Four-Country Survey Finds Service Lacking

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A survey of 202 companies with a Web presence in Germany, the UK, Switzerland and Austria found that Neckarwerke, a Stuttgart-based energy company, offered the best customer service, followed by a Swiss bank and a UK bank.

But the survey, carried out by Mummert und Partner, a Hamburg management consultant firm, and the University of Muenster, also found that 35 percent of companies in their sample offered "poor or very poor service."

Managing director Wilhelm Abs said at a press conference in Hamburg this month that only 12 companies deserved a "very good" rating for service.

Only half the firms cited prices on their Web sites, two-thirds lacked a site map and only one in eight companies told surfers how to get in touch with them.

Neckarwerke finished on top because of its site's high interactivity.

"They can have their bills explained to them online or find plumbers specializing in gas or water problems," Abs said. "Wherever a service is offered there is a corresponding way of fulfilling it."

Out of a possible 500 points Neckarwerke scored 400, Abs added. The survey used 170 criteria in determining its ranking.

Banking seemed to be the most comfortable category doing business on the Web. Credit Suisse finished second overall and as the top bank, followed by Germany's Hypo Bank, UBS of Switzerland and the UK's National Westminster Bank.

Telecoms also did well with Deutsche Telekom, British Telecom and Vodafone, a private British company, ranked on top of that heap. Insurance companies did poorly, the survey said, because they are still too focused on face-to-face selling.

"This sector will have to learn more quickly," Abs said. Few are interactive and contracts are seldom concluded on the Web. All customers get is advice on how to contact an agent.

Another survey, this one conducted by Infratest Burke, a market research outfit, backed up Mommert's finding: most online buyers are dissatisfied with German e-tailers offerings.

Infratest surveyed 10,000 online buyers and found that 90 percent had at least once changed their mind and decided not to buy after making up their mind that they would.

More than half of those surveyed decided not to buy because they couldn't find the product they wanted, because download time was too long or because product descriptions weren't precise enough. Only 27 percent worried about safety on the Web.

Nevertheless, more than 90 percent of Internet buyers said that they would buy more or as often as they had in the future, and that they would spend more money. Travel, books, CDs, foodstuff and computers headed the list.

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