UK Retailers Falling Short on Improving Customer Experience

By Peter Bernstein July 03, 2014

The new Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study, from the European multichannel and multilingual customer interaction management software provider, is certainly food for thought. Its top line findings regarding U.K. retailers’ efforts to improve the customer experience via various channels include one that email was the best performing channel for retail service, with 63 percent of questions answered, ahead of websites, which successfully provided answers to 60 percent of routine queries. Twitter brought up the rear, with just 33 percent answered effectively.

A call to action or cause for alarm is the additional finding that U.K. retailers are not providing consistent information or service across multiple channels with only 13 percent providing similar answers to the same question.

The study, carried out by multichannel customer interaction management software provider Eptica, evaluated 40 leading U.K. retailers, split between 4 sectors (food & wine, consumer electronics, entertainment and fashion). It replicated consumer behavior by measuring them on their ability to provide answers to ten routine questions via the web as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and web chat.

As context for the findings it should be noted that 83 percent of retailers in the sample were on Twitter, although only 33 percent responded successfully to tweeted questions. The average Twitter response time was 13 hours 10 minutes, not helped by one retailer taking over 76 hours to answer. As the authors state, “removing this straggler more than halved the average to 6 hours 44 minutes.”  In a real-time world, especially in regards to social media interactions, this is a long time.

The good news is that while Twitter is a laggard for being responsive, the study found that the speed of email response has improved dramatically to an average time of 35 hours and 43 minutes - over one day less than the average email response time (66 hours 52 minutes) in a similar Eptica study in 2012.

Retailers topped the overall study when it came to answering questions on the web but were also bottom of the sectors surveyed - fashion scored an average of 79 percent while entertainment and electronics retailers managed only 52 percent. The overall retail average was 60 percent up from 53 percent last year, but this means that 40 percent of questions are still not answered online.

As the study highlights, despite the move to multichannel, retailers are failing to deliver choice.

  • 73 percent  offered email and Twitter alongside their websites, and only 5 percent provided web chat as well.
  • Consistency was poor, with just 13 percent of retailers providing similar answers on two channels. (Anecdotally, two fashion retailers gave conflicting answers on Twitter and email - denying the existence of an ethical sourcing policy on one channel, and providing a link to it on another. Plus, there was also evidence of inconsistency in performance between different channels. The electronics retailer that answered an email in 7 minutes took 76 hours to reply on Twitter to the same question.

"The retail sector has been revolutionized by the expansion of digital channels, meaning retailers have to answer more questions, across more channels, than ever before," said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-founder, Eptica. "However, our study shows that, while some retailers are leading the way, many are failing to deliver fast, accurate responses and consistency across channels." He added that, "Most retailers are already planning for Peak 2014, but before going into IT lockdown there is still a chance to review the study results and act on our recommendations around benchmarking performance, increasing engagement and driving efficiency to deliver improved revenues this Christmas."

While the time to respond on the various channels is problematic, possibly more a cause for concern is the lack of consistency across channels.  Indeed, there is an important lesson to be learned from these results, even if the sample size is relatively small. They speak to need to be both fast and consistent.

Study after study recently have pointed to the fact that while companies are investing correctly in omni-channel capabilities and self-service, they are having a difficult time seeing the benefits show up in their customer satisfaction scores.  In fact, one can argue that not taking a holistic view of customer engagements across all channels, and making sure you are quickly and accurately/consistently responding to customer inquiries can have the opposite impact of what is intended, i.e., it increases rather than reduces customer frustration. 

While the results were for the U.K., the suspicion is they would be similar in other parts of the world, and a more expansive study of more vertical markets in more regions with larger samples would be invaluable.  That said, the results raise serious questions that those in charge of their companies’ customer experience efforts need to ask themselves so they can as the famous London subway signs say, “Mind the Gap.”  




Edited by Maurice Nagle
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