How Long Is Too Long to Wait for Customer Service?

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
Would you wait more than eight minutes to speak to a customer service representative on the phone?

Would you wait more than eight minutes to speak to a customer service representative on the phone? How good would you feel about a retailer if it took almost four days for the company to answer your email? If you are a customer of Barnes & Noble or Crate & Barrel, you will likely find out.

Companies are always discussing the importance of customer service across channels, but how well do they deliver? A new study of the top 100 retailers shows that many have a lot of work to do to keep customers from waiting for answers via email or on the phone.

Online rating company STELLAservice recently conducted research on the Web's top 100 retailers through more than 1,200 calls, emails, and "mystery shopping" interactions.

For the phone channel, SierraTradingPost answered the phone the quickest, taking only six seconds to answer. OfficeDepot topped the email list by averaging 48 minutes to respond to email questions. Here are the top 10 for each channel.

Of the top 100 retailers, the 10 companies with the shortest average call hold times are:

  1. SierraTradingPost.com (6 seconds)
  2. YOOX.com (11 seconds)
  3. DisneyStore.com (12 seconds)
  4. UrbanOutfitters.com (17 seconds)
  5. Grainger.com (21 seconds)
  6. Nordstrom.com (21 seconds)
  7. Fingerhut.com (23 seconds)
  8. MarketAmerica (25 seconds)
  9. LLBean.com (25 seconds)
  10. Cabelas.com (27 seconds)

The 10 companies with the quickest average email response times are (hh:mm:ss):

  1. OfficeDepot.com (48 minutes)
  2. MusiciansFriend.com (58 minutes, 40 seconds)
  3. Diapers.com (01:23:48)
  4. DisneyStore.com (01:47:40)
  5. Abercrombie.com (01:50:45)
  6. USAutoParts.net (03:38:00)
  7. Gilt.com (04:43:00)
  8. PCMall.com (04:49:48)
  9. Kohls.com (05:02.00)
  10. Coldwatercreek.com (05:06:10)

Only one company, DisneyStore.com, ranked among the top ten for both speediest email support (01:47:40) and phone support (12 seconds).

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Barnes & Noble and Crate & Barrel have a lot of work to do to improve the speediness of their service. BarnesandNoble.com had the longest average call hold time (8 minutes 3 seconds), while CrateandBarrel.com took an average of 88 hours to respond to customer emails. Most customers will not put up with having to wait this long to speak to interact with a representative.

But, keep in mind that speed of service does not mean the actual interaction is helpful. Once the call or email has been received, customers are more interested in having their issues resolved rather than a quick response.

Of these companies, only Kohl's and Barnes & Noble, the worst in terms of time to answer, are also listed on Forrester's 2011 Customer Experience Index. It shows that many variables contribute to a good customer experience, with speed of service being only one factor.

The customer service channel is one of the most critical interaction points a brand can have with a customer. "We look at every call as an opportunity to build the brand, be neutral to the brand, or destroy the brand," said Chris Kenny of ING Direct USA at last week's Call Center Week conference. Many companies can lose sight of this big picture, however, and get caught in focusing on internal operations that may undermine the customer experience.

Companies need to consider the customer point of view at every point in their interaction, from how long it takes to answer a call to how quickly an issue is resolved.

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