European E-tail Customer Service Lagging Badly

According to a new report from Jupiter Communications, European e-tailers will rack up online sales of about 790 million Euros ($797 million US$) this season, despite the fact that their Web sites are woefully lacking in customer service.

Jupiter’s survey discovered that a dismal 65 percent of European sites did not respond to e-mail queries within 48 hours, the minimum standard of acceptable customer service. This gap is unfortunate, the study points out, because it will make customer relationships beyond the holiday shopping season difficult to secure and maintain.

Critical Issue

“There are now more Web merchants (European) selling products to new online shoppers,” explained Nick Jones, an analyst with Jupiter’s European Internet Strategies. “However, the relationship between the two should be for life, not just for Christmas. Poor customer service can kill this relationship. To survive, merchants must use customer service as a tool within their overall customer retention strategy.”

Poor customer service will become even more of an issue when the Internet reaches critical mass over the coming years. The fact of the matter is that Jupiter’s study predicts that as much as 10.6 percent of the European population will be shopping online by 2003, generating 18 billion Euros in sales ($18.16 billion US$). Current customer service infrastructure cannot possibly handle this sudden surge, the study concludes.

Newbies Create Even More Demand

Additionally, Jupiter warns that as more European newbies log on to the Internet, the number of customer inquires will skyrocket.

In order to be ready for the coming onslaught, Jupiter strongly urges European e-tailers to invest heavily in a multi-channel, automated customer service strategy — reserving human interaction only for high-value customers.

“Efficient customer service is not only one of the strongest commercial drivers in the young yet competitive European Internet market,” said Jones, “but it is also the most effective way to differentiate a site from that of its competitors.”

On Heels Of European Meeting

This study comes only weeks after French and Swedish Internet executives met to focus upon cooperation between the two countries’ technology firms, and ending up launching a full-board complaint session about the U.S. domination of e-commerce.

The meeting in Paris was indicative of the outrage that some European powers feel toward U.S. success in leveraging the Internet.

According to published reports, Jonas Birgersson, the CEO of a Swedish consulting firm, urged his compatriots to “kick ass on the Internet and challenge Americans.” He added that, “If they win, it won’t be a question of free trade. It will be a question of slavery.”

Many at the conference went so far as to lament that just as Europeans once conquered the Western hemisphere with force, the Americans are now doing the same thing via the Internet.

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