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Baby steps for electronic customer service

A UNIVERSITY of WA survey of electronic customer service among Australian businesses has found that less than 50 per cent of companies fail to reply to customer email enquiries.

The finding mirrors that of a survey 12 months ago.

But on a more encouraging note, figures show response times have dropped from 27 hours to 14, and that the quality of the responses has improved.

UWA visiting research fellow Jamie Murphy and post-graduate student Hong Chua Nguyen sent emails to 300 companies listed with Dun & Bradstreet Business Who’s Who of Australia.

The emails asked if the company had a toll-free number and, if so, what it was.

Dr Murphy said he was disappointed rather than surprised by the low number of responses from the companies.

“I find it a little mind boggling that, in essence, you have a potential customer who wants to make contact and the company doesn’t respond,” he said.

Dr Murphy said an acceptable response rate would be between 66 and 75 per cent of the sampled businesses.

He praised Perth-based adultshop.com for its quality response but said other businesses were lacking in the time it took to respond and the information given.

Asked if the company had a toll-free number one business simply replied “yes”.

Ms Nguyen said electronic customer service wasn’t rocket science. Businesses could gain considerable competitive advantages if they followed simple email standards and processes.

“Organisations should treat email as business correspondence. Ideally, they should answer within 24 hours,” she said.

“And they should follow basic manners, such as addressing the customer by name, saying thank you and politely closing the email.

“Persona, prompt, polite and professional email replies are an easy way for Australian organisations to stand out on the cyber-frontier, both nationally and internationally.”

Program manager Craig Appleby, from local web development firm Tusk Technologies, said the accepted industry response time was 48 hours, although it was good practice to use customer relationship management software to reply instantly, thanking the individual for the email and promising a response.

“Generally we try to include a pop up message which thanks the individual for their enquiry and says we will try to get back to them within 48 hours,” Mr Appleby said.

“But it depends on the business. An online e-tailer is more response driven and all their business is through the web anyway, so their response times are better and they are geared up for those enquiries anyway.”

adultshop.com head of marketing Amanda Cooper said company policy was to respond to all enquiries the same day or the next at the latest.

“If you never hear from your customers, you never know what you are doing wrong, or what your are getting right for that matter,” she said.

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