Service please! How customer-friendly are European online shops?
Wednesday January 29 2014
Consumers are coming to expect an equivalent level of customer service that they enjoy in-store, when shopping online.According to a recent study by Zendesk, just 7% of online shoppers surveyed were extremely satisfied by the level of customer service brands provide across their channels, and 78% responded that the company’s reputation for customer service is important when choosing to make a purchase.
Do e-retailers meet the demands of their customers when it comes to customer service? To assess this, we analysed the top 50 idealo shops in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland. The results show which channels and range of contact options are on offer to advise online shoppers
When looking at the European averages, the following ranking can be seen in relation to the customer service options on offer from the idealo shops analysed:
First Place: The written word
Advice by email or via a contact form is offered by 91% of all online shops in the study, and makes up the most widespread customer service option.
Second Place: It’s good to talk
82% of the European e-retailers we looked at offer their customers a phone number for customer services.
Third Place: Remember your FAQs
On 67% of all online shops in the study, customers can find a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) which give details on the buying process or delivery options. This option is most popular in France with 88%, whereas here in the UK only 48% of the top 50 idealo shops display FAQs.
Fourth Place: Live Chat
Real-time advice via an integrated live chat function is offered on average by just 18% of the shops looked at.
Fifth Place: Forum
In last place in terms of the customer service channels are shop forums in which users can ask and swap questions according to topic, under guidance and help from moderators. The setup and careful management of such a web forum is time-consuming. Possibly one reason why only 10% of online retailers in our study offer this service. Nevertheless, the results vary widely from country to country. While forums are used as service tools in nearly a quarter (24%) of Spanish shops analysed, only 2% of the idealo top 50 Polish shops offer this particular service.
Emails take precedence in Europe, but Italy prefers to pick up the phone
In the country-specific ranking of the online customer service options, there is for the most part a correlation amongst the Europe-wide rankings. Even when the gaps in the distribution occur, email/contact forms and phone contact make up the preferred service channels of the top 50 idealo shops. However, Italy has a noticeably higher proportion of shops offering a telephone contact than email contact, whereas the Spanish online shops are much more likely to be reachable by email.
In the UK, 94% of the top 50 idealo shops offer their customer service by email or contact form. In second place is advice over the telephone offered by 92% of shops in the study. Places 3 to 5 are taken by FAQs (48%), Live Chat (14%) and help forums (6%).
A similar picture emerges of the popularity of customer contact services offered by the German and Polish idealo shops in the study. France’s results also correlate, providing email/contact forms and a telephone number in 96% of cases.
All of the Spanish shops analysed offer their customers a written contact option by email or contact form, but a telephone number in just 34% of cases. This makes Spain the only country in our analysis in which FAQs (70%) are more common than telephone contact for the top 50 idealo shops. Also in the last two places there is a peculiarity: the forum, which is the least common of services offered in all other countries, is more popular (24%) in the Spanish idealo shops than live chat (20%).
Italy too, proves to be an anomaly in the study. In contrast to all the other countries in the study, email contact does not take first place in terms of contact options. Instead, it comes in third place in terms of customer contact channels with a proportion of just 56%. With a clear majority of 98%, telephone support is the most popular. Next in line are FAQs, which can be found on 66% of shops in the Italian study. As for fourth and fifth place, the Italian customer service channels are in line with European results in the study.
The leader in live chat is Poland, where just over a quarter (26%) of the top 50 idealo shops offer live chat to customers. In Spain, it is every fifth shop in the study. Next in line are France and Italy, where in each, 18% of the shops offer this service. The UK and Germany come in last with just 14% of shops looked at offering live chat.
Live chat acts as a promising advice channel. The customer can interact and receive advice in real time to problems as and when they occur – unlike in requests made by email or a contact form. In contrast to telephoning, the medium of communication does not have to be changed, nor does the phone need to picked up and a number dialled. The service can occur completely within the shopping experience. Of all the online customer service options, live chat comes the closest to offering the same service as in a real-life shop: as the customer navigates through the virtual store, he or she can be advised easily and directly by staff who are on hand to help.
Live chat is a service which is viewed favourably by online shoppers: According to an in depth survey by customer experience providers LivePerson, 51% of online customers would rather make purchases through an online shop which offers a live chat option. Thus, there appears to be at this moment in time a high discrepancy between supply and demand.
Building trust through service
According to a study by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants: “Unlike on the Internet, most purchase decisions in offline retail (74%) are not preceded by any form of advance reconnaissance activity.” In offline retail on the other hand, just 46% of purchases do not involve any kind of activity, meaning customers want to be more informed before they decide on a purchase online.
Good customer service must be readily available
One final thing that is worth mentioning: in some cases, online customers have to undertake extensive searching, clicking scrolling and overcome usability hurdles, in order to find the various customer service options. Contact forms are often well-hidden, live chat functions are sometimes only accessible once a customer is logged in to a shop, or the the number for the call centre is concealed in a long list of FAQs. Good customer service is when the contact options are quick and easy to locate. Therefore, let the quantitative expansion of your service channels always be preceded by a qualitative review of your existing services.