Whether you’re trying to find out if your favorite store has that sweater in your size or if you’re wondering if that box of cigars will arrive in time for your father’s birthday, don’t count on emails to solve your problems.
STELLAService data measuring the quality of email responses shows that the largest online retailers answer emails completely just 54% of the time.
For 45 days beginning April 1, STELLAService analysts sent an email a day to 25 premier retailers with simple questions like “I live in an apartment and I always miss my delivery guys when they come. How many times will they attempt? And, “How long do I have to go pick it up at the shipping facility before they send it back?” The analysts were looking for complete responses.
If you’re wondering what the difference is between a complete response and an incomplete response, here’s a simple example: You want to know if a retailer has the shoes you see online available in the color red and size six. Your email asks both questions clearly, but the retailer only replies “Yes, they’re available in red,” leaving you wondering whether you’ll fit in the shoes at all. A complete response would also give you the information about sizing that you had asked for.
Fortunately, there are retailers that take the time to address all inquiries in full.
The most reliable retailer was LLBean.com, answering 88.9 percent of STELLA analysts’ emails completely over the 45-day study. Rounding out the top five, Gap.com responded to 84 percent of email emails completely, Zappos.com answered 75 percent completely, and VictoriasSecret.com and TigerDirect.com each answered 70.4 percent completely.
LLBean.com was also the speediest to reply, sending answers back in just under 41 minutes and the only retailer in the study to reply to all questions within 24 hours.
Of the companies included in the study, the bottom performers in answering the message completely sent automatically generated responses that provided a link to their home page. They then suggested looking for the answer in the help index. In all, they provided complete responses less than 20 percent of the time.
“It’s extraordinarily rare that an automated response will solve a customer’s question,” STELLAService Chief Executive Jordy Leiser said. “While it’s a potential cost-saver for retailers, a less than adequate reply puts at risk the lifetime value of a customer.”
STELLAService analysts also log interactions where they believe the customer service representative went “above and beyond.” During the time measured for this report, Amazon.com, Macys.com, OfficeMax.com, WalMart.com and Zappos.com logged instances of “above and beyond” service.
For instance, a STELLAService mystery shopper posed this question to Zappos.com via email: “I’m looking for the original royal blue Snuggie but can’t find it on your site – do you ever expect to sell these? Where can I find it elsewhere?”
The reply from Zappos.com answered both questions, but what’s more is the customer service representative took the time to locate the item at another store and included links to buy the product, confirming that large retailers are capable of delivering detailed, personalized email responses to service questions.
The American Express Global Customer Service Barometer says that more consumers prefer email for simple inquiries, such as locating a product or checking an account balance. However, for more complex questions, such as returning a product or getting assistance with a product issue, 38% of consumers prefer to contact customer service by phone.
“Customers love the ease and practicality of email, but it is clear from our research that retailers are not being diligent about quality replies,” Leiser said. “In order to meet the needs and expectations of their customers, it’s time for retailers to deliver the same level of quality and speed when communicating with customers via email as they do on the phone.”
STELLAService continues to email service questions to retailers on a daily basis, as well as take measurements of service performance across phone, live chat support and Twitter. In order to assess the entire customer experience, STELLAService also measures the shipping, returns and refund performance of the leading online retailers.
This report included the 25 largest retailers according to the 2011 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. In order of their appearance in the Guide, the following retailers were included in the STELLAService study: Amazon.com Inc., Zappos.com Inc. (Amazon subsidiary), Staples Inc., Dell Inc., Office Depot Inc., Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Sears Holdings Corp., QVC Inc., Office Max Inc., Best Buy Co. Inc., Newegg Inc., Sony Corp., Costco Wholesale Corp., Macy’s Inc., Victoria’s Secret Direct LLC, Hewlett-Packard Co., J.C. Penney Inc., L.L. Bean Inc., Target Corp., Systemax Inc. (TigerDirect.com), Gap Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc., HSN Inc., Overstock.com and Nordstrom Inc. Apple.com was excluded because the company does not provide email support, and Netflix.com was excluded because it is not a traditional online retailer. CDW.com and Grainger.com were excluded because they mostly focus on business customers.
In all, 1,125 emails were measured from April 1, 2012 to May 15, 2012.