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Note: this is the third in a three part series looking at the customer service performance of the top 25 online retailers during the 2011 Black Friday through Cyber Monday weekend. View Part 1 (Phone Support) and Part 2 (Email Support) for a complete view on how the largest online retailers cared for customers during the big shopping holiday.
Many online shoppers now prefer to engage with companies via live chat. It’s (supposedly) quick, easy and convenient. According to a 1,000 person consumer survey by the E-Tailing Group and Bold Software, one in five online shoppers select live chat as their preferred method of communication with a retailer. With 20% of shoppers preferring to use live chat, you’d think that most – if not all – of the largest online retailers offer this as a communication channel for shoppers.
We were curious to see which of the 25 largest online retailers offer this service channel, and here’s what we found:
First, it’s amazing how many of these retailers (44%) don’t offer the “preferred method” of customer support to 20% of online shoppers. Second, if you visit some of the retailers’ sites who are noted above as having live chat and don’t see a link for chat, the site is probably waiting for you to take some kind of action to trigger the live chat functionality. This kind of “dynamic” live chat functionality does not help the one-in-five online shoppers who prefer live chat, since they may not take the necessary actions on the website to generate the live chat window and thus will not be able to initiate a live chat when they want.
In addition, for the sites offering live chat we stress-tested how long it took for online shoppers to: (1) receive a notification that a live agent was present and ready to assist; and (2) receive an answer to the question we asked each live chat agent.
We found that the mass merchants performed the best in this study, and below are the top three performers and their results:
With so may products and varying shipping, returns and other policies, it is appropriate that some of these very large online retailers are delivering such a highly responsive and helpful live chat service.
Do you think it should be standard for all of the top online merchants to offer live chat?
Did you leverage live chat with any of the top 25 retailers this weekend? If so, what was your experience like?
Methodology: Black Friday through Cyber Monday data was collected by initiating a live chat with each retailer five (5) times each day over a four day period, from Friday November 25th to Monday November 28th. Live chat sessions were initiated at random during the following time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00 -11:30am EST; 11:30 – 2:00pm EST; 2:00 – 5:00pm EST; 5:00 – 8:00pm EST; 8:00 – 11:00pm EST. Given the dynamic nature of live chat (i.e. it only becomes available when certain actions are taken by the user), we followed a consistent process by visiting the same number of pages, and staying on each website for the same amount of time, for each of the 25 retailers.
If you’re a subscriber of this blog then you know by now – we are firm believers that price and product selection are converging for many online categories, and as a result the best way for an online business to differentiate is to provide an outstanding customer experience.
With the recent news that Dollar General is launching an ecommerce site, we’re obviously curious about the kind of customer service policies and practices we should expect from the discount retailer’s new online store. After all, it’s hard to find a better example of price convergence than the “dollar-store” category.
For starters, let’s look at one of Dollar General’s main competitors, Dollar Tree. While Dollar Tree offers 24/7 call support and free shipping for orders sent to a local Dollar Tree store, it doesn’t allow for returns (all sales are final).
Adding to our intrigue about Dollar General’s future online service is that it plans to outsource the majority of its operations – including its customer service – to GSI Commerce, a solution provider that helps create, develop and run online shopping sites for numerous brands and retailers. According to the InternetRetailer article about the new site, Dollar General’s online store will not launch with the same in-store pick up option that Dollar Tree provides. Let’s hope this is not one of many services left off the new Dollar General site.
If we may be so bold as to place some requests, it would be great to see the new Dollar General site offer:
What do you think? Can a company offering such low-priced items be successful in the ecommerce game? Will it be able to compete on the ultimate differentiator, customer service?
We will find out soon enough, as the site is planned to launch September 8th. Stay tuned!
Back in dark ages when you had to physically go into a store to get your problems solved or your questions answered, you were in the best possible position to be truly heard and understood by the company. Standing face-to-face with a CSR triggered that person’s need to completely understand you – your issues; your concerns; your demeanor; your nature; your personality; your needs; and the context of the situation – and then appropriately solve your problem in a way that best suited YOU, the individual. Since no two people are the same, it makes sense that no two customer service interactions were the same.
Fast-forward to 2010 and think about all the different mediums through which you can now engage a company for customer support: the store employees, phone, email, live chat, Twitter, Facebook, text/SMS, GetSatisfaction.com and other support forums. It doesn’t take much to see that there’s been a widening “understanding gap” between you (the individual customer) and the CSRs directed to serve you. When it would have been laughable to see a CSR try to repeat the exact same customer service interaction for multiple people that walked into his or her store in a given day, it’s now standard practice for e-mail and live chat support for many companies.
The test for today’s companies is whether or not they can stay committed to the concept of truly understanding the needs, wants, problems and required solutions for each individual customer. Technology can assist this process or work against it. It can be used to gain information about a customer’s likes, dislikes, preferred methods of communication, attitudes toward products or services, etc. – all of which will ultimately enhance the customer experience and the overall service quality. On other hand, technology can be leveraged to provide measly 140 character “answers” or stock email template “solutions” to problems that really call for in-depth conversations over the phone or in-person.
While the “face-to-face” age of customer service required companies to truly understand you (after all, you stood directly in front of their CSRs!), today’s technology-driven consumer marketplace has no such requirements.
Which companies in your world go the distance to integrate new technologies with exceptional live customer support to truly understand the people they call their customers?
I was recently shopping in Victoria’s Secret last week, mulling over a lip gloss purchase (over 25 flavors to choose from!), and a sales associate approached me and asked if I wanted help. Unable to make a decision, I asked her what the most popular flavors were and she was able to help me. It was then that I made the connection between her approaching me and proactive live chats-real-time conversations initiated by the company. The smartest proactive live chats are initiated because the internet retailers have tracking software that detects when you click on a certain page or “click around” a lot on a website, which signals the customer is in “help me” mode.
Above: Tennis Express, Golfsmith, and Golf Outlets USA make it easy to find their live chat right on the homepage in the top right corner.
A recent survey conducted by Forrester Research revealed that only 5% of online retailers have proactive live chat and that 21% plan to offer this service within the next 12 months. This is no surprise given some of the perks of live chat that aren’t frequently considered:
1. Record the response ability
What did the customer support representative say again? Well, just go back and read it!
2. You can be hard-of-hearing
In order for the hearing impaired to ever get assistance from customer support, their only resort is to email the company, which could take up to several days to receive a response. In order to receive live assistance, live chat allows the hearing impaired to receive immediate response.
3. No need to turn off the music
Don’t you hate turning off a song right in the middle? Well, with live chat, you can keep listening and jamming to your favorite tunes.
4. You can do it at work
Shopping during lunch hour? Don’t want to disrupt the whole office? Using live chat can prevent disrupting those around you.
5. Plan a surprise
This is the best way to contact customer support if you’re planning a surprise or purchasing a gift for someone right around you. Your spouse doesn’t have to know you’re trying to get expedited shipping for tomorrow’s anniversary present you’re just purchasing today!
Essentially, proactive live chat offers the same experience as a sales associate assisting a distressed shopper in the store. It transitions the online shopping experience from a virtual space to the feel of a real-life space.
A new study just released by Forrester Research tells us that retailers are looking to expand their online customer service channels in 2010. The study was conducted in Q4 of 2009; 291 retail professionals answered a series of questions regarding their current and planned online customer service offerings. The results are good news for those of us who love to have options when getting in touch with companies; 26% of the respondents are planning on adding reactive live chat in 2010, while 25% of those polled hope to use mobile customer service (e.g. SMS messages) to get in touch with their customers this year as well. This part of the study sent a very clear message: companies know the online marketplace continues to grow and consumers are demanding higher quality and convenient mediums to interact with retailers.
On the other side of the study, some interesting news around companies not being “on top of their game” when it comes to customer service. Less than 25% of the respondents thought they had the best metrics in place to monitor and gauge their own customer service activities. One of the more shocking results – only 44% of the retailers polled said they regularly monitor customer feedback on Facebook, Twitter and other sources. You would think as social networking ingrains itself further into the consumer fabric, it behooves all companies to pay attention to their customer feedback that’s also shared with anyone who wants to listen.
These results reveal an enormous opportunity for companies that not only monitor their online customer service experience but use that information to improve their service levels. With companies planning to invest capital into broadening their online customer support options, it will be critical for firms to monitor and adapt accordingly their service offerings in order to remain as competitive as possible.
Overall, this is a terrific study that shows promising trends for the online marketplace when it comes to having easy and convenient customer service options at our fingertips. To download the complete study, click here.