A recent article discussed the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The report, released February 18th, shows that the best e-businesses are satisfying their customers more effectively than their off-line counterparts.
Top online companies like Amazon and eBay got some of the highest scores. But what about the companies that don't fare as well as the high-flyers? I've found that many, if not most, companies that I've dealt with online are still failing to meet their customer's basic service needs. Many companies tend to look at the Web as a way to cut costs, rather than looking at it as a truly new way of doing all the work that business entails.
Data from Jupiter Media Metrix suggests that companies that are less responsive to their customer online needs are going to struggle to retain their customers. According to Jupiter, "companies are failing to meet basic consumer expectations for service via e-mail, which is resulting in shoppers turning to the telephone for customer service."
How bad is e-mail response? Only about half the companies sampled responded within 24 hours. If you went to a store that made you wait 24 hours for an answer to a basic question, you probably wouldn't return. It's no wonder that this type of service leaves customers wanting!
Poor e-mail response costs companies in several ways. "Companies that fail to get serious about their management of customer service e-mail now, will pay the price with higher customer service costs and lost revenues down the line, " warns Jupiter's David Daniels.
Handling a customer inquiry by e-mail is typically cheaper than handling a phone call. If these e-mails aren't handled quickly, customers end up using the phone, which can double your costs, or even going somewhere else.
Sites with poor customer service have lower customer retention rates. In addition, sites that leave customers less satisfied are likely to see more price pressure. The ACSI report showed that satisfied customers are more tolerant of price increases; sites that drop the ball on customer service may only be able to compete on price. Jupiter uses six hours as an acceptable length of time for e-mail responses or acknowledgements. I don't think that companies can use arbitrary measures for measuring response times, though. That approach may meet your customer's minimum expectation, but it's not likely to wow them.
A better approach is to look at your industry and understand the practices of your competitors, and try to beat them. Six hour response time won't wow anybody if your competitor responds within two hours, or uses online chat to answer questions.
How important is wowing your customers? As Web sites mature, measuring the satisfaction of your online customers and improving it may be the most important way to grow your business.