|World wide web|
Business-to-business e-commerce is growing at a rate of 33 percent a year and is expected to hit $ 2. 8 million by 2003. It’s a phenomenon that a Microsoft founder bill gate describes as “business at the speed of thought.”
But, If you think customer service isn’t important when doing business via the internet, consider this: A recent study by Andersen consulting found that, during the 1999 holiday shopping season, 88 percent of online shopping carts were abandoned before checkout. Visualize a supermarket where 88 percent of the carts are full, but abandoned, near the checkout counters. It would not only be chaotic, it would and I’m sure, result in the firing of those people managing the store. Another study, this one by Forrester Research, found that, throughout the year, two-thirds of shopping cards are abandoned before checkout.
So, what’s going wrong here? I’ll tell you in just four words: There is no e-service. E-service means the web site doesn’t crash. It means customers are recognized when they log onto a site. It means products are delivered in a timely manner.
It means a liberal return policy. It means that customer e-mails are responded to quickly within hours, preferably within minutes. It means that everyone in the organization including the techies- has been trained to interact effectively with customers. You must use all these service elements if you are to earn the loyalty of your customers. If those customers are displeased with your service, they can simply log onto another web site with a click of a mouse and make the purchases they would have made with you, if you had given them the service they want.
And yet, it amazes me that so many companies simply ignore the service side of their businesses. If you want some examples of the effect of poor service, just look at us Bancorp. Since First Bank’s acquisition of us Bancorp in 1997, customers were steered away from human beings and toward technology—to ATMs, telephones, and internet-to do their business.
Not surprisingly, on December 12, 1999. US Bancorp announced that fourth quarter profits-and those for all of 2000-would fall short of expectations. Revised earnings estimate were 52 to 54 cents a Shari; analysts had estimated 59 cents. The company’s stock dropped 27 percent; the sharpest drop in five years. Us Bancorp thought it was in the banking business, when it really was or should have been-in the service business.
A major shortcoming for many e-commerce businesses is responsiveness. The web, say the folks at Forrester research, was supposed to “click away the crowds, bare shelves, and surly salesclerks” that made shopping a chore. Instead, e-commerce sites take an average of 28 hours to respond to customer inquiries. That’s more than enough time for consumers to gas up the car, head to a traditional shopping mall and make their purchases there. Jupiter communication supports Forrester’s study, finding that almost half of the 125 top web sites fail to respond, or take five days or more to respond to customer inquiries via-e-mail.
That’s not to say, however, that these aren’t many e-commerce companies out these that have made customer service priority, that are reaping the rewards of providing exceptional e-service. I’m sharing some of them with you here. I’m also including some traditional companies, because these are lesson to be learned from them that can easily be transferred to e-commerce.