A recent survey shows that 42 percent of top-ranked Web sites took longer than five days to reply to customer e-mail inquiries, never replied or were not accessible by e-mail, according to a report issued by Jupiter Communications. The Jupiter report illustrates that Web sites are ignoring the opportunity to communicate with existing and potential customers, discouraging brand loyalty and opting out of a user-initiated, one-to-one relationship by not offering, delaying or eliminating responses to e-mail.
The Jupiter report, released to its Strategic Planning Services (SPS) clients, focused on 125 sites in five categories: content, consumer brands, travel, retail and financial services. Retail shopping sites performed the best, with 54 percent responding in less than one day. However, in some segments, there is ample room for improvement. For example, 19 percent of travel sites tested took at least three days or never responded to Jupiter's inquiries.
"This effort illustrates that many Web sites have been unable or unprepared to respond to the flood of user questions that come in via e-mail from their sites," says Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter's Site Operation Strategies. "Answering thousands of questions per month is an enormous challenge for sites offering complex products and services, especially if they never had a traditional call center. Yet, companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty and not responding perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web site is not a reliable method of doing business with that company."
Since competition is only a few clicks away, Allard suggests the standard for customer support must be higher for the Web than it is in the offline world. The most essential aspect of customer support on Web sites is to respond to every request with accurate answers or corrective actions within competitive time frames. Jupiter recommends sites develop or utilize "auto-acknowledge" features that respond to all incoming requests, stating the question was received and estimating how long it will take to respond.
The report recommends sites continue to focus on building ongoing communication with users. Reassuring customers a transaction is proceeding as planned and giving users multiple opportunities to access context-sensitive support options will help eliminate user demand for support.
Jupiter expects 85 to 90 percent of sites within high-service categories, such as travel, retail and financial services, will be able to respond within one business day by the middle of 1999. An ability to provide customer support in a way that is effective and convenient will become a leading source of competitive differentiation for companies that attempt to drive consumer interaction through their Web sites.
More information on research from Jupiter's Site Operation Strategies can be found on Jupiter's Web site at http://www.jup.com.
Jupiter Communications is a media research firm that helps companies make intelligent business decisions about consumer interactivity. Focused exclusively on how the Internet and other technologies are changing traditional consumer industries, Jupiter's Strategic Planning Services (SPS) deliver a continuous flow of analysis, primary data and market projections.
SPS offers companies investing in new technologies a framework for realizing return on investment, both for new lines of business in mainstream media, entertainment, commerce and marketing and for Internet- and technology-based start-ups. Jupiter produces industry seminars and book-length research studies. Jupiter Communications, LLC, established in 1986, is an independent, privately held company with offices in New York City and London, England.