Meeting expectations?

InternetRetailing researchers set out to find out how Top500 research findings into retail customer service measure up to what the customer actually wants. Polina Modenova explains their findings

What do shoppers expect of customer service that retailers offer them and how do Top500 retailers measure up to those expectations? In order to find out, we cross-referenced a study from InternetRetailing Knowledge Partner Clarabridge [vcla] with our own research findings. We wanted to know whether leading retailers are getting it right and, if not, what they could do to change.

The Clarabridge report, A Look at UK Customer Expectations in 2016, aimed to find out how British shoppers want to be treated by the retail brands that they have bought from. This, surmised the report’s authors, was important for retailers aiming to sell in the UK that might be more familiar with other markets. Understanding customer behaviour within this market would be, they suggested, the first step towards delivering good service.

Over the course of August 2016, more than 1,150 consumers living in the UK and aged between 18 and 59 took part in the survey. They explained how they preferred to get in touch with retail brands that they bought from when they had a question to ask or a problem to report. They also set out how those retail brands responded to them and how satisfied they were with the response.

This research is particularly relevant to our own Top500 analysis of how quickly and effectively retailers respond to shoppers in three key areas: email, telephone and Facebook.

Responding by email
When British customers want to report a problem, it seems that email is the channel that customers most turn to. Indeed, when the Clarabridge report asked consumers to name the two methods they preferred to use when reporting a problem, 68% favoured email. The next most popular method was a call to customer services, cited by 36%.

In our research, we found that IRUK Top500 retailers also appear to focus first on emails from their customers. Since email (68%) comes well ahead of Twitter and Facebook, each one a priority for 10% of respondents in the Clarabridge study, this suggests they that traders have their priorities right. As a group, Top500 retailers addressed issues that were raised over email faster than they responded to social media.

We found that 10% of leading retailers responded to questions within 10m but 50% of Top500 retailers took more than two hours to respond to customers. 60% of the Top500 retailers resolved customer queries sent via email, while 20% of retailers scored full marks for customer satisfaction.

On the phone
Internet-based technology means the telephone is no longer UK shoppers’ favourite way to contact retailers but it still remains a very important tool for them to report a problem, named by 36% as one of their top two methods of getting in touch. The Clarabridge study suggests that three-quarters of UK residents have at some point rung a retailer’s customer service to report a problem. Of these, only 31% said they were very satisfied, with a further 5% completely satisfied, as a result of the call. A significant 10% was not at all satisfied.

When the survey asked for the biggest frustration around interacting with brands, the largest group (30%) named their inability to get a live person on the phone, while 23% said they disliked holding for a long time.

In Top500 research, we found that 8% of phone calls to Top500 retailers went unanswered and that 1% of retailers had an automated customer service response. Clarabridge found that customers were completely satisfied with call centre responses only 5% of the time, while, by contrast, Top500 research judged 54% of responses from retail customer services representatives to be of the highest quality.

This suggests that Top500 retailers as a group perform ahead of customer perceptions.

On social media
Social media is still emerging as the best channel to complain to retailers. Only 10% of consumers questioned in the Clarabridge study named Facebook as one of their two preferred channels to contact a trader and the same proportion named Twitter. Perhaps that’s in part because shoppers still get a fairly patchy response when they use these channels.

Some 70% of respondents told the Clarabridge survey that when they complained on social media, their query was never addressed. More than half (55%) of Top500 retailers did not respond to a Facebook query at all but 7% of the group responded within 10 minutes and 30% within two hours. Clarabridge respondents said 11% of messages on social media were answered within 10 minutes. It seems that while many Top500 retailers continue to put social media well down their list of priorities, a few are giving their shoppers stand-out service through this channel.

Contrasting Clarabridge’s findings with our own yields some interesting results. It seems that the Top500 as a group are meeting customer expectations by prioritising telephone calls and emails. Those that respond quickly to social media enquiries are currently exceeding expectations – which is what leading retailers do. It’s worth noting that when Clarabridge asked survey respondents to name their preferred retailer for customer service, John Lewis topped the list in almost a third (32%) of respondents. This retailer is also a leader in IRUK Top500 research.