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Washington, D.C. - Customer service is important to nearly all consumers –- regardless of whether they shop in a store or online -- according to a comprehensive national survey on customer service conducted by the NRF Foundation, the research and education arm of the National Retail Federation and the American Express Company.
The study, called the NRF Foundation/American Express 2004 Customer Service Survey, was designed to gauge consumer opinions about customer service levels across all retail channels, and to identify opportunities to improve services that would have the greatest impact. The survey, which polled 1,280 consumers, was conducted from May 6-17, 2004.
In the survey, 99 percent of shoppers said customer service was at least somewhat important when deciding to make a purchase.
Though many retailers say they have continued to focus on customer service in stores, customer service online appears to be much better in consumers' minds. Just 16 percent of shoppers were extremely satisfied with their most recent customer service experience in traditional stores, while an additional 51 percent were very satisfied. In contrast, online shoppers were almost three times as likely to be extremely satisfied with their customer service experience (44 percent) and an additional 45 percent were very satisfied.
"Many retailers are putting renewed emphasis on customer service, but shoppers are telling them that even more needs to be done," said John Theiss, v.p., retail industries, American Express Establishment Services, the merchant network of American Express which acquires and maintains relationships with merchants that welcome the American Express Card.
The most important elements of good customer service in stores revolve around retail employees and the store environment, according to the survey. In fact, nearly two thirds of shoppers feel that it is extremely important for retail employees to be courteous (67 percent) and treat shoppers like valued customers (65 percent). Consumers also dislike being pressured to buy merchandise (69 percent) and find it extremely important that employees are available to ask for help (61 percent).
The most important environmental factor for them is a neat and clean store, which 60 percent of shoppers said is extremely important.
When shopping online, however, consumers’ service expectations vary greatly from the in-store example. According to the survey, the majority of online shoppers (88 percent) find a safe and secure Web site an extremely important component of good customer service. In addition, online shoppers want merchandise to be delivered on time (73 percent) and want the retailer to quickly handle questions and requests (74 percent).
Whether shopping online or in the brick-and-mortar world, consumers share a number of similar attitudes. First, both traditional and online shoppers find it extremely important that the retailer they do business with does not share their information with other companies (73 percent of traditional shoppers, 78 percent of online shoppers). Additionally, both groups felt that accurate item pricing was an essential component of customer service (71 percent traditional, 75 percent online) and they value retailers that promptly deal with merchandise problems after the sale (63 percent traditional, 74 percent online).
Retailers can be encouraged that most consumers who have a positive customer service experience will talk about it. Online shoppers were more likely than traditional shoppers to tell others about a positive experience (73 percent vs. 66 percent). Online shoppers told an average of 2.7 people about a positive experience, while traditional shoppers told 2.4 people about their experience.
Though the benefits of superior customer service can be great for a retailer, the ramifications of low-grade customer service are severe. Traditional shoppers were more likely than online shoppers to tell others about a negative shopping experience (70 percent vs. 64 percent). On average, traditional shoppers who had a bad customer service experience told 3.1 people, while online shoppers told an average of 2.8 people about their experience.
"Consumers like to share the highs and lows of their shopping experiences with family and friends," said Katherine T. Mance, v.p. of the NRF Foundation. "It's no stretch to say that a single customer service experience, whether positive or negative, affects a retailer's sales from a variety of consumers, not just one."