New Ranking Service Shuns Leading E-tailers

Customer service portal Feedback Direct joined the ratings game this week by launching the Feedback 50 online companies with the best customer service operations.

Perhaps supporting the theory that customer satisfaction is not the sole driving force behind an online site’s success, only two of the companies on the Feedback 50 list also ranked among the 10 most popular shopping sites ranked by Media Metrix.

Amazon.com and CDNow.com made the Feedback 50, but other top sellers including America Online, eBay, eToys, Toys “R” Us, barnesandnoble.com, Buy.com, Blue Mountain Arts and mypoints.com did not win enough customer kudos to make the cut.

Other well-known e-commerce brands on the list include Lands’ End, Charles Schwab and Volvo. A few relative newcomers, such as HomeGrocer.com, Fogdog Sports and eHobbies, were also included.

Creating The Rating

Using the frenzy of holiday shopping to create a ratings base, Feedback Direct evaluated hundreds of companies’ Web sites in four areas: telephone service, e-mail or Web form based feedback, live chat and frequently asked questions (FAQ) Web pages.

Feedback Direct rated companies on their availability, responsiveness, user-friendliness, courtesy and quality of issue resolution, using real customer questions and complaints to test performance.

“Customer service is increasingly becoming the key factor that differentiates great companies from the pack online,” Feedback Direct Founder Thatcher Wine said. “On the Internet, small companies can look big, but companies with poor customer service, either big and small, have nowhere to hide.”

Hard To Find 50

Interestingly, a company can rate poorly in one of the four areas or lack a function altogether and still make the Feedback 50 list. For example, 1-800flowers.com was rated “great” in telephone customer service and “good” in online chat service, but its frequently asked questions list scored a “poor” and e-mail or Web site forms for follow-up customer service are non-existent.

Of course, as a brand new ranking system trying to find 50 e-commerce sites that provide any customer service, much less good customer service, the performance variations could be expected for awhile. Feedback encourages visitors to add their own opinions to the information already provided for each company on the list. The site will update and adjust its ratings accordingly, with a new list announced each quarter.

Ratings Still As Subjective As Objective

As with all ranking and ratings services, the Feedback 50 combines the raw data of customer comments with statistical methodology that can vary from researcher to researcher. Feedback’s ratings, like competing services from Forrester Research and others, are therefore rather subjective site evaluation tools.

For example, CDNow.com, eToys, Toys “R” Us and Buy.com made Forrester Research’s Power Rankings by category, despite missing the cut for the Feedback list. eToys even won the highest customer service rating of the five toys and games sites that Forrester rated.

Despite its subjective nature, Feedback argues that its rating service is still a valuable tool for customers. In addition, the service is designed to enhance the value of the Feedback Direct site, which seeks to provide all the information and help online shoppers get good service.

The Santa Monica, California-based company was formed to draw several helpful services together in one place for online shoppers, simplifying what can be a daunting process of lodging and following up complaints about products or shopping experiences. Feedback Direct also pitches its site as a benefit for businesses, making managing their customer relationships more efficient.

Feedback Direct provides a proprietary directory of customer service contact information, called the “Orange Pages,” to give consumers access to customer service ratings and reviews about specific companies. Visitors can also use Feedback Direct’s communications utilities to ask questions, submit complaints and manage their interactions with online companies’ customer service departments.

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