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Where in the World Is Online Customer Service?

Where in the World Is Online Customer Service?
By Barry Levine

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Parature's review found that social media-based customer service is quickly sweeping the industry. Sitel found that 15 percent of the youngest group of buyers prefer social customer service. Another study, this one by Oracle, found that nearly one-third of Facebook users expect companies to provide access to customer service on that site.

Most customers search for an online solution first when they have a problem with a product, and 80 percent of customers research products weekly on the Web. Those are a few of the top data points highlighting the evolution of online customer service, as collected by customer-service software provider Parature.

The search-online-first approach is the choice of 57 percent of all consumers, Parature noted, citing a 2012 study by Sitel, which provides customer care and related back-office processes.

Speed Matters

Social media and online support have also propelled expectations of company response times. According to an Oracle study, over half of Facebook users and 80 percent of Twitter users fully expect to have a customer service question or request answered within one day or less.

And, in some areas, those expectations are being met. A 2012 customer service study by STELLAService, which rates customer service performance, found that just over 40 percent of customer service requests, in the form of tweets on Twitter to 25 of the largest online retailers, were answered in less than 24 hours.

Two of the corporate Twitter stars in response time, again according to STELLA, were Zappos and LL Bean, which responded to all customer service tweets within 24 hours. In fact, Zappos appears to be going for a world record of sorts, with an average response time of 54 minutes.

But some companies are still getting with the program. The same study found that one quarter of the 25 largest online retailers simply did not respond at all to tweets. About 17 percent of customers aged 16-34, per Sitel, reported that the customer experience could be dramatically improved if companies responded to Twitter-based requests.

Online Chat, Knowledge Base

For 20 percent of shoppers, online chat is the preferred method of communication with a company, according to the 2012 Live Chat Effectiveness report by BoldChat, a live chat software provider. About three-quarters said they would prefer any kind of online support over other forms of communication, if it were reliable, and 91 percent would use an online knowledge base if it were available and provided relevant information. Both of those stats were found in a study by Coleman Parkes, a business research firm.

Social media-based customer service is quickly sweeping over the industry, and Sitel found that 15 percent of the youngest group of buyers, those 16 to 24, prefer social customer service. The Oracle study also found that nearly one-third of Facebook users expect a company to provide access to customer service and product experts on that social networking site.

For companies concerned about good word-of-mouth -- meaning most companies -- customers who use social media for communicating say they will tell, on average, about 42 people about a good customer experience, per an American Express study. On the other hand, AmEx found that social media customers tell an average of 53 others about a bad experience.

Hat Tip to Parature

Credit for compiling the data goes to Parature blogger Tricia Morris, in her June 11 post titled, "12 Take-Note Online Customer Service Statistics for 2012."

Founded in 2000, Herndon, Va.-based Parature provides Web-based social and customer service software used by 40 million end users worldwide. Its software features support through e-mail, live chat, help desk, a self-service knowledge base and social media.

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