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Companies Lapse in Response Time to E-mail, Survey Finds

A new survey reports that the response time has slowed for consumers who e-mail questions directly to a company’s Web site, compared to a similar survey conducted just last year. Brightware Inc., Novato, CA, a supplier of e-mail assistance software for the Internet, discovered a range of e-mail answering times in its second annual, independently commissioned survey.

This year’s first-place replier, Sears, Roebuck & Co., took just nine minutes to correctly answer a basic question. Texaco, which finished in first place last year by replying in only four minutes, fell to ninth place by answering in one hour, 25 minutes. Bell Atlantic leaped from near last place last year to second place this year, with a response time of 11 minutes.

Other Top 10 finishers included Dow Chemical (19 minutes, 51 seconds), Chevron (22 minutes, 22 seconds), Johnson & Johnson (35 minutes, 26 seconds), Cardinal Health (36 minutes, 1 second), ConAgra (52 minutes, 48 seconds), TIAA-CREF (53 minutes, 44 seconds) and Aetna (1 hour, 26 minutes).

Only 13 percent of the top companies, down from 15 percent last year, answered an e-mail query within three hours. The survey also found that 50 percent of the Fortune 100 companies – up from 36 percent last year – either could not be contacted by e-mail from their Web site or made it very difficult, requiring four or more clicks – and most visitors were unable or unwilling to proceed. Ten companies did not offer any contact information whatsoever on their Web sites. And, AT&T offered a submit form that, when used, resulted in an error message. A spokeswoman said that a software problem with AT&T’s Web site was responsible and that it had been corrected.

Surprisingly, several companies did not respond to the e-mail question, including such technology giants as IBM, Intel, Motorola, Lucent Technologies and Dell Computer. Brightware CEO Chris Erickson attributed the drop in response time to the massive amounts of e-mails being sent each day in the United States. “However,” he added, “with great solutions available to not only respond quickly, but also accurately to e-mails, there’s no excuse for just a third of America’s biggest companies to be answering e-mails correctly.”

The survey was conducted by research firm NewGate Internet, Sausalito, CA, between Nov. 18 and Dec. 15. The surveyor visited the Web sites of the Fortune 100 as listed at www.fortune.com. The complete results can be found at www.brightware.com.

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