Internet Retailing researcher Polina Modenova assesses how retailers are serving their customers
The service that retailers now offer customers is evolving fast. Today, those shopping with the UK’s leading retailers expect to find answers to their questions when they call up, visit the website or turn to social media.
We’ve mapped customers’ expectations against our IRUK 500 research to find out how the customer service that retailers offer compares to the service consumers want. To what extent are customers getting the service they demand?
To answer this question, we started with an existing piece of research, eDigitalResearch’s Customer Service Benchmark, November 2013, which questioned 2,000 British consumers about the customer service touchpoints that they preferred to use. We overlaid its findings with the reality of what’s on offer from IRUK 500 retailers.
In practice, the eDigitalResearch study found, customers preferred to communicate with retailers via email and over the phone – both used by 85% of respondents. Some 44% of consumers expected merchants to respond to an email within 24 hours.
The average speed at which retailers respond to an email is 43 hours and 52 minutes, according to the 2015 Eptica Retail Multichannel Customer Experience Study. In our study, we found the largest 150 retailers replied in an average of 20 hours and eight minutes, with more than half (53%) responding in 24 hours. We uncovered some stunning performances: Smyths Toys, for example, responded to an email in just five minutes. Only slightly behind were American Golf and Superdry, which replied in six minutes.
But while some excelled, many retailers underperformed. Some 27% of retailers simply did not respond to an email, while 11% did not have an email address on the company website.
On the phone
When we turned to the service offered by phone, the eDigitalResearch study found consumers were generally dissatisfied with the service they received. Almost half (43%) of consumers preferred to pick up the phone with a general enquiry. When it came to complaining, 46% preferred direct contact channels, using the phone or calling at a store, ahead of digital touchpoints. In our study, we found 83% of the largest 150 retailers successfully answered a general query made over the phone.
The perception of social media is that it’s a useful way to make a complaint. But the eDigitalResearch study found most people tend to use it to give positive (4.15%) feedback rather than to complain (0.4%).
The study found that when customers to use Twitter to get in touch with a retailer, 80% expect an answer within 12 hours.
In our study, 44% of largest 150 retailers did reply within that time limit when we tweeted them with straightforward questions on subjects such as delivery and product prices. Again, there were standout performances: Superdrug replied within a minute and Ocado in two. However, nearly half did not respond to Twitter at all, although all had a Twitter account.
We were interested to find that Twitter responses were generally quicker than email. The average Twitter response, at 11 hours, was 1.83 times faster than the average email answer – 20 hours and eight minutes.
Customers are keen on live chat. Some 24% of those questioned in the eDigitalResearch study said they had used it in the last year, while 73% were satisfied with it. That was the highest satisfaction score in the study. However, we found that only 42% of the largest 150 retailers had live chat on the company website.
What came through strongly from this study was that consumers want answers to their questions, and quickly. That’s true where shoppers are complaining or have a problem. But it’s also important where consumers have a question that will delay a purchase when it goes unanswered. Even if the response is disappointing, it’s clear that it’s better to reply than not to do so.