E-tailers get low marks for customer service

Brick-and-mortar and online-only retailers struggled to quickly respond to customer service e-mails during the just-finished holiday season, according to research from Jupiter Media Metrix Inc. detailed on Thursday.

According to the company's December 2001 data, just 30 percent of retailers tracked resolved basic customer service requests online within six hours. Although this is a slight improvement over the 27 percent figure for the previous quarter, Jupiter is advising retailers to focus on retaining customers acquired during the holiday season by reaching out to those who endured slow responses.

The company's research also found that although 33 percent of online-only retailers responded within six hours, compared to 28 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers, overall, online-only retailers were less responsive. Forty percent of online retailers took more than three days to respond or did not respond at all, compared with 28 percent of brick-and-mortar retailers in the same category.

Jupiter analysts have found that the impact of poor customer service online cascades across channels. According to a November 2001 survey, 53 percent of consumers said they are less likely to buy again from a retailer's offline store if they had an unsatisfying experience online. Just three percent said online service would have no impact on future purchases or that they would continue to buy from a merchant regardless of price.

Jupiter is advising retailers to explain changes being made to improve quality of service, to encourage customers to contribute feedback by using Web-based surveys, and to note profiles of customers who had a sub-par shopping experience. This data can be used for personalized marketing campaigns later on, New York-based Jupiter said.

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