• June 6, 2005
  • By Colin Beasty, (former) Associate Editor, CRM Magazine

Ranking Poorly with Online Customers

The high-tech industry is surprisingly bad when it comes to email responsiveness, the Customer Respect Group found in its "Second Quarter 2005 Online Customer Respect Study." The report on the largest computer products and service companies also found a growing gap in respect for privacy of personal data among the top and bottom performers. And two of the largest providers of CRM solutions, Siebel and Oracle, ranked poorly in both categories.

The Boston-based international research and consulting firm polled 500 adult consumers and asked them to state their biggest concerns pertaining to online interactions. The two top concerns, according to respondents, were privacy and email responsiveness. The survey then set out to evaluate 2000 high-tech product and services company Web sites, based on the two aforementioned concerns. The firm assigned each company a Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating, based on analysis and independent measurement of a customer's online experience when interacting with a company via the Internet.

"The nice thing about our survey is we have an analyst look at a company's Web site unannounced, almost like a secret shopper," says Terry Golesworthy, president of The Customer Respect Group. "That way, the list is chosen to be representative of the industry, as opposed to who is willing to cooperate."

The Customer Respect Group found that 27 percent of all emails sent to high-tech companies were ignored completely, and only half of all emails were responded to within a day. High-tech firms overall supplied less helpful answers than other industries, with 40 percent of all responses considered less than very helpful. Only two companies scored excellent for email responsiveness, HP and Electronic Arts. Also, analysis of high-tech company Web sites led the research and consulting firm to give them an average CRI score of 6.4. This, falls below the average telecommunications firms' score of 6.9 in a comparable study. Two Web sites that received excellent CRI scores (8 and above) were HP and Xerox. Only three percent of all Web sites qualified for this score. Among those rated "poor," (4 and below) were Toshiba and Siebel Systems. These results, according to Golesworthy, can be attributed to certain companies driving their customers to make online inquiries because of the cost benefits, and thus, spending more time and money on back-office systems to support it.

"HP, Dell, Microsoft, Gateway, all those companies did very well," he says. "They have good one-on-one relationships with their customers. Their Web sites and email responses are well organized. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Siebel, Toshiba, Epson, and Oracle. Everybody else fell into the middle."

Privacy and Internet security concerns mirrored email responsiveness and Web site layout concerns. While the industry as a whole improved its privacy and Internet security from a CRI score of 6.4 in the last report to 6.8, most of it can be attributed to a large increase from the top performing companies. Twenty-five percent of the same companies have gotten better, while 75 percent of companies have gotten worse in terms of sharing data with third parties. At the bottom of the Privacy index was Siebel.

Golesworthy acknowledges that concerns may vary between B2C and B2B companies, however, he says the survey takes that into account. "We found that customers are very concerned about the protection of their data. There is a great gap appearing between the top and bottom performers."

No matter which category is being measured, Golesworthy maintains that all are critical when servicing customers online, and can be detrimental to the customer relationship process when handled poorly. "[The Internet] is the first stage in a relationship with a customer or prospect," he says. "The lead is the first stage. You won't have any CRM if you don't have any leads to start the process. With the high-tech industry, we found that leads weren't being handled particularly well. That's kind of surprising. You'd think providers of computer products and services would already be good at this."

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