Privacy, Responsiveness Top Online Concerns

If your company wants to keep its online customers happy — and buying — its best to not reuse their personal information without permission and to respond quickly to online inquiries, according to a new report released today.

Yet, many of the Fortune 100 companies looked at in the study, fail in these two critical areas, according to the 2004 Online Customer Respect Survey .

Fully half of all companies share personal information with partners and suppliers, and one-third fail to respond to all inquires, said Roger Fairchild, co-founder and president of the Customer Respect Group, which conducted the survey of the Fortune 100’s Web sites.

“It’s just incredible to me that companies would invest the time and energy to have a Web site and then not respond to inquires,” he said.

Aside from disgruntled customers, what this means in terms of dollars and cents is lost revenues. This is because, in the U.S. market, 10.6% of all transactions start with a Web site visit for more information. And if users have a bad initial experience (and 20%, on average, do) they will abandon the Web site completely in favor of a competitor’s site.

So, if a company does a billion in Web sales every year, and 20% of customers are going to a competitor because of an unsatisfactory experience, which they are, that translates into at least $200 million per year left on the table, said Fairchild.

The two most commonly sited reasons for leaving a company’s Web site for a competitor (assuming equal products or services) were lack of responsiveness to an inquiry (64%) and a bad or non-existent privacy policy (70%), said Fairchild.

“I think (companies) are doing a little bit better from the standpoint of those trends,” he said. “They’re beginning to see the light and putting in place tools that work. But its incredible that a third still aren’t responding to all inquires and half still share information without seeking permission first. They need to understand that has a huge impact.”

According to Fairchild, the top five most important survey findings are:

  • The fact that 33% of all companies do not respond to all inquires;
  • Over 50% of firms share personal information without permission;
  • 75% of companies do not provide forms easily used by those with visual impairments;
  • Only 31% of companies use auto-responders to tell customers their messages have been received and are being processed; and, on a more positive note,
  • 85% of companies do provide the online form for customer feedback and interaction saving customers time and effort.
  • From a buying perspective the most important attributes a company’s Web site can exhibit is timely responsiveness, simplicity and a site’s ‘attitude’. These are the most important factors in inducing customers to buy, said Fairchild.

    “(eCommerce managers) need to adopt best practices to improve the online customer experience with a tremendous pay back in increased sales and customer retention,” he said.