Majority of UK websites fail to provide basic answers online

Cambridge, UK: The web is failing customers by lagging behind other channels at providing service, according to research from eService provider, Transversal. Despite the growth of web sales, Transversal’s annual online customer service analysis of 100 leading websites found that 69 per cent could answer fewer than four of the ten 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 website pages and, when that fails, to call or email overstretched contact centres. On top of which, in this survey, 33 hours was the average wait for an email reply – and even then, 40% of companies failed to give a useful answer to the question. The slowest response time recorded was a shameful 385 hours – over 16 days after the original query was sent.

Transversal surveyed one hundred organisations in the banking, insurance, travel, retail, telecoms and utilities sectors. Following a set methodology it asked ten common, sector-specific questions on each site, as well as emailing a single question to customer service departments. Email responses were marked for relevance and for the time taken to respond.

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 questions asked and only 10 per cent had dedicated customer search facilities, forcing consumers to spend substantial time and effort locating answers.

Worst performers were travel and insurance websites which only managed to answer a pitiful one question, on average – despite these sectors investing heavily in the online channel. Slowest at responding was the utilities sector, averaging a tardy 102 hours to reply - not inspiring confidence in potential customers looking to switch suppliers.

According to the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) UK online retail sales alone increased by 356% in the five years to 2005 and are now estimated to be £8.2bn per year. This figure is forecast to increase by 163% by 2010, with the value approaching £21.5bn (

“Our research shows that finding information online is like looking for a needle in a haystack, demonstrating a shameful disregard for customer service,” commented Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. “While organisations are generating ever-increasing sales from the Internet, they don’t seem to care about backing this up with even basic levels of service. Consumers wouldn’t put up with this attitude on the High Street and increasingly will switch instantly to competitors for better service.”

The research showed little improvement from 2005 with the average number of questions answered online rising from two to three out of ten – still well under the response rate that consumers rightly expect. Email response times had not improved at all, taking 33 hours on average. And while fewer companies ignored their customers email than in 2005 only 69 per cent did reply.

Overall 2006 average results were as follows:

Average number of questions answered online
Retail – Grocery 5 out of 10
Retail – Fashion 5 out of 10
Retail – CD/Book 5 out of 10
Utilities 4 out of 10
Retail – Electronics 3 out of 10
Telecoms 3 out of 10
Banking 3 out of 10
Consumer electronics 3 out of 10
Insurance 1 out of 10
Travel 1 out of 10
Average 3 out of 10

Percentage of companies that responded to email correctly
Retail – Grocery 80%
Retail – Fashion 70%
Retail – CD/Book 60%
Utilities 70%
Retail – Electronics 90%
Telecoms 45%
Banking 40%
Consumer electronics 70%
Insurance 30%
Travel 40%
Average 60%

Average email response time
Retail – Grocery 23 hours
Retail – Fashion 23 hours
Retail – CD/Book 10 hours
Utilities 102 hours
Retail – Electronics 19 hours
Telecoms 14 hours
Banking 22 hours
Consumer electronics 35 hours
Insurance 12 hours
Travel 66 hours
Average 33 hours

Dee Roche, Head of Marketing +44 (0)1223 723 388
Rainier PR
Chris Measures/Elke Panzner +44 (0)20 7494 6570

About Transversal
Transversal is a Cambridge-based developer of intelligent eCustomer service software that enables organisations to achieve key sales, customer service and efficiency goals. Transversal's flagship service, Metafaq, enables organisations to increase online sales and reduce the volume of call and email queries to contact centres by automatically answering customers' questions online. Transversal customers will typically see immediate and dramatic email reductions, by around 60%, and improvements in email response times, from days to minutes. Intrafaq, Transversal's knowledge management solution for contact centres, delivers information to agents in a unique way from a dynamic natural language knowledgebase. Simply by typing a question, in their own words, agents can access answers to customer questions; providing fast, accurate and consistent responses. Organisations benefit from increased first call resolution and efficiency by improving the knowledge and quality of service provided by customer service and help-desk agents. Transversal's Memory Engine™ is the result of research and development by top researchers in Information Theory and Machine Learning from Caltech and Cambridge universities. Transversal co-founder, Prof. David MacKay, is a world renowned expert in Artificial Intelligence. He pioneered Bayesian Neural Networks in the late 1980s and remains at the forefront of the field. Current customers include Sony, Direct Line, Thomsons, MFI, Barclays, Nissan, Fujifilm, Standard Life, Freemans, Grattans, Look Again, Kaleidoscope and the Metropolitan Police.

Published on: 12:00AM on 16th May 2006