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UK companies struggle to deliver online customer service

New research has found that many UK consumers are being let down by a poor standards of customer service through website, email and social media channels.


UK companies struggle to deliver online customer service

New research has found that many UK consumers are being let down by a poor standards of customer service through website, email and social media channels.

The 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study evaluated 100 leading companies on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email.

The study found that websites could only answer 53% of customer questions, while company responses to email queries had declined since 2011. Social media use had doubled, although many companies still failed to integrate social media into their overall customer service strategy.

Fashion retailers were best at web customer service, answering 75% of questions asked on their websites, whereas CD/DVD/booksellers and food retailers performed worst, answering just 40% of questions. 

Researchers were unable to email nearly a quarter (23%) of the companies in the study, as they either had removed the opportunity for non-customers to contact them through this channel or email addresses were not easy to find. Just 39% of the 100 businesses responded with an accurate answer via email and on average companies took 64 hours and 33 minutes to reply to emails – 44 hours longer than a similar study undertaken in 2011.

In addition, there was a wide variation in response times with two companies replying to email questions in 19 minutes and another taking a month to reply. Overall every one of the ten sectors surveyed answered emails slower than in 2011.

The study also found a huge difference between best and worst - for example, fashion companies answered 75% of questions asked on their websites, while CD/DVD/Booksellers and food retailers replied to only 40%.

While web performance improved from the average of 50% of questions answered in 2011 to 53% in 2012, over a quarter (28%) of companies performed worse in 2012 than last year despite being asked exactly the same questions through the same channels. 

“At a time when recession is putting unprecedented strain on many companies, customer service is critical if businesses want to win and retain consumers – but this study shows that many organisations are still struggling to provide basic information or answer customer emails,” said Dee Roche, global marketing director at Eptica.

“The fact that the performance of many companies has worsened over the last twelve months is disappointing to see – poor service will simply endanger sales in today’s competitive market. Customers want to be able to contact companies through their channel of choice, so businesses need to adopt a joined-up, multichannel approach if they are to meet their needs,” Roche added.

Many companies seemed to be more successful in some channels than in others. Food retailers could only answer 40% of questions asked via the web, but successfully responded to 70% of emails.

The study also looked at how companies were using social media to engage and interact with their customers. On the positive side, social media use had nearly doubled, with 64 companies having Facebook pages (against 33 in 2011) and 70 with Twitter (up from 36 in 2011). However only 11% linked customer service to these social media channels.

Roche said: “Social media is transforming how consumers approach customer service as it provides a megaphone for them to broadcast their complaints to the world. So it is positive to see that companies are embracing this new channel – they now need to integrate it with their overall customer service strategy to deliver a joined-up approach that is both consistent and efficient.”

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