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When confronted with poor standards of customer service online, 94% of respondents to a survey said they would seek out a competitor or stop using the company's website altogether.

The survey, commissioned by nGeneraCIM, highlights the importance of meeting the needs of customers online, with 91% of UK web users saying thet customer service is important when buying online.

If customers need more information when on a website, email was cited as the preferred method of communication by 36% of respondents, while 26% saif they would consult the FAQs section, and just 19% preferred to call customer services.

The biggest frustrations for customers are being stuck in a call centre queue (66%), 52% would be irritated if they couldn't find the information they want on a company's website, and 36% are annoyed when email response is slow.

Unfortunately, many of the UK's retailers haven't provided contact options that are adequate. In this travel website study from last week, several sites, including EasyJet, Ryanair and bmibaby either didn't provide a telephone number, or charged customers for calling. Email options were poor too, with bmibaby, Ryanair and Britanny Ferries not even providing an email address.

Ideally, sites should be providing a range of contact options for customers to choose their preferred channel, as well as a comprehensive FAQs section for those that prefer to find the answers themselves.

Live chat is another option that customers would like to use, though I can only think of a couple of retailers in the UK that provide this at the moment, Comet and Amazon.

An effective online customer service strategy with the right resources channeled into it can boost customer retention (and in a lot of instances, acquisition), and any investment more than likely to be rewarded. For all the businesses out there: If you haven’t reviewed your customer service strategy, I suggest you do so straight away.

For more information see Econsultancy's  Online Customer Service Buyer's Guide, which features the following suppliers: ATG, Bazaarvoice, Clicktools, Confirmit, Creative Virtual, Danesoft, Globalpark, InQuira, Instantservice, iPerceptions, nGenera (Formerly Talisma), Parker Software, RightNow Technologies, Synthetix, Transversal.

Graham Charlton

Published 28 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (13)

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Jason Navon

This is a good post and one area of service weakness is in the handling of returns. Aside from one or two retailers, most are either very slow at dealing with returns or make the process incredibly frustrating. This seems to be an issue with both pure online retailers and those with a high street presence. A bad experience certainly puts you off buying from the same site again.

almost 7 years ago

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Marketing Donut

Companies should be honest, upfront and have a high level of transparency when it comes to making contact with them in order to maximise great customer service opportunities. The age of online offers more chances for companies to put things right, handle requests and deal with complaints etc. Larger companies would do well to adopt a small business mentality when it comes to being approachable.

almost 7 years ago

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Sam Cartwright

Some excellent points here. Our company has always traded on our dedication to customer service and it's really noticeable that when times have been quiet it's the repeat customers that keep the bank balance ticking over. Satisfactory service goes a long way to ensuring that customers return

In my conversations with customers one thing that is often mentioned is the importance of honesty and transparency, especially when dealing with stocking problems. If you need to ask your manager/tech guy/whoever to clarify something then tell me that. If you need to talk to a distributor before you can answer my query then offer to call me back at a time that suits. We pride ourselves on our familiarity with our stock and our clientèle but even with that there's no way we can answer every question right off the bat. Returns can be even more complex.

We've yet to be convinced by the usefulness of live chat. Perhaps for larger companies to ease the strain on call centres but for us we found that the uptake was so low as to make it a waste of resources.

almost 7 years ago

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Sudhir

You have mentioned in your post nGenera(formerly Talisma). However, please note that a part of Talisma's business became nGenera CIM. Talisma remains in the CRM business, but your post is a bit misleading as it appears that Talisma is now called nGeneraCIM.

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

I do think the points made by the research are rather obvious but I guess it is always important to emphasise the obvious seeing as so many online brands fail to get the basics right (we're currently putting time into addressing our own website to improve the customer service & contact elements - practise what we preach etc).

We've known for years that poor online service increases bounce and drives traffic to competitors. Just look at what happened to Debenham's downstream traffic when the website crashed last year - M&S cleaned up.

What is interesting is to find out how the uptake of interactive customer service solutions like Live Chat is helping increase conversion, reduce returns and reduce burden on the call centre. Is the cost of service via Live Chat more cost effective then having people answering phones & email?

I'm not saying one precludes the other, far from it. Surely the most effective customer service solution is to integrate all response channels so that the customer has choice. As with delivery options, choice is king, at least that is my view and one supported by research I've read over the past 3 years.

My pet hate is lack of contact with a person. eBay has always frustrated me and my experience of many websites in the travel industry is one of sheer pain. It takes you an hour to find an email form (ok slight exaggeration!) and then ages to work out which option you need to select to best represent your enquiry. All that could be saved if there was Live Chat which is increasingly being used by tjhe travel industry.

Most of us respond to positive experiences so it is a no-brainer that good customer service online will deliver commercial benefits.

thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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Andy Hanselman

There are some good (if, as James says, obvious) points here, but the issues are the same whether it's online, or offline.

The best businesses are 'easy to buy from' and 'demonstrate' they care about customers in dealing with them and their problems by their actions.

I feel the two big differences between online and off line are:

a)it's generally easier to switch suppliers and find alternatives online - 'at the touch of a button' and all that.

b) the power of 'word of mouse' over 'word of mouth' - good and bad news spreads quicker and easier, so problems get talked about more - check out Unted Airlines for 'proof'!

In other words, I believe that customer service is as important as ever, but a key issues is that the impact of getting it wrong can be far greater and costly.

Cheers

Andy Hanselman

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

That is a good point Andy about the impact of getting it wrong online being greater than before thanks to the imapct of social media. The web is becoming what it always set out to be, a tool for people to interact and share and the power is rapidly shifting from business to the community. The UA example is a good one as is the backlash of Habitat's rather naive usage of Twitter.

Bad service, whether direct to customer or indirect by ignoring online etiquette, can quickly damage your business.

thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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suchinwebs

<!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } A:link { so-language: zxx } -->

almost 7 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Suchinwebs, that is the second time today you have spammed one of these discussions with pointless content and shameless links to another website. Please stop wasting people's time. These forums are for people who want to discuss news and developments and create a genuine conversation. Go spam somewhere else.

Econsultancy peeps - anything you can do to stop time wasters like this??

thanks

james

almost 7 years ago

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Business Opportunities

effective customer services shows good business practices. If the customer service is excellent the customers are more likely to return and recommend your product or services to others. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth has on any business. A quick relevant response to your enquiry or concerns entails good customer service.

over 6 years ago

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Sell My Business

Customer Service is so important. A human is so much better than automation.

over 6 years ago

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Juan

I see you did your research. Retailers really do need to focus now great job....

over 5 years ago

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Spiritual consults

What a well executed piece of writing

almost 5 years ago

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