Transportation industry treats online customers badly

The US's largest transportation, distribution and logistics companies need to treat their online customers with more respect, according to a report released this week by The Customer Respect Group.

Overall, the U.S. Postal Service scored highest -- 8.8 on a scale of 1 to 10 -- in customer respect among the group of companies studied, according to the Bellevue, Wash.-based research and consulting firm, which surveyed 27 of the largest companies in the U.S. transportation sector.

But the transportation industry as a whole scored relatively low -- an average of 5.6 on a scale of 1 to 10 -- compared with other sectors, said Thorsten Ganz, director of research at The Customer Respect Group.

The group measured 25 different attributes that combine to create the typical online customer experience and are used to measure customer respect, including whether a company respects customer privacy, values and respects customer data, has a customer-focused site, provides open and honest policies, has an easy-to-navigate Web site, and responds quickly and thoroughly to customer inquiries.

One of the factors that contributed to the poor showing among transportation companies was that 39 percent of them don't respond to customer inquiries made at their Web sites. "Not responding to questions from a customer is not a good business practice," Ganz said.

In addition, those transportation industry firms that do answer customer inquiries often take too long to do so. "Many companies took three days to answer inquiries -- longer than we'd like to see," he said. "They should at least respond within 48 hours."

Another problem is that many of the companies don't post an online privacy policy, Ganz added. "People won't use a Web site because they don't know how their personal information will be used," he said.

Ganz said companies should post a privacy policy, especially if they're collecting personnel information, so customers know what information is being collected and how it will be used.

The survey also found that among transportation-sector companies:

- Almost a third, or 32 percent, don't respond to online inquiries. Of those that do, 41 percent do so within 48 hours, 6 percent respond within 72 hours, and 53 percent respond after 72 hours.

- Only 12 percent of these companies use autoresponder technology, in which e-mails are automatically sent back to users to confirm the receipt of their inquiry and let them know when they should expect a response. Of those, 67 percent follow with a full response.

- Some 41 percent of companies provide e-mail forms for online inquiries, while 52 percent provide e-mail addresses, and 7 percent provide only off-line contact information such as phone numbers or postal addresses.

- Only 26 percent provide a keyword search function on their site.

- And only 67 percent of transportation companies have privacy policies on their sites explaining how customers' personal data is being used. And 33 percent use cookies, but 30 percent of those companies don't explain how cookies can be disabled.

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