What’s the best channel for U.S. retail customer service?
As we approach the holiday shopping season, retailers are getting ready for their busiest time of the year. So at Eptica we thought it would be a good time to look at how they perform when it comes to the customer experience.
The 2015 Eptica Retail Customer Experience Study therefore evaluated 500 U.S. retailers, in 15 sectors, on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web, as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter, Facebook and chat. The focus was on the retailers ranked between 500-1000 by theTop500Guide.com (based on turnover), as the customer experience is crucial if these smaller operations are to challenge larger players. It replicates previous research carried out in the UK and France, and aims to mimic the behavior of ordinary consumers across digital channels.
Unsocial customer service
The headline finding is that if you want to get a response to your question, the best channel to choose is email, both for speed and accuracy. Retailers successfully answered 73% of questions sent via email, as opposed to 65% on their company websites, the next best channel. Despite the talk about social customer service, Facebook and Twitter responses trailed in at the bottom of the table. 54% of queries asked via Facebook received a successful answer, compared to a woeful 20% on Twitter.
When contacted through social media companies were also considerably slower at responding. While the average email reply took 7 hours 51 minutes, Facebook and Twitter were much slower, at 1 day 7 hours 12 minutes (Twitter) and 1 day 3 hours 47 minutes (Facebook). In their defense, response times on social media varied wildly, ranging from 15 seconds to over 51 days on Twitter, while four companies took over 20 days to answer on Facebook. Ironically, the question they were asked concerned next day deliveries!
Mismatch with customer expectations
As well as research with retailers themselves, the Study also asked 1,000 consumers how long they were willing to wait for answers on popular channels. The findings point to a clear gap between what retailers are delivering and customer expectations:
- Email: Average response time 7hrs 51 minutes yet 77% of consumers won’t wait more than 6 hours for a response
- Facebook: Average response time 1 day 3hrs 47 minutes yet 85% expect an answer within 6 hours
- Twitter: Average response time 1 day 7hrs 12 minutes yet 64% of consumers expect an answer within 60 minutes; 88% within 6 hours
Huge disparity in performance
Looking solely at the averages of results hides the wide gap between best and worst. As mentioned speed of response ranged from 15 seconds to 51 days on Twitter, and 1 minute to 43 days on Facebook. On the web, one Specialty retailer answered 100% of questions asked, yet another managed just 10%. 34% of companies scored 80% or more online, while 25% successfully answered 50% or less. 71 companies (14%) replied to an email within 10 minutes – yet 86 (17%) took over 6 hours to answer, while 90 retailers (18%) didn’t respond at all. These differences in customer service performance are likely to translate into clear winners and loserswhen it comes to gaining and retaining customers this coming holiday season.
The final channel evaluated was chat, which despite its advantages, seems to be neglected by retailers. It offers extremely fast performance with average conversations lasting 4 minutes 28 seconds, yet only 35% of retailers were able to respond on it. Given that 51% had it advertised on their websites, it shows that many are not dedicating sufficient resources to chat, with researchers subject to long queues to wait for an agent, systems that crashed, or chat buttons that simply disappeared.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll provide more detail on the particular channels and sectors we covered in the report, as well as comparing the results against similar retailers from the UK.
In the meantime the full findings of the 2015 Eptica Retail Customer Experience Study are now available in a downloadable management report. As well as a foreword by noted customer experience expert Shep Hyken, this includes a sector by sector breakdown and a best practice guide for C-level executives looking to measure and improve their performance. You can also see more of the findings in this infographic.