Mar 31, 2017
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Chat and email rule for customer queries but too many stores lag on reply speed - study

Mar 31, 2017

UK retailers are too often alienating potential and actual customers by not answering their questions online with fashion stores being among the guilty parties, new research shows.

Retailers could be discouraging sales by not answering queries promptly

The 2017 Eptica Retail Conversation Study, based on analysis of retailer activity and a consumer survey, showed UK retail customer experience failing to improve with nearly 50% of queries left unanswered. But the study also found some bright spots and said that consumers are more likely to get an accurate response from stores on email than on Twitter, Facebook or via the web.

And chat is also helping to speed up response times as more retailers offer live chat options using either artificial intelligence or human staff. With chat adoption growing fast, it looks like 2018’s study could see some vastly different figures.

The researchers said that not answering customer queries sis a key mistake for stores as 93% of consumers say they are more likely to buy from a store if they have a positive customer experience with its staff.

But UK retailers are struggling to deliver adequate, consistent service the research suggested. Companies were unable to answer 46% of customer queries received on email, the web, Twitter and Facebook, with only 7.5% responding on all four channels, and a tiny 2.5% providing a consistent, accurate answers across all of them.

Eptica surveyed 40 leading UK retailers in the fashion, consumer electronics, food & drink, and entertainment sectors on the experience they deliver by analysing their response to routine questions. Repeating research carried out since 2011, the study also surveyed 1,000 consumers to find out how satisfied they were with the retail experience.

And as technology widens the scope of what can be achieved, it said 69% of consumers say their expectations are continually rising. Yet overall many retailers seem to be settling for providing service that is Eptica said “average at best”.

The analysis showed the number of questions answered on Facebook has dropped by 20% since 2016 to just 39%, while Twitter and company websites also saw their performances worsening, with only 44% of tweets and 62% of web queries receiving a successful response. In 2015 the respective figures were 45% and 65%.

And the survey results showed that on average, the percentage of consumers feeling happy with the experience received on the web, email, social media and chat doesn’t even reach half (47%). Under a third (32%) of consumers are satisfied with retail service on Twitter, 38% on Facebook, 51% on chat, 56% on the web and 59% on email. These figures lag behind satisfaction with the in-store experience, where 78% are happy with the service they have received.


But the news wasn’t all bad. Both email and chat have seen improvements. Successful response rates to emailed questions leapt, from 55% in the 2016 study to 74% in 2017, meaning consumers are now more likely to get their query answered on email than any other channel. While 90% of consumer electronics retailers and 80% of food and drink stores replied on email, fashion lagged at 65%.

Also on the plus side, average response time on email dropped dramatically, from 32 hours 53 minutes to 23 hours 27 minutes.

And 25% of retailers offered chat, up from 13% in 2016, with 85% of chat sessions successfully answering a customer query in an average time of just five minutes 24 seconds.

“Consumers today demand a high quality experience from retailers – whatever channel they use to make contact,” said Olivier Njamfa, CEO and Co-founder of Eptica. “They value having a real-time conversation, yet too many retailers are letting them down, settling for average service at best, rather than delivering an experience that will drive long-term loyalty.”

While consumer electronics retailers were in the lead as far as successfully answering most questions was concerned (with a 66% success rate), they were closely followed by fashion on 64%. The study cited one fashion retailer that answered an email in seven minutes. But it also said another took nearly 53 hours to answer the same question.

Additional findings included 91% of consumers saying they want a fast and accurate response to their query and while response times on social media have halved, accuracy has actually reduced and inconsistency is rife. Some 58% of retailers provided different answers to the same question across multiple channels

As many as 77% of consumers said they want to be able to switch channels during a conversation – but only 50% say it is easy to do. And 40% of consumers say retailers don’t keep their promises when it comes to response times.

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