered by the CRI like privacy, major differences appeared between the top third and bottom third percentiles. For example, 30 percent of surveyed firms continue to share user data with business partners. At the same time, 39 percent of surveyed firms do not share data or do so only with the express permission of customers. The best performing companies in respecting privacy were HP, IBM, Intel, and Medco. "The more personal data that is shared, the greater the risk of identity theft," says Terry Golesworthy, president of the CRG. "These days, ensuring the safety of customer data via the Internet is an important step in ensuring customer loyalty and satisfaction."

The area of responsiveness improved overall, but remained the lowest scoring area with an overall score of just 5.3 out of 10. Twenty-eight percent of the top-100 companies had a rating of "very poor" in their dealing with online inquires, including Merck, Morgan Stanley, and Viacom. Overall, 15 percent of all online inquiries sent were ignored, while 58 percent of all email where responded to within a day. Comcast, MCI, and Sprint, all received strong ratings in responsiveness.

A full 29 percent of companies surveyed now adopt the policy of allowing customers to choose to opt-in to ongoing corporate marketing, while 24 percent provided no way for customers opt-out via the Web site. "It's no surprise that we found a direct correlation between companies that do more business via the Internet are doing better in their CRI scores," Golesworthy says. "Many companies are still ignoring their online customers, regardless of what percentage of sales are derived from the Internet. The Web site is now the front door for most companies, and customers are increasingly making assumptions on a company and its brands based on their online experience."

According to Golesworthy, the results of the survey this year overall can be attributed to some companies driving their customers to make online inquires due of the cost benefits for the company. "Obviously, certain companies push their customers to their Web sites because it saves them money," he says. "Others focus more on their sales force. But there are still other companies that are simply not considering their Web site as a major customer touch point, and it's hurting them."


Top 10 Performers CRI

  • Hewlett-Packard Company 8.7
  • Medco Health Solutions 8.6
  • Sprint 8.3
  • Intel 8.2
  • American Express Company 8.1
  • United Parcel Service 8.1
  • Bank of America 7.9
  • Microsoft 7.9
  • Dell 7.8
  • Wachovia 7.8


    Bottom 10 Performers CRI

  • Wellpoint Health Networks 4.8
  • Johnson Controls 4.7
  • Marathon Oil 4.7
  • Plains All American Pipeline 4.6
  • Northrop Grumman 4.5
  • The Boeing Company 4.5
  • Weyerhaeuser Company 4.5
  • Honeywell International 4.4
  • Morgan Stanley 4.0
  • Berkshire Hathaway 3.7


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