UK firms falling short with customer service emails

Added: Mar 20, 2008

Websites that are unable to answer basic customer service questions and companies that take more than 100 hours to reply to email are forcing UK consumers to pick up the phone if they want fast customer service.

These are the findings of the latest annual multi-channel customer service analysis of 100 leading websites by eService provider Transversal (

Transversal’s third annual research survey aimed to measure customer service by searching for answers to common, sector specific questions across multiple channels.

It asked ten questions on each organisation’s website, as well as sent an email and phoned the contact centre of 100 major UK companies in the banking, telecoms, insurance, travel, consumer electronics, grocery retail, fashion retail, CD/DVD retail, consumer electronics retail and utilities sectors.

The 2007 results showed patchy improvements on the web from 2005 and 2006. However websites could only provide answers for 50 per cent of questions asked online, while it took an average of 46 hours to respond to email (up from 33 hours in 2006), forcing consumers to use other communication channels.

In contrast the survey found that 42 per cent of calls to contact centres were answered within a minute with 67 per cent answered within 3 minutes, providing faster answers to increasingly impatient consumers.

Telecoms, insurance, travel, consumer electronics, grocers and utilities were rated the worst for answering online queries, all unable to answer 60 per cent of online consumer queries. 70 per cent of companies answered four or less of ten straightforward, commonly-asked questions.

Even the fashion sector, which came top failed to answer 30 per cent of questions asked via the web, and scored worst for email response, taking 116 hours to answer on average. Ironically, given the fast pace of this sector, this is probably sufficient time to design, manufacture and ship new clothes to a High Street shop.

Organisations have invested heavily in the web channel over the past five years, but Transversal’s research found that this has not kept pace with growing user numbers and desire for fast answers.

Complex and confusing websites with poor or non-existent search facilities are leading to customers having to call or email contact centres for information.

This poor online and email customer service combined with the improvements in the telephone channel mean that for those wanting answers quickly the phone is the fastest route, despite the web supposing to instantly gratify our need for information, 24 x 7. Organisations could be forced to grow their contact centres exponentially unless web self-service systems are introduced to provide better information and soak up routine calls and emails.

“Despite the enormous growth in the online channel, across all sectors, our research shows that consumers are still suffering from substandard online service”, said Davin Yap, CEO, Transversal. “While we’ve seen marginal improvements over the three years that we have carried out this analysis a lack of a cohesive multi-channel strategy means in the majority of cases it is quicker to call than visit a company’s website. With the massive investment made in the online channel and its ability to offer unparalleled tailoring and personalisation UK organisations need to start giving the answers online.”

As part of the research Transversal analysed if organisations used customer questions to provide tailored, additional information promoting related products or special offers. Only 41 out of 1,000 web interactions (4.1 per cent) were able to supply this information, cutting off a valuable channel for increasing sales and customer satisfaction.

As part of the research Transversal carried out an exhaustive sector analysis, as detailed below.

Retail (Fashion, Grocery, Electronics, CD/Book)

Ecommerce is central to the success or failure of retailers in 2007, yet electronics retailers could only answer an average of five out of ten questions online, while fashion companies – the best performing in the retail sector – could only answer seven. Retailers have also proved to be painfully slow at responding to customer email enquiries, with fashion companies taking an average of almost five days to respond to questions.

With the exception of grocery companies, retail firms have were able to answer more questions online in 2007 compared with 2006. However, both grocery and electronic retailers are far less likely to respond to email enquires correctly now than in 2006, with average correct responses dropping from 80 per cent to 55 per cent, and 90 per cent to 55 per cent respectively.


As UK consumers have become more web savvy, customers are increasingly looking to manage their utility bills online. However, the research shows that utility companies have not improved the help and customer service content of their websites from 2006 and are still only able to answer four out of the ten questions online.

Although utility companies have managed to cut the average response time to an email from 102 hours to 53 hours in the last year, only 25 per cent of companies responded to the enquiry with the correct information. This will not inspire confidence in potential customers looking to switch suppliers.


British banks’ online customer service is in decline. Although the banks have marginally improved their ability to answer basic enquires online, on average, the sector could still only provide responses for a woeful 50 per cent of the questions asked via their websites. This improvement has been undermined by an annual decline in the banks’ ability to provide the correct information to customer enquiries and by the steadily increasing time it is taking banks to respond to customers’ emails.

In 2005, 60 per cent of companies were able to respond to email enquiries with the correct information, in 2006 that figure had dropped to 40 per cent, and in 2007 it has been reduced further to 30 per cent – exactly half the number of three years ago. The average response times has increased from 17 hours in 2005 to 30 hours in 2007.


Transversal’s annual research found that the insurance industry is one of the most dependent upon online customer service, as its call centres were closed to customers in the evenings. However, the companies’ websites could only provide the answers to 40 per cent of the basic questions asked. Even more alarming was the fact that only 30 per cent of the companies were able to respond to email enquiries with the correct information.

The average response time to customer emails was 13 hours, and although this is one hour longer than the 2006 response time, it was the second quickest of all the sectors surveyed. Yet, if insurance companies are to continue driving customers to their websites, they must improve their online customer service particularly when there is no other contact channel available in the evenings for information.


Telecoms companies’ reputation for bad customer service looks set to continue. The sector had the lowest number of companies responding to email enquiries with the correct information – a shocking 25 per cent. The amount of firms responding with the correct information to email enquiries has dropped over three years from 70 per cent in 2005.

Although the average number of basic questions that can be answered via the companies’ websites has increased to 40 per cent, overall, telecoms providers have demonstrated a complete lack of innovation and desire to improve service for their customers.

Consumer Electronics

With the web central to research and purchase of consumer electronics, availability of information and strong customer service is of paramount importance. However frustration looks set to continue for the customers of consumer electronics companies, as they are let down by inadequate information and poor customer service online. The research found that nearly two thirds of routine customer service and product questions are not being answered by the industry’s leading websites.

Customers that email consumer electronics companies for information risk waiting an average of 36 hours for a response, and with an all time low of only 50 per cent of companies able to respond with the correct information, consumer electronics businesses are severely jeopardising repeat custom with poor online customer service.


Travel websites have provided the worst online customer service for the past two years. 2007 has seen significant improvement in travel websites’ ability to respond to holidaymakers’ basic questions, but the majority – 60 per cent – still remain unanswered.

For customers with no other option but to send an email for information, it took an average of 58 hours to get a response and only 40 per cent of companies were able to respond with the correct information. Travel companies wanting to promote last minute deals look set to be held back by the lack of basic information on their websites and by poor response times to customer enquiries.