Service Matters

Keeping the lines of communication open
This story appears in the March 1999 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
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Seeking a competitive edge for your Web site? Then read and respond quickly to e-mail requests and inquiries from customers and prospects.

Obvious, right? Well, listen up: A November 1998 report by Jupiter Communications found 42 percent of Web sites do a lousy job of responding to customer inquiries--125 top-ranked Web sites either took longer than five days to reply to customer e-mails, never replied at all or were completely inaccessible by e-mail. According to the study, Web sites "are ignoring the opportunity to communicate with existing and potential customers, discouraging brand loyalty, and opting out of a user-initiated, one-to-one relationship."

Travel sites are among the worst offenders: Nineteen percent took at least three days to respond to inquiries or never responded at all. (Retail shopping sites did better-54 percent of them responded in less than one day.)

The moral of the story? The most responsive sites have happier--and returning--customers. If you can't respond immediately to e-mail inquiries, build some kind of automatic acknowledgment feature into your site, to let customers know their request was received and how long it will take for you to respond.

Cool Study: Big Guys That Finish Last

How do the big companies stack up when it comes to communicating? Software company Brightware Inc. put Fortune 100 companies to the test, e-mailing them with a simple request for the address of their corporate headquarters. Though some replied rapidly (Texaco Inc. took four minutes; Albertson's Inc. and Costco Cos. took five), fewer than 15 percent responded within three hours. Four companies took at least a week to reply, with Hewlett-Packard Co. responding an embarrassing 23 days and two hours later. Ten companies didn't respond at all.

The study also found 26 companies, including General Motors and PepsiCo, either didn't accept e-mail or made e-mailing so difficult, most people would give up. Twelve companies requested detailed personal information before complying with the request for a corporate address--Intel even required e-mailers to complete a survey.

Bronwyn Fryer writes about technology for Newsweek, C/NET and other publications from her office in Santa Cruz, California.

Edition: November 2016

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