Article

For online customer care, high tech gets high marks

Jon Panker, SearchCRM.com News Editor

When it comes to delivering a good online experience, your business may want to do things the HP way. Hewlett-Packard Co. earned top marks on the latest Customer Respect Index, a measurement of how the largest 100 U.S. corporations treat their customers online.

Customer Respect Group, a Bellevue, Wash.-based research and consulting firm, puts out the annual list. Its researchers pose as customers and rate Web sites on 26 criteria, including how well they can navigate the site, how easy it is for them to find information and how clear the site is in defining the business's privacy policy.

High-tech firms outranked businesses in all other industries, although technology distribution giant Ingram Micro Inc. finished dead last. It was the only high-tech company not to reply to the researchers' online inquiry.

The best of the bunch

The following companies scored the highest on the Customer Respect Index:

1. Hewlett-Packard Co.

2. Walgreen Co.

3. Costco Wholesale Corp.

4. Intel Corp.

5. Dell Computer Corp.

Source: Customer Respect Group

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Five of the 10 businesses with the highest scores come out of high tech: HP (first), Intel Corp. (fourth), Dell Computer Corp. (fifth), IBM Corp. (seventh) and Microsoft Corp. (10th). Motorola Inc. came in 11th, Cisco Systems Inc. finished 26th and Electronic Data Systems was 28th.

"High-tech companies seem to be more aware of issues surrounding the Internet and dealing with customers online," said Thorsten Ganz, vice president of research for Customer Respect Group.

Overall, the 100 companies tested improved their online customer interaction scores slightly over last year. AT&T Corp. posted the biggest gains.

The bottom of the barrel

The following companies finished lowest on the list:

100. Ingram Micro Co.

99. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

98. Sysco Corp.

97. Northrop Grumman Corp.

96. Marathon Oil Co.

95. Phizer Inc.

Source: Customer Respect Group

What are the strong finishers doing right?

Ganz said the recipe for online customer success includes using auto-responder technology to reply to customer requests and setting opt-in policies for sharing customer information.

He said companies should rely less on "technology that might get in the way" and more on making sure business processes lead to successful online experiences. For instance, when site changes take effect, organizations need to alert employees from various departments within a company who are responsible for Web content.

Plus, businesses can't underestimate the importance of each customer interaction and using the Internet to establish relationships.

"Treat every customer like he's the only one," Ganz said. "You can't tell the difference from an inquiry whether the customer is spending $1 or $1 million."

Among the study's other findings:

--Ten percent of the companies don't post their privacy policies.

--Thirty-one percent don't respond to customer inquiries. Of those who do, 84% do so within 48 hours.

--Seventy-eight percent offer keyword search functions on their sites.

--Surprisingly, retail firms scored higher on customer privacy issues than the highly regulated financial services and insurance industries.

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