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UK companies struggle to deliver online customer service

Study finds businesses unable to provide answers to nearly half of basic questions online and close to quarter of businesses shut off email channel

Reading, 5 November 2012: UK consumers are being let down by second class customer service through the web, email and social media channels, according to a new study released today. 100 leading companies were evaluated on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email. The 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study found that websites could only answer just over half (53%) of customer questions, while company responses to email queries has worsened since 2011. Social media use had doubled, although many still failed to integrate social media into their overall customer service strategy.

Researchers were unable to email nearly a quarter (23%) of the companies in the study, as they either had removed the opportunity for non-customers to contact them through this channel or email addresses could not be easily found. Just 39% of the 100 businesses actually managed to respond with an accurate answer via email and on average companies took 64 hours 33 minutes to successfully reply to emails - 44 hours longer than a similar study undertaken in 2011. Response times varied greatly - two companies successfully answered email questions in a superfast 19 minutes, but another took one month to reply. Overall every one of the ten sectors surveyed answered emails slower on average than in 2011.

The in-depth study, carried out by multi-channel customer interaction management software provider Eptica, found a huge chasm between best and worst - for example, fashion companies answered a creditable 75% of questions asked on their websites, while CD/DVD/Booksellers and food retailers scored a paltry 40%.

While web performance improved from 2011's average of 50% of questions answered to 2012's 53% there was a major chasm between winners and losers. Over a quarter (28%) of companies performed worse in 2012 compared to last year - despite being asked exactly the same questions, through the same channels.

"At a time when recession is putting unprecedented strain on many companies, customer service is critical if businesses want to win and retain consumers - but this study shows that many organisations are still struggling to provide basic information or answer customer emails," said Dee Roche, Global Marketing Director, Eptica. "The fact that the performance of many companies has worsened over the last twelve months is disappointing to see - poor service will simply endanger sales in today's competitive market. Customers want to be able to contact companies through their channel of choice, so businesses need to adopt a joined-up, multichannel approach if they are to meet their needs."

Many companies seemed to be more successful on one channel than others - excelling on the web but then providing poor responses to email questions. Food retailers could only answer 40% of questions asked via the web, but successfully responded to 70% of emails.

The study also researched how companies were using social media to engage and interact with their customers. On the positive side, social media use had nearly doubled, with 64 companies having Facebook pages (against 33 in 2011) and 70 with Twitter (up from 36 in 2011). However only 11% linked customer service to these social media channels - showing they are still only at the beginning of the social customer service journey.

"Social media is transforming how consumers approach customer service as it provides a megaphone for them to broadcast their complaints to the world," said Dee Roche, Global Marketing Director, Eptica. "So it is positive to see that companies are embracing this new channel - they now need to integrate it with their overall customer service strategy to deliver a joined-up approach that is both consistent and efficient."

The overall average performance masked major differences between sectors and even companies within them. For example one food retailer scored 100%, answering all ten questions successfully - but at the same time three companies in the same sector scored just two out of ten. In total 17% of organisations answered 8 or more questions, however 20% were unable to answer more than three. Only two organisations could successfully answer all ten sector-specific questions asked on their websites.

Sector2012 % answered online (position)2011 answered online (position)
Fashion Retail75% (1st)64% (1st)
Travel63% (2nd)54% (2nd)
Utilities60% (3rd)52% (4th)
Electronics Retail58% (4th)54% (2nd)
Telecoms56% (5th)42% (10th)
Consumer Electronics55% (6th)48% (6th)
Insurance48% (7th)50% (5th)
Banking41% (8th)43% (8th)
CD/DVD/Books40% (9th)43% (8th)
Food retail40% (9th)48% (6th)

2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study methodology
In total 100 company websites across the insurance, travel, CD/DVD/book retail, food retail, electronics retail, consumer electronics manufacturers, utilities, fashion retail, telecoms and banking sectors were evaluated in three areas in Q3 2012:
1. For their ability to answer ten basic, sector-specific questions via their website, such as What is your returns policy if I change my mind after purchase? (retailers) and How do I cancel my contract? (telecoms suppliers)
2. On the speed and accuracy of their response via their email channel
3. How they integrated links to sites such as Facebook, Twitter and forums into their overall customer service strategy.

An infographic that sums up the results can be found at http://www.eptica.com/IMG/jpg/TheEpticaMultichannelCustomerExperienceStudy.jpg

The 2012 Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study report can be downloaded from http://www.eptica.com/Customer-Experience-Study-2012.html

-ends-

About Eptica
Eptica is the leading European multilingual solution for Customer Interaction Management including Web Self-service, Social Customer Service, Email Management, Chat, Fax-Letter- SMS and Knowledge management for Customer Service. Available on premise or SaaS, Eptica software enables website and customer service channels to improve quality of service, resolve enquiries faster, reduce costs and maximize every sales opportunity. Today more than 370 customers, including some of the world's largest brands, in 15 countries, use Eptica solutions to deliver excellent customer service at much lower cost. Eptica's customers include: Dixons, Domestic & General, Haven Holidays, Republic, Panasonic, Virgin Holidays, Capita and Ageas Insurance Solutions.

Eptica is based in the UK, France, Spain and Singapore and operates worldwide through its network of partners. Eptica was awarded the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 EMEA in 2009 for the third consecutive year. The company's continuing innovation and strong performance resulted in Eptica's inclusion in Gartner's 2011 and 2010 Magic Quadrants for Web Customer Service.

For further information, please contact:
Measures Consulting
Chris Measures +44 (0) 7976 535147/[email protected]
Uday Radia +44 (0) 7940 584161/[email protected]

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