Web lags behind High Street when answering basic questions

Cambridge, UK, 5 July 2006: Britain’s retailers are neglecting online shoppers by not providing answers to basic customer service questions on the web. Research carried out by eService provider Transversal found that online retail websites could only answer five out of ten most often asked customer questions. The length of time taken by retailers to reply to customer email was equally poor – with one online grocer taking a staggering 97 hours.

Compared to CD, Games, books and electronics retailers; grocery and fashion companies were slowest at answering emails, taking nearly 23 hours on average. Even the fastest retail sector to reply, CD and booksellers, took an average of eight hours – a complete working day. The quickest individual email reply came from a fashion retailer, within 5 minutes – highlighting a vast chasm between the best and worst performers.

However, a fast response isn’t any good if replies do not actually answer customer’s specific questions – only 75 per cent of email replies from electronics, grocery and fashion companies successfully answered the question asked. Similarly, just 60 per cent of email replies from CDs and books provided a useful answer.

Despite the massive increase in online sales, only eight per cent of retailers surveyed had invested in a customer-centric means of searching for information. This compels consumers to waste time trawling through websites or forces them to break away from shopping in order to call or email contact centres. The lack of intelligent eService means that retailers are missing out on the ability to understand consumer behaviour where it is most important – at the point of purchase, thus impacting potential sales.

Transversal’s online customer service research covered 100 leading UK companies, including 40 retailers in the grocery, fashion, CD/book and electronics markets. The overal results were so poor, that retailers scored second highest, ahead of utilities, banking, telecoms, consumer electronics, travel and insurance, by answering just 50 per cent of straightforward customer questions, from their websites.

“Despite the growth of online sales, retailers are still not providing good customer service on the web, and they simply wouldn’t get away with it on the high street” commented Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. “Given that they are providing tangible goods this should be straightforward, however our research has found the exact opposite. Retailers will drive shoppers into the arms of their competition through their failings.”

Ten per cent of UK retail sales are now either made online or influenced by the web, according to research from IMRG. This totals £80 billion with 45 per cent of shoppers looking to increase online spending in 2006.

This is the first year that Transversal has added the retail sector to its annual research into online customer service. Overall 2006 average retail results were as follows:

Sector Average number of questions answered online Percentage of companies that responded to email correctly Average email response time Percentage with customer search
Retail – Grocery 5 out of 10 80% 23 0
Retail – Fashion 5 out of 10 70% 23 10%
Retail – CD/Book 5 out of 10 60% 10 10%
Retail – Electronics 3 out of 10 90% 19 20%
Average 4.5 out of 10 75% 18.75 hours 7.5%

Rainier PR
Chris Measures/Elke Panzner +44 (0)20 7494 6570 cmeasures@rainierpr.co.uk

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 and the Metropolitan Police.

Published on: 12:00AM on 5th July 2006