Survey: Most Online Merchants Focusing on Efficiency, Convenience and Customer-Centricity
For most of the 100 sites visited during the e-tailing group's 10th annual Mystery Shopping Survey, there is a focus on efficiency, convenience, timeliness and customer-centricity. But, the study also found, some merchants' sites have lots of room for improvement.
For example, according to the survey, many e-tailers empower customers to shop and manage their purchases. Eighty-three percent of those surveyed for instance, offer comprehensive FAQs to help shoppers quickly understand a site. What's more, 86 percent offer real-time inventory to let shoppers know what's available, and 90 percent offer stepped checkout - which clearly details the steps in the checkout process so customers know exactly where they are in the purchasing process. Finally, 99 percent offer online order tracking, which facilitates follow-up without the expense of call-center intervention.
In the service equation, convenience is readily apparent in the cart and confirmation, the survey found. For example, 72 percent of respondents offer a perpetual cart that allows shoppers to see what they have selected and how much they have spent without interrupting their flow. Seventy-four percent offer pictures of items in one's cart in an effort to assist recall, and 77 percent offer a recap of cart contents in the order confirmation.
The survey found, however, a notable decline in the number of sites that include customer service contact information in the order confirmation - 70 percent in 2007 vs. 85 percent in 2006.
The survey also found that timely post-order communication and product delivery are almost universal. For example, more e-mail shipping confirmations were received in 2007 versus 2006 (95 percent vs. 88 percent), and the number of business days to receive a product continues to decrease across the board (4.18 vs. 4.6). However, fewer sites (95 percent vs. 100 percent) provided immediate order confirmations onsite.
The survey also found the presence of live help is increasing (32 percent vs. 29 percent ), and agents are answering questions correctly more often (87 percent vs. 75 percent). What's more, product related e-mails, sent to customer service, were mostly answered correctly (77 percent vs. 74 percent), and personalized responses (84 percent vs. 81 percent ) consistently outnumbered auto responses (16 percent vs. 19 percent).
The survey found that, in general, self-service tools are welcome when they work but can lead to frustration as, typically, the automated responses were too generic. It also took longer to receive e-mail replies this year versus last (an average of 31:23 hours/minutes vs. 23:47).
Hold times when customer service was called were longer as well, frequently more than one minute (39 percent vs. 18 percent). Perhaps this was influenced by the fact that the average length of these calls increased year over year to 4.10 minutes from 3.56 minutes.
The e-tailing group Checklist for Exemplary Online Customer Service
The e-tailing group also offers the following customer service checklist:
1. Clearly state toll-free/800 numbers on homepage as part of universal navigation.
2. Ensure inventory is accurate and displayed at both product page and shopping cart.
3. Allow for changes in the shopping cart once the checkout process is initiated - without losing all previously entered information.
4. Build in tools that facilitate positive customer service experiences (such as back-in-stock e-mails or express checkout).
5. Leverage technology (such as live chat or click-to-call) and ensure proper training that reinforces brand objectives.
6. Incorporate product knowledge in customer service training; moving beyond mere customer service issues.
7. Create a streamlined, easy way to reach an agent when making a phone inquiry (many of the recorded messages make customers jump through hoops to find an agent).
8. Automate communication effectively and do not deliver blanket answers.
9. Assure that post-order communications arrive in a timely manner (some shipping confirmations arrived after receipt of the product).
10. Enable customer service outreach and merchandising within post-order communication.
11. Learn from shoppers via surveys and onsite feedback; then make strategic adjustments.