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A few years ago my grandma called to ask if I could come over and help her out with some ”computer stuff.” Dutifully, I dropped by to lend a hand. She informed me that she’d seen a beautiful bird feeder at a friend’s house in Florida and wanted one like it for her yard. The trouble was, she couldn’t find it anywhere. After an exhaustive search of our town’s Main Street shops yielded nothing, she turned to a new and unfamiliar medium for her shopping needs: the internet. After a few minutes of browsing, I was able to locate the exact model she wanted, put it in a shopping cart, and proceed to the checkout. Then, with credit card in hand, she told me to stop. Why? She was worried that after she bought it the feeder, it might simply get lost in “the ether.” For her, it was suspicious to pay in advance for an unseen product from a complete stranger and expect to receive it several days later. She told me she even avoided buying items from catalogs for the same reason. To her, reliability and ecommerce were incompatible.
STELLAService exists to ensure that customers never have to distrust their online retailers. One of STELLA’s criteria for outstanding service is shipment tracking. We believe that vendors who offer easy access to package tracking services make online commerce more transparent and dependable. For my grandma, who was used to in-person transactions of physical currency and goods, these types of services gave her the confidence to shop the web without fear of being ripped off or having her product get lost. As it turned out, the shipment information she received wasn’t entirely truthful. Her bird feeder arrived a day early. It has graced her back patio ever since then.
When companies first began selling their products on the web, customer service and e-commerce were almost totally incompatible. Retailers competed over prices and selection, but excellent customer service was the selling point of non-Internet vendors. Physical retailers, the conventional wisdom dictated, were better suited to handle patrons’ complaints, questions, and returns.
Flash forward fifteen years or so and the ballgame is changing once again. No longer are companies striving to best each other in choice or cost – those factors are practically the same across the web. Instead, internet retailers are competing more and more for superior customer service. A recent study from the Forrester Group concludes that e-retailers now feel compelled to offer free shipping in order to remain competitive. These companies are coming to realize that free shipping policies are an excellent way to draw business and differentiate themselves. And when companies compete, buyers win. As more businesses adopt customer-friendly policies such as free shipping, their rivals are forced to as well. The customer service competition provides numerous opportunities for consumers to benefit.
Not long ago, online shopping was a trade off between selection and customer service. Now, e-retailers try to outdo each other in friendliness, convenience, and helpfulness. At STELLAService, free shipping is just one of the hundreds of metrics we use to evaluate the extent to which businesses are working for their customers.
We’ve all been there before. Caught off guard. Even shocked, in a good way.
It can be a little jolting when, after dialing the support number of a massive company, you get a live customer service representative (CSR) who’s ready to help you with whatever you need. Dare I say a “WOW” experience?
At STELLAService, we believe all businesses should aim to provide this kind of time-sensitive support for their customers. When it comes to questions, problems or issues, time is always of the essence. That’s why our methodology for ranking e-retailers has always taken phone and email response times into account when evaluating the overall online customer experience.
Today, we’re excited to continue sharing some of our customer service performance data with the public. Below are the top 10 average call hold times and email reply times of the largest 100 Internet retailers in the US as measured by InternetRetailer:
If you happen to be in the market for a new jacket or a new TV or a fresh new pair of sneakers, chances are that price and selection are nearly uniform across dozens of online stores. As a result, the speed to get someone on the phone or the wait to receive an email reply can make a big difference in who you decide to do business with.
SierraTradingPost.com confirmed its obsession with providing speedy service, delivering the shortest average call hold time of the top 100 retailers. On the other hand, Barnes and Noble (BN.com), which is currently in talks to be acquired, made callers wait the longest with an average call hold time of over 8 minutes.
In the case of emails, it’s fitting that OfficeDepot.com stood out as number one given most of its customers are business-minded people with limited tolerance for slow service. By contrast, be prepared to give CrateandBarrel.com nearly four days to respond via email if you have a question about those cool new wine glasses.
These data points can help consumers navigate the online shopping universe and discover where to buy if speedy follow-up service is an important factor. In the end, however, call hold times and email reply times are only two of the 350 measurements we take to evaluate the overall service experience of an online merchant. Check out our infographic to learn more about our comprehensive methodology and how STELLAService evaluates the online customer experience.
* Through 1200 calls, e-mails, and “mystery shopping” interactions, STELLAService engaged each business over multiple days and multiple times periods of the day to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity. For the phone support assessment, six phone calls were placed randomly to each Internet retailer, one during a specific time period throughout the business day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). One call was attempted on each day Monday-Thursday and each day of the weekend as well. For the email assessment, six e-mails were placed randomly to each online store, one during a specific time period throughout the business day (morning, mid-day, afternoon and evening). One e-mail was sent on each day, Monday-Saturday.