Is Anybody Out There?
High-tech companies are steadily offering better online customer service and have made particular strides the past six months, according to new research from The Customer Respect Group (TCRG) that finds the industry much changed. The study--the firm's ninth survey of the high-tech sector--is officially titled "Second Quarter 2007 Online Customer Respect Study of the High-Technology and Computer Industry."
Twice a year, the research and consulting firm ranks online customer service performance from about 40 high-tech and computer companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Gateway, Toshiba, and Epson. For the study the researchers poked around corporate Web sites before emailing or sending instant messages in reference to a few basic customer service questions. The group released its latest findings June 4.
Analysts email questions about how to purchase a product, acquire a manual, or get support questions answered, posing as customers rather than analysts. "Those things shouldn't be too hard to answer," says Terry Golesworthy, president of TCRG. "We test whether or not they have a process for answering them in place."
Two years ago few companies did, according to Golesworthy. His team commonly waited weeks for replies that never came. "The key thing in the industry is that one year ago, and certainly two years ago, these companies were just throwing content on their Web sites," Golesworthy says. "What they'd do the worst was interactively respond to the needs of their customers."
These companies have only recently realized each emailer is a customer who could buy additional products in the future. "Suddenly, high-tech companies have accepted that their users and buyers are sitting there in front of their PCs and it's very convenient for them to ask the question online," Golesworthy says. "The companies realize they have to respond or else it's easy for a user just to move on to another Web site."
He cites retail as the best industry sector for immediately answering online questions, and life insurance providers as the worst. High tech and computer companies--formerly down among the life insurance salespeople--are now ranked closer to retailers, who realize every question comes from a potential or actual customer. "Before this, I can't tell you how many times I've heard 'We get so many emails we can't possibly respond to all of them,'" Golesworthy says.
TCRG's most recent study ranks HP and Gateway top for their online customer support. Computer Associates, Toshiba, Epson, Microsoft, and Apple were among the worst. The gap between best and worst continues to get wider because the lowest-ranked don't see the need to improve, Golesworthy says. "Microsoft likes to write to you, but you don't write to them," he says. "It's hard to send Apple an email because they don't support it. They have chat but no email."
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