Consumers Use Phone, Web Service Differently

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Calling a toll-free phone number remains the most popular method consumers use to contact companies when they have a problem with a product or service, but e-mail and Web-site interaction have several advantages over the telephone, according to a study released this week by the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business.

The study polled 5,911 Americans age 18 and older to determine how and why they use online customer service vehicles.

Ninety-two percent of respondents cited 24-hour access as the main reason to use customer service on a Web site or via e-mail instead of using the telephone. Of those who said they preferred to use online self-help, 89 percent said 24-hour availability was the reason.

Another reason consumers chose to go online for customer service is a perceived faster response time. About 77 percent of those who prefer to go online for customer service said faster response time was a main reason to do so. Other reasons customers chose to go the Web for service included search capabilities and access to more specific or comprehensive information.

When having a problem with a product or service, however, about 41 percent of respondents said they prefer to use a toll-free number, while only 31 percent said they preferred to use e-mail and 18 percent said they preferred self-help on a company's Web site.

"[This] survey demonstrates that online customer service allows customers themselves to select the best media for the desired results," said Lou Garcia, SOCAP executive director.

Other findings of the study, which was conducted by Yankelovich Partners Inc., included the fact that 73 percent of respondents said they expected a response within a day of sending an e-mail message. More than 90 percent of respondents also said that sites should have the following features in order to provide good customer service: fast loading and searching, keyword searching, a customer service button on the home page and an e-mail option.

The survey also found that 92 percent of respondents had purchased something online, and 77 percent felt comfortable about using their credit card online. Seventy-four percent did not mind giving personal information on the Internet, as long as the data was not sold.

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