Retail sites fall short on customer service

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On the phone, the customer service experience was better, as the median hold time was 52 seconds, from the time of the first ring to hearing a live customer service agent's voice. Sixty-three percent of the questions posed were answered correctly. Medford, Ore.-based gift seller Harry and David Inc. won top honors, as the retailer picked up the phone in a matter of seconds and answered all questions accurately.

As far as various industries go, sporting goods online retailers provided the best customer service experience. Some of the sporting goods online retailers included in the Gomez study were PlanetOutdoors, Eastern Mountain Sports Inc. and DSports.com, the online site for Dick's Sporting Goods Inc.

The phone response from sporting goods stores averaged 223 seconds, while e-mail was responded to within 11 hours on average, according to the study. On the downside, general merchant, music and apparel retailers gave lackluster performances. Those industries fell to the bottom in both phone and e-mail response times and accuracy of response.

Some of the general merchants that provided marginal performances included JCPenney Co. and BlueLight.com, Kmart Corp.'s online home. Stores like music retailer VirginMegaStores, a division of Virgin Group PLC; gift seller RedEnvelope Inc.; and general merchant Fingerhut Cos. failed to answer the phone after five minutes and the surveyor hung up, Ladd said.

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