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Ever been told to “Go Climb a Tree“? Well, we have and it’s quite rude. Unless you’re remarkably dense (or you’re a squirrel), being told to go climb a tree is something no online shopper should experience. With that in mind, why are so many retailers eschewing good customer service and essentially telling us to do just that?
Using data for the power of good, we’ve come up with some interesting customer service facts about the use of phone-trees and how it impacts retailer call hold times. Only 21 of the Internet’s top 100 retailers connect shoppers directly to a live agent. That list expands to 22 if we also include 1-800 CONTACTS, which falls just outside the top 100 at #101 (We’re especially impressed that a business that bears its customer service phone number as its name, which leads to even higher call volume, steers clear of an IVR to ensure the best possible experience for shoppers).
Unfortunately for shoppers, however, MOST OF THE INTERNET’S TOP RETAILERS require shoppers to strap on climbing shoes, chalk up their hands, and prepare to mount what is often times an arduous phone-tree (otherwise known as an IVR — Interactive Voice Response). Sadly, the odds of calling a retailer and being put directly in touch with a human being are out of your favor.
This inability to be directly connected with a human is more often than not accompanied by frustration. If you identify with this frustration, take solace, you have solidarity — turns out 71% of shoppers become extremely irritated when they cannot reach another human being on the phone. Even worse, 67% of those same people surveyed became so frustrated that they hung up the phone without resolving their issue at all. To make matters worse, we found that of the top 100 retailers, those who use an IVR have an average call hold time of one minute and fifty one seconds (1:51). Compare that to the fifty one second (0:51) average call hold time of retailers that do not use an IVR, and you can definitely pick up a trend.
So what can you do to help ensure that the first thing you speak to is a human and not HAL (or any other computer system for that matter)? Our ratings are a pretty solid indicator. Turns out, ten out of the top ten retailers with the shortest average hold times do not use phone-trees. Even better, those same ten retailers all achieved either STELLAService Elite or Excellent ratings.
(click below graph to enlarge to full-view)The above chart was updated in September 2011: Fingerhut.com, which was included in the original post, has since been excluded due to an insufficient sample size.
31% of the Internet’s top 100 retailers have call hold times under one minute. Out of that group, 90% are rated either Elite or Excellent. While average call hold time is by no means the be-all end-all when it comes to a retailer’s customer service, we think it’s an important indicator of the overall service you’re likely to receive. Take a look at our ratings. Although not every retailer who has earned a top rating will put you directly in touch with a human when you call them (or make you wait less than a minute), there are many that will; and there are even more that will provide you a terrific all-around customer experience!
Reading “The Key To Great Customer Service” on the Harvard Business Review’s website puts the meaning of great customer service into perspective. The author of the article explains how a woman working behind the counter at an Amtrak station saved the day for both her and her friend. The problem was solved because the Amtrak worker took direct responsibility for a situation and provided it with a simple solution.
What was the problem? The author had been staying at a friend’s house while they were away and had accidentally taken the apartment keys with her to the train station. Had she boarded the train with the keys, her friend would have been locked out of their apartment.
What was the simple solution? The woman at the Amtrak counter offered to hold the keys at the counter. She told the author to pass her personal cellphone number along to her friend who had lent the apartment out and explained that the friend could pick the keys up at the counter when they arrived back in town.
The gist of the article is that customer service begins in the hands of the people who are directly interacting with the customers. While the woman behind the counter at the Amtrak station didn’t have the authority to write a mission statement about customer service, she was able to take responsibility for a situation, and provide a happy ending for all involved.
The article presents a compelling question — is great customer service a trait that spreads from the top of organizations down towards the bottom, or one that begins at the bottom — where customers are seen on a day-to-day basis — all the way to the highest rungs of a company? Although it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where great service begins and ends in organizations, we do know that it’s something everybody wants and deserves from companies.
We were fortunate enough to catch a Twitter interaction between Stephanie and the company she mentions in her post. We took a look at her amazing blog and realized that her love of fashion would help us prove a great point — that a company’s service transcends its products. Be it commodities like paper towels and batteries, or high fashion items like Isabel Marant Tan Lacow booties, the experience from ordering these products is of the utmost importance.
Thus, without further introduction, Stephanie’s experience:
After a never ending search for the much-coveted Isabel Marant Tan Lacow booties—a cult footwear shoe of sorts within fashion circles—that was met with no success on eBay (my go-to shopping site for staking out my wishlist items at a fraction of the cost) I decided the Sam Edelman Louie Fringe Booties in Evening Rose would do the trick. Initially I was skeptical of their fringed detail, fearing it would lend them a cowboy aesthetic I wasn’t exactly after. But after I placed them in my Shopbop shopping cart—my go-to shop for anything I’m not bargain hunting for—I didn’t look back (I had a party that weekend I knew they’d outfit coordinate perfectly for) and waited anxiously for their speedy arrival.
Being the frequent Shopbop customer that I am (and impatiently natured), after two days went by and I still haden’t received them, I had an inkling something was up so I double checked the DHL tracking number online in the hopes of a status update. My eyes widened. They had been delivered the day prior to my office, (the right address) to someone named Michael. I work at a fashion magazine and the only male in sight is named Eli. Paniccccccc. Where were my shoes and who is Michael?! I couldn’t help but wonder if my dreams of owning Marant-worthy booties were simply not meant to be. After an infuriating follow-up with the DHL call center and two or three un-sympathizing agents (remind me why these calls are “monitored” if said employees are being less than helpful?!) I was left with nothing but frustrating despair and the thought that my boots were holed up with some dude named Michael who knows where in Montreal. Great.
The following day, I persisted. Finally after feeling like the whole thing was a lost cause, I decided to tweet (@stephaniechic) Shopbop (@shopbop) my unfortunate luck. Twist of fate. I got an email saying Shopbop was following me on Twitter. Awwwesome. Followed soon after by a DM asking me to provide them with my contact info so they could do whatever they could to help me out. I obliged without blinking and eye and within an hour I had a Shopbop customer service agent on the case, trying to track down my shoes with their respective (and very efficient) DHL rep.
The following day, after no sign of life from my Louie booties, I called Shopbop back and we agreed that the best thing to do at this point would be for them to send me another pair (their stock was rapidly depleting) and have the other pair shipped back to them whenever it was finally tracked down. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been a longtime online shopper, but always assumed that if something gets lost between the online store’s shipping warehouse and your delivery destination, it was a lost cause as there was no tangible evidence, really, apart from my irate state of mind, that the item in question was actually lost.
No sooner did the Shopbop agent (with whom I’d fast become buddies with over the last 24 hours, commiserating on the trials of online shopping and bonding over our love of well, Shopbop, our common point of interest) and I hang up (my mind at rest with another pair of booties on their way to me—via UPS this time—you see, you live you learn ), did Mykaelle, an assistant stylist at the magazine where I work, show up at my desk holding a brown box. I gasped. OMG!!! I quickly flipped it over in search of the tag. Shopbop. DHL. Check. Check. My BOOTSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! They were in the office all along! My phone rang within a few seconds of Mykaelle’s appearance and it was the Montreal DHL rep, calling to inform me that my package had in fact been delivered to “Mykaelle” and not Michael, as was signed for by his very intelligent agent. Ten points for Shopbop. Zero for DHL. And the Louie boots? They haven’t parted ways with my everyday wardrobe since I first slipped them on back in April.
As an introduction to the list, David VanAmburg from the ASCI points out that all of the companies included operate in industries that lack a high degree of competition — i.e. commercial banking, utilities, and cable companies. Not coincidentally, this means that customers of these companies who’d like to switch to a competitor have a very laborious task in front of them — it’s difficult and expensive to do so, and you’re not transitioning to a company that’s assuredly better. This puts the customer in a serious bind.
The online retail marketplace offers a positive contrast to the above predicament. The existence of many retailers offering similar products at nearly identical prices effectively shows how increased competition begets increased (read: better) customer service. Companies like Sierra Trading Post, NewEgg, and Neiman Marcus are all keenly aware of how fragile a relationship with a customer can be — therefore they do their best to ensure happiness.
As many of the companies included in The Atlantic’s list continue to move access to their products and services online, it will be interesting to see if competition increases and if customer service will follow.
For a brief window on Sunday July 15th, Sears.com had set its pricing on the iPad 2 at $69. For those not in the market, that’s nearly a $700 discount off the standard $744.99 price. Like many internet trends, this discount was scintillating and ephemeral. As friends told friends and so on and so forth, the haphazard pricing mistake quickly made its way through Twitter and Facebook feeds alike. Once an alarming number of shoppers snatched up iPads at a discount deeper than Barry White’s baritone, Sears.com finally took notice. As a result, they’ve cancelled all orders made at the aforementioned discount and issued a statement to shoppers:
“We want you to know that, unfortunately, today one of the Marketplace third party sellers told us that they mistakenly posted incorrect pricing information on two Apple iPad models on the Marketplace portion of the website. If you purchased either of these products recently, your order has been cancelled and your account will be credited…”
…Then show us some love and ‘Like’ us on Facebook! In so doing, you’ll be entered to win a $50 gift certificate from any of our ELITE Retailers (retailers such as Amazon.com, Best Buy, Saks Fifth Avenue, and SOAP.com) and become a part of the only community that guides shoppers to the best when it comes to online customer service.
They say you never want to see how your sausage is made. They’re probably right. But when it comes to the STELLAService evaluation, we think it’s important for people to know how it all goes down. We’re focused on bringing transparency to the world of online customer service, so it only makes sense for us to be as upfront as possible about how we go about evaluating the service performance of Internet retailers.
To that end, we’re excited to unveil our first ever infographic! Take a look at what, why and how we do what we do, and see what an e-retailer must really go through – and deliver on – in order to earn the STELLAService seal.
At STELLAService, we order and return A LOT of products from A LOT of retailers. We’ve gotten tons of amazing responses when it comes to returns, both positive and negative. However the email chain below may take the cake for the most bizarre response to a customer initiating a return we’ve seen thus far (click the image below to see the thread full-size and begin reading from the bottom up). Although this is a great way to connect like-minded customers to one another, we doubt it’s in anybody’s best interests for retailers to be passing out customer’s mailing addresses.
Last week in the STELLAService offices there was discussion around the differences between brick-and-mortar retail stores and their online counterparts. The conversation mostly focused on how retailers can ensure that their online service experience is commensurate with the experience they provide in-store (and vice versa). The conversation began because someone had mentioned Coach’s fantastic in-store customer service. One of Coach’s nicer in-store touches is that after your purchase has been made, the associate that helped you walks around from behind the register to hand you your purchase. Previous to this, we doubt that anyone didn’t buy something at a Coach store because nobody came from behind the counter to hand them their purchase. That said, we can guarantee that the simple gesture of handing a customer whatever they bought goes a long way towards ensuring that they feel appreciated and that they’ll remember that experience in the future. These types of gestures require ingenuity, ingenuity driven by insight. The insight comes from retailers taking the initiative to look at their service from the ground level (whether it be online or in-store). Without the valuable insight to see what their service looks like first-hand — and how it can be improved, the executives responsible for making changes couldn’t have possibly incorporated such a simple, yet meaningful detail.
At STELLAService, we often use our insight to find many examples of companies willing to ‘come from behind the counter’ to provide excellent service. As online retailers continue to place more emphasis onto their service, we expect there to be many more small, yet highly meaningful moments of great service. While we’re always impressed by them, we also love to hear stories from shoppers who have had their own ‘handbag hand-off’ moment with a retailer. Of course we’ll continue to post our own thoughts, but we’d love to get yours as well. With that in mind, feel free to use the comments section to share any small gestures from retailers that you’ve been on the receiving end of that have made you feel not only warm and fuzzy, but also deeply appreciated.