A Customer Respect Score Remains Level

Leading high-tech companies are altering their policies to meet consumer privacy concerns, but need to do a better job responding to increasing email demands, according to a new report by The Customer Respect Group (CRG). "Q1 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of the High-Tech and Computer Industry" assigns a Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating on a 10-point scale to roughly 2,000 corporate Web sites across various industries. Overall, the high-tech industry scored a 6.4, which has not changed since the previous study conducted six months ago. Internet services was the best sector, with a 7.0, led by Ebay with a CRI of 8.4. Computer and data services was the worst-performing sector at 6.1, despite an excellent rating for Electronic Data Systems (EDS), at 8.7. Five other companies received an excellent rating, including Ebay, Intuit, Linksys, Microsoft, and Xerox. Thirty-seven percent of companies received lower ratings than six months ago, compared to 23 percent that improved, a trend which the CRG calls concerning. The most improved company was EDS at 23 percent and the worst performing was NETGEAR, with a 32 percent decrease. According to the study, respect toward personal privacy concerns is on the rise, in general, with 50 percent of companies receiving an excellent score. On the other hand, there is an increase by 25 percent of the number of companies receiving a poor score in that area. "Some companies have improved their policies largely because consumer concerns are becoming a factor creeping into the corporate culture," says Terry Golesworthy, president of CRG, in a statement. "Corporate America is understanding privacy isn't a nice thing to do, it's actually business reasoning." Although there has been a 3 percent decrease in the amount of companies sharing data with unrelated third parties, companies have increased the level of cross-marketing with business partners and other groups within the company. "Because a company can email you doesn't mean you want that email and it's becoming a nuisance factor," Golesworthy says. "There's a fine line between what's beneficial to you and what's not beneficial." The best-performing companies for privacy policies and practices were EDS (9.1), IBM (9.1), Xerox (8.8), and Hewlett-Packard (8.7). Siebel Systems scored the lowest at 3.5. The study also found that the growing popularity of email inquiries is testing high-tech companies, with roughly half receiving poor ratings for responsiveness--47 percent of emails were returned within a day and roughly 33 percent received no response after a month. As email responsiveness improves, more customers send questions in that form, which could overload companies that aren't prepared. "If you think of one industry that would have the capacity to handle these things, it would be high tech, [but] the second wave [of inquiries] is a problem," Golesworthy says. "Web sites encourage customers to communicate and ask questions, but this should not be done if questions cannot be handled." Most people are willing to wait four to 24 hours for the reasonably important, but not urgent, inquiries, he adds. Clearly defined cookie policies also are important for building consumer trust, according to the report. All but one of the companies reviewed use cookies, but just 25 percent provide a full explanation as to why they are used. "People have their suspicions about cookies. Their gut feeling is they're collecting information as opposed to helping," Golesworthy says. "End-users are looking to take more control. The more you're willing to give them control, the more they're willing to take the cookies. "The big takeaway is that the consumer is more suspicious and personal privacy is a major objective because if you don't do it, you can start losing business," he says. "Brands that you've done a wonderful job building up are being affected because Web reputation is important." Related articles: Retail Companies Gain Respect for Consumers
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