Intel, Sears Treat Their Customers Best

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Intel and Sears Roebuck treat online customers best, according to the Customer Respect Group's annual review of the 100 largest U.S. companies.

Customer Respect Group, Ipswich, MA, published the review Sept. 11. The study assigns each company a Customer Respect Index rating, which is a qualitative and quantitative analysis of a customer's experience when interacting via the Internet. It tracks usability, such as how usable the site is to a range of users; communication, such as the company's willingness to provide customer service in one-on-one communication to respond to specific questions; and trust, such as whether the site can be trusted with consumers' data.

"Sears did generally well across the board in terms of trust aspects, customer communications and their site being relatively easy to use," said Terry Goldsworthy, president of Customer Respect Group. "Intel was basically better than Sears in terms of usability and privacy and trust, but they weren't as good in communication."

The report analyzed the largest 100 companies as defined by Fortune Magazine in April. Intel and Sears Roebuck had scores exceeding 7.5 on a 10-point scale. The average rating for companies was 5.7.

For site usability, Intel, Johnson & Johnson and Wells Fargo rated highest. This area included tests for the level of support for users with disabilities. The top 100 averaged 6.6 for usability.

In communications and responsiveness to online inquiries, the best-rated sites were Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard and Sprint. The top 100 averaged just 4.9. As for trust, the sites judged best were Procter & Gamble, Intel and IBM. The top 100 averaged 5.6.

Other findings from the study:

  • The largest 100 U.S. companies appear to be gathering more personally identifiable information, but the use of that information is changing. Fewer firms share personal data with outside organizations, but more than half continue to send unsolicited marketing e-mails to those that supply personal information for other reasons.
  • Privacy policies overall have better clarity and less ambiguity. Fifty-four percent of companies clearly explain their marketing opt-out or opt-in policies (an increase since 2005), and 52 percent do so for data sharing (up from 34 percent). This increased clarity is likely to result from increased awareness of trust issues, along with a growth in the number of chief privacy officers and ongoing privacy litigation.
  • When replying to e-mails, companies made strides in answering queries but are struggling to lower turnaround times. Only 13 companies consistently sent helpful replies within 24 hours. Yet the number of helpful replies rose markedly. This suggests conflicting pressures of rising e-mail volumes and a desire to give helpful replies, a process that sometimes takes too long.
  • The companies remain slow in adopting generally accepted Web guidelines to make sites more accessible for users with disabilities. Only 14 percent provide text in navigation buttons with strongly contrasting colors. And though creating ALT-tag descriptions for images is one of the easiest accessibility aids to implement, only 42 percent of home pages contained one for every image.

"We see an ever-increasing gathering of personal information on Web sites, the erosion of privacy and a growth in marketing electronic mail," Mr. Goldsworthy said. "Customers may tire of ever-fuller inboxes, thus eroding the effectiveness of the medium. Corporations must be careful not to kill the golden goose of e-mail."

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