Offline-Level Service Is a Must-Have in the Virtual World

Consumers' expectations are now very high for online and mobile technology; if your company's services are less than perfect, your customer acquisition and retention rate could suffer. According to a new report from Keynote Competitive Research Group, customers now expect that company Web sites as well as mobile services for email, mobile messaging, and streaming video run seamlessly and are up and running at all times. In fact, the study finds that customers demand the same level of service online as they do for face-to-face and telephone interactions. As personal usage of mobile and Internet technology increases, companies must keep pace in all areas in order to keep customers coming back. Attitudes toward online business now more closely resemble customers' assumptions regarding offline business than ever before. Although many have in the past blamed the Web for higher rates of attrition, Keynote's study, "Trends & Observations in a Mobile and Connected World," finds that brand loyalty is hardening in the online space. The study finds that just as customers will shop at a certain store due to their experiences within its walls, customers are continuing to return to the sites whose interfaces and offers they prefer. Brand solidification is occurring not only for top-rated, but second- and third-tier sites as well, which the study states will make it more difficult for startups and smaller sites to shoulder out competition. Steve Foster, director of competitive research for Keynote, advises that to bolster brand loyalty, service is key. "Once a customer has a problem, it is absolutely paramount to resolve that situation very quickly. If a customer walks away they do it very quickly and are likely never to return." The study found that one of the biggest differentiators for leading sites was the negligible amount of downtime they experience; such sites have a 99.9 percent availability rating. This availability is consistent for approximately the top three sites in any given vertical, but drops off in performance for lower rated sites. Sites such as Borders, Target, and CompUSA top the service level ratings for retail, and Bank of America, E*Trade, and US Bank come out on top for financial services. Keynote cites two additional trends for the upcoming year to be a further increase in Web traffic from consumers and a more broadband-focused Web strategy on the company side. Demand on mobile service performance is increasing alongside that on Web service, Keynote finds. Just as online and offline expectancies are leveling, customers are now expecting mobile to perform at the same level as landline service. The call for quality can be heard in mobile data service and video streaming as well. According to the report, data services, which increased substantially in the past year, are now expected to mirror the experience on a computer. The explosion of social networking sites offering customer-created content is driving the quality of streaming content on mobile, PCs and laptops. "This is a key competitive time right now on the digital media front," Foster says. Media companies are now working to increase quality to bring video streaming up to television quality. Foster says that for all online experiences, "customer expectations escalate and elevate every year to a greater extent. It never stops so you've got to do even better just to stay even in the marketplace right now." Related articles: Retailers Are Becoming More E-Savvy
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