Service-centric Sites Survive

Consumer primacy reigns online as e-businesses build customer satisfaction and service efforts, according to research, and with digital dollars stretched thin in an uncertain economy, every little bit will help e-tailers gain a competitive edge.

“Web retailers have really improved their customer service in the last couple of years,” said Tara Weiner, managing partner of Deloitte & Touche’s National Consumer Business Practice. “They continue to gain credibility as they have fine-tuned Web navigation, credit card security, shipping methods and return policies and have increased brand recognition. For the Internet retailers who survived the dot-com shake out, limited competition could position them for their best holiday season yet.”

Analysis by Grizzard Performance Group of 10,000 senior level U.S. executives during the spring of 2002 revealed that 59 percent of companies, both consumer and B2B, have a customer retention program in place. However, consumer companies lead B2B with 71 percent compared to 58 percent.

Sadly, Grizzard found that only 19 percent of the respondents said that their companies had a point-based loyalty program in place, with 77 percent of that group also having a CRM initiative, drawing the conclusion that the companies with the point-based loyalty programs are still focused on getting customers, rather than keeping them.

Deloitte & Touche’s poll of 13,000 U.S. residents in early November 2002 found that nearly half (49 percent) expect to shop online this holiday season, and good customer service would play a significant role in determining which e-tailers get their money.

When the participants were asked to use a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is the best) to rate their Internet shopping experiences, nearly three-quarters (73 percent) responded with an 8 or better, compared to 41 percent who rated in-store shopping as an 8 or better.

Further indication of the importance of online customer support comes from evaluations by 2,800 Internet users of 42 leading sites, conducted by Vividence. The results indicate that good customer support has a significant impact on customer loyalty, with satisfied customers twice as likely as dissatisfied customers to use the site again, and among those that were highly satisfied, 71 percent would recommend the site to a friend. Also, 85 percent of those satisfied with a site’s customer support options agree with the statement, “This site cares about its customers.”

Yet the research found that 49 percent of the participants in the study were unable to resolve a hypothetical customer support problem using the Web site, 44 percent found the wrong answer, and 5 percent gave up.

Respondents indicated a preference for toll-free phone support (37 percent), followed by live chat (19 percent), 24/7 support (16 percent), online instructions/FAQs (14 percent), online forms (13 percent), discussion forum (9 percent), and interactive tutorials (7 percent).

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