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Round-the-clock retailers shirking customer support duties

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29th May 2014
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It seems that while retailers are more than happy to open their tills 24/7, they don’t show the same enthusiasm when it comes to extending their hours of customer support.

The demands of the modern consumer are driving the development of multichannel retail, meaning customers can now shop with many brands round the clock, courtesy of online platforms. However, the results of Retail Assist’s recent survey has shown that when it comes to the support side of things, just one in ten of the UK’s top 50 retailers keep their virtual doors open 24/7. These companies were named as Amazon, Coast, Karen Millen, Next, Oasis and Paperchase.

Along with traditional customer support channels, Retail Assist also investigated how these 50 UK brands approach social customer service. In terms of presence, it found every single one to have a Facebook profile, 95% to be using Twitter and a quarter to have set up a dedicated Twitter handle purely for customer service issues. However, the support offered through these channels was largely limited in terms of operational hours.

However, even when a brand's lights are on, there's not always someone at home. Retail Assist tested brands’ customer service response rates on social media by posting a straight-forward question on each retailer’s Facebook page. The average response time was a sluggish four hours, but what's really worrying is that five out of the 50 retailers didn't respond to the question at all. At the other end of the scale, Aldi, Boots and Waterstones came up trumps, answering the query within five minutes. 

Overall, out of the 168 hours in the week that consumers can shop with a retailer they only have access to customer support for 62 of them. That’s little more than a third of a customer’s potential shopping hours.

Alan Morris is the executive chairman of Retail Assist. He notes how some retailers are shirking their customer service duties: “This research shows that retailers could be under utilising the technology that is out there to help them engage with customers and deliver great customer service. Social media is making retailers more accessible than ever and consumers expect to be able to engage with retailers whenever and wherever they want. Retailers have the responsibility of providing quality and timely customer service – consumers can shop 24/7, therefore they expect retailers to be available 24/7 too.”

He continues: “When consumers use social media to flag up customer service problems they are broadcasting problems to their own peers, which can damage retailers’ reputations. The research found that Amazon, Argos, Boots, Carphone Warehouse, Homebase, John Lewis, Next, New Look, Oasis, River Island and Sports Direct have all established a separate Twitter customer service channel which helps point customer problems away from the brand’s main social media channel.  However, in general it seems that many retailers could be using technology more effectively to ensure that their 24/7 omnichannel retail operations are reflected in their social media and customer services outlets.”

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