The results of a new consumer survey auditing customer service experience and purchase behavior should be of interest to small business owners operating out of traditional retail spaces. Although the study, conducted by ClickFox, dealt specifically with holiday buying plans, the findings may have year-round ramifications as well.
The 2012 Holiday Customer Service Audit reveals a correlation between consumers favoring online customer service and identifying negative experiences with in-store and call center service representatives. Respondents chose e-commerce over bricks-and-mortar merchants because they believe they receive superior customer service online. In fact, they identified Amazon and Best Buy as the companies providing the best customer experience during the holiday season.
“Consumers have become adept at identifying the easiest customer service resolution,” says ClickFox CEO Marco Pacelli in a company statement. “The findings of our research should serve as a wake-up call for those in the retail industry: if they continue to fail to provide stellar in-store customer service, they risk losing customers to online competitors. As we’ve seen with analysis of more than 12 billion customer touch points annually, when retailers fail to resolve customer service inquiries at the first point of service, companies can expect increased service overhead and decreased customer loyalty as consumers are forced to utilize multiple service channels to resolve their issues.”
The adoption of e-commerce by consumers remains strong, with 62 percent of respondents indicating that they planned to do most of their holiday shopping online. Seventy-eight percent of them reported positive service experiences when they shop online. The self-service options offered by virtual storefronts were also identified as the most influential component of customer purchasing for 23 percent of consumers polled.
Respondents said customer service via phone was the worst service touch point, with 50 percent of them reporting negative experiences. Forty-one percent chose sales floor representatives as the greatest point of negative customer service experience during the holidays behind, putting it in second place. Additionally, checkout representatives and peer influences were found to be the least effective for holiday purchases, with consumers rating their respective influences at 37 percent and 25 percent.
When asked about how they would attempt to resolve a negative customer service experience, 52 percent of respondents said they would first speak to a manager in person, and one-third indicated they would call a customer service hotline as the next step. And four out of ten admitted they would try to resolve their customer service issues with a live contact before engaging brands via social media as a final step towards resolution.
Other factors also influence consumers’ store selection, including price. More than half of those surveyed (57 percent) identified best prices and deals as the greatest factors they considered when selecting a store to purchase holiday gifts, placing monetary considerations ahead of customer service experience, which was chosen by 32 percent. Other factors included the ease of returning unwanted merchandise (chosen by 67 percent) and advertising, the top choice of one-quarter of consumers polled.
The takeaway message for merchants who primarily deal with customers on a face-to-face basis is to really step up their customer service efforts or risk losing sales to their online counterparts. Providing a unique shopping experience that relies heavily on the personal touch has long been a characteristic of successful small businesses, and one that needs to be emphasized even more as consumers search for the ultimate in price and service when making a purchase.