Web-based companies were today accused offering sub-standard customer service.
Internet service firm Transversal's annual online customer service analysis of 100 leading websites found that 69 per cent could answer fewer than four of the 10 most often asked customer questions.
Only 16 per cent answered more than six questions, which covered straightforward enquiries such as refund policies, tariffs and product details.
Consumers are being forced to wade through an ever-increasing number of web pages and, when that fails, to call or email overstretched contact centres, the report alleged.
Transversal found that the average wait for an email reply was 33 hours, and that 40 per cent of companies failed to give a useful answer to the customer's question.
The slowest response time was a shameful 385 hours, over 16 days after the original query was sent.
Unsurprisingly, given their focus on selling tangible goods, retailers came out top of those surveyed.
However, grocery, fashion and CD/book sites were still only able to answer half of the questions asked, and only 10 per cent had dedicated customer search facilities, thereby forcing consumers to spend time and effort locating answers.
Worst performers were travel and insurance websites which only managed to answer one question on average despite these sectors investing heavily in their online channels.
Slowest at responding was the utilities sector, averaging a tardy 102 hours to reply. Transversal suggested that this does little to inspire confidence in potential customers looking to switch suppliers.
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