The appeal of live service

August 24, 2011 03:26 PM

21% of top online retailers provide live human agents for customer service calls instead of making shoppers navigate the robotic-voice prompts of automated phone systems, according to a study released today by StellaService.  

The customer service ratings agency developed its findings by having mystery shoppers engage in more than 1,2000 interactions at various times of the day with the top 100 online merchants in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. A caller was considered routed to an automated system if the mystery shopper had to say a command or press at least one key to reach a person.

A full list of the top retailers providing live customer service agents follows below, but that group includes such merchants as Inc., which is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; W.W. Grainger Inc., No. 15; L.L. Bean Inc., No. 21; and Nordstrom Inc., No. 34.

That Amazon offers live customer service  was perhaps the main surprise of the study, says Jordy Leiser, co-founder and CEO of StellaService. “Even though it's difficult to locate the Amazon customer service phone number, they still don't force shoppers into a phone maze,” Leiser says. “For such a large company, that's impressive.”

The findings are important because 71% of shoppers say they are extremely irritated when they call customer service but fail to reach an agent, and 67% of customers report hanging up without receiving resolution to their issues, according to a separate report from Consumer Reports that is based on a March survey of 1,010 consumers.

E-retailers that have agents answering calls also tend to have shorter wait times, StellaService says. Automated systems, on average, keep callers on hold for 1 minute and 51 seconds, which is nearly 118% more than average hold time of 51 seconds for calls into live agents, according to the mystery shopping study.

Product location is among the main reasons consumers call customer service, Leiser says. “Companies that make that information quickly and easily available, such as by providing a tracking number and an estimated date of delivery after purchase, are obviously one step ahead, and help to alleviate that common concern,” he says.

StellaService has no older comparative data, but Leiser says that more online retailers should realize that good customer service can make them stand out on the crowded e-commerce battlefield. “Clearly, if you're calling customer support it's a better experience to be connected directly with a live agent, so the trend should be heading in that direction,” he says.

Here are the top performing retailers in the StellaService study, followed by their ranking in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide:

•, No. 1

• Grainger, 15

•LL, 21

• (part of Redcats USA), 33

• Nordstrom, 34

• Neiman Marcus, 39

• Cabelas, 40

• Urban Outfitters, 48

• Blue Nile, 60

•Market America, 61

• Oriental Trading, 64

• Yoox, 67

• Ralph Lauren, 70

•, 74

• Fresh Direct, 75

•, 82

• Sierra Trading Post, 88

• Net-A-Porter, 89

• Coldwater Creek, 93

• Green Mountain Coffee, 99

• Etronics, 100

“Impeccable customer service is a founding principle of Blue Nile and is what sets us apart from our competitors,” says Blue Nile CEO Diane Irvine. “We offer quick access to live experts around the clock, because we believe every customer’s experience should be perfect, and that’s especially true when purchasing such a meaningful item as an engagement ring.”




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