Study: Technology Firms Fare Poorly in Online Customer Service

New research indicates that many brand-name computer companies perform poorly when it comes to online customer service. The study by the Ipswich, Mass.-based Customer Respect Group, an international consulting company, demonstrates that only six companies included in the report received an “excellent” rating, including EDS, eBay, Xerox, Intuit, Microsoft and Linksys.

What’s more, 37 percent of technology companies reviewed received a lower rating in this latest report than they did six months ago. Just 23 percent of companies improved their performance, the study said.

The study, the “First Quarter 2006 Online Customer Respect Study of the High-Technology and Computer Industry,” was set to be released this week. An advance copy was provided to CRM Buyer.

Volume Overload

The study is said to be the only one to bring an objective and consistent measure to the analysis of corporate performance from an online customer’s perspective. It assigns a Customer Respect Index (CRI) rating for each company. This index is a qualitative and quantitative in-depth analysis and provides an independent measure of a customer’s experience when interacting with companies via the Internet.

By interviewing a representative sample of the adult Internet users and by analyzing and categorizing more than 2,000 corporate Web sites across a spectrum of industries, the study has identified the attributes that together measure the online customer experience.

“Web sites encourage customers to communicate and ask questions, but this should not be done if questions cannot be handled,” said Terry Golesworthy, president of the Customer Respect Group. “Some previously stellar performers showed definite signs of volume overload in this report.”

EBay a Leader

Overall, the high-technology industry scored a CRI rating of 6.4, showing no change from the previous report six months ago. The best sector was Internet services at 7.0, led by eBay with a rating of 8.4, the study said.

The worst performing sector was computer and data services at 6.1 despite an excellent rating for EDS with a report-best rating of 8.7. The most improved company was EDS, up 23 percent. NETGEAR saw its rating decrease 32 percent to record the worst trend between the reports, the study said.

Six companies received an “excellent rating” in this report, including EDS, eBay, Xerox, Intuit, Microsoft and Linksys.

The growing popularity of electronic communication tested high-technology companies, many of which have many technology-savvy consumers. Almost a half of all companies reviewed recorded a “poor” rating for responsiveness and just four received an “excellent” rating.

Only 47 percent of all e-mails are returned within a day of being sent and almost a third had received no response at all after a month. “This shows a negative trend. The degree that a response was deemed helpful also is poor compared to other industries with just 38 percent deemed to be good,” the study said.

The top companies for responding were EDS, Linksys and Intuit.

Privacy Improvements

Generally the respect shown towards personal privacy concerns has improved with a 50 percent increase in the number of companies scoring “excellent” for privacy practices. “On the other hand, there was also an increase by 25 percent of the number of companies scoring poor for privacy,” the study said.

The polarization seen in other industries is also present in high tech. The best performing companies for privacy policies and practices were EDS, IBM, Xerox and HP. There has been a significant decrease in the amount of data shared with unrelated third parties with just 3 percent of companies engaged in this practice, down from 11 percent. “Companies have, however, increased the level of cross-marketing with business partners and other groups within the company. Data sharing has become more sophisticated in the industry and presumably more effective,” the study said.

Web sites in the high-tech area score below other industries for usability with among other factors, heavier Web pages, and fewer self-service tools available, the study said.

Transparency and clarity of policies and practices continues to be a strength for the industry and gains made in the last report have been maintained with strong performances from EDS, MSN, MySpace and Xerox, the study said.

The top-scoring sector firms and their CRI ratings were as follows:

  • Electronic Data Systems Corporation – 8.7
  • eBay Inc. – 8.4
  • Xerox Corporation – 8.3
  • Intuit, Inc. – 8.0
  • Linksys A Division of Cisco Systems, Inc. – 8.0
  • Microsoft Corporation – 8.0

The research indicated that all leading company Web sites now provide an online privacy policy and that 48 percent of those policies have a “friendly tone.”

Additionally, most companies share data, but only 20 percent of companies share data within their business groups, 15 percent share with business partners and three percent share data with outside parties without explicit permission.

“It is satisfying however to see the top performers improve respect for individual privacy. I believe this to be a smart business move as the mistrust of Web sites has increased over the last year, which is threatening to slow e-commerce,” said Golesworthy.

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