Almost half the top ranked Web sites dismally fail to offer good customer service.
According to research by Jupiter Communications, 42 per cent of sites took at least five days to reply to email enquires, never replied or were not accessible via email at all.
The report stressed how this lack of customer support means that companies are ignoring the opportunity to communicate with existing and potential customers, discouraging brand loyalty and opting out of ?user initiated one-to-one relationships? by not replying quickly to emails.
The report focused on 125 sites in categories of content, consumer brands, travel, retail and financial services. Retail sites fared the best with 54 per cent responding in less than one day, while 19 per cent of travel sites tested took at least three days or never responded to enquiries.
?This effort illustrates that many Web sites have been unable or unprepared to respond to the flood of user questions that come in via email from their sites,? says Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter?s site operation strategies.
?Answering thousands of questions per month is an enormous challenge for sites offering complex products and services, especially if they never had a traditional call centre.?
Jupiter warns, however, that this is not an excuse as companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty. And not responding at all could sacrifice the development of ecommerce as it perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web for business is not reliable.
Due to the very nature of the Web, customer service needs to be at a higher standard that in traditional business. Jupiter says it is essential that all requests for information are answered quickly and with accurate information as the competition is only a few clicks away.
The company recommends that sites use some form of ?auto-acknowledge? feature that responds immediately to all incoming requests, stating that the request was received and offering an estimate of how long it will take to answer.
By offering customers effective and convenient support, Web sites will be better placed to differentiate their business from competitors.
The report's authors were optimistic, however, expecting 85 to 90 per cent of sites in areas such as travel, retail and financial services to be able to respond to questions within one business day by the middle of 1999.
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