Study: Customer Service Lapses Hurt B2B

Poor customer service in the business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce sector threatens to undermine trust in the fast-growing industry, according to a study released Wednesday by Jupiter Media Metrix (Nasdaq: JMXI).

Much like their consumer counterparts, B2B customers expect rapid response to their e-mail inquiries but few get it, the study found.

Forty-one percent of B2B companies respond to customer e-mails within six hours, and only half of those responses provided satisfactory resolutions. About 65 percent answered e-mails within 24 hours, and 29 percent never responded.

“Slow and non-responsive companies are further eroding the opportunity to build trust in online relationships,” Jupiter analyst David Daniels said. “Businesses must realize that e-mail responsiveness forms perceptions of how committed a business is to customer service, which can be the distinguishing characteristic of how a buyer selects a supplier.”

Lack of Trust

About US$433 billion was spent worldwide on B2B e-commerce last year, according to a study released in March by Gartner.

However, Daniels noted that nearly half of all B2B buyers still do not use the Internet for purchasing, because they do not trust that the channel can deliver crucial goods and services on time.

Other Avenues

Over time, sluggish e-mail answers will further “lower confidence in e-mail as a customer service channel,” Daniels said.

Jupiter said that two-thirds of B2B companies have toll-free customer support telephone numbers posted on their sites in case an e-mail response is not fast enough. Only 4 percent offer interactive chat options, such as instant messaging.

Find and Buy

Jupiter also found that 2 percent of B2B companies have sites that include search engines that make it easier for customers to find exactly what they want quickly.

Instead, most B2B companies employ static “frequently asked questions” links that provide lengthy lists of responses. Jupiter said that 70 percent of Web users will leave a site for good if they cannot find the information they want.

Daniels said that one innovative option would be to offer a customer-to-customer network, using customers who know a site well to answer other customers’ questions.

E-Mail Everywhere

Jupiter recently issued a similar report on the quality of e-mail customer service in the business-to-consumer (B2C) or retail sector of e-commerce.

According to Jupiter, 38 percent of e-tailers respond to e-mail questions within six hours, which is how long the average customer now expects an answer to take.

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