Customer Respect Group
recently released its Spring 2004 Computer Products & Services industry report, scoring companies on how they treat their online customers. While Apple received good marks for the simplicity of its site, its overall score still came in below the average score of 6.8 with a 6.6 out of ten. To understand how the Customer Respect Index numbers were tallied and what they mean, MacCentral spoke with Customer Respect Group President Roger Fairchild.
“We have done some analysis over the years to identify over 90 attributes that constitute a positive customer experience when visiting a Web site,” said Fairchild. The Customer Respect Group’s own research analysts then review sites and determine how closely the sites match the Customer Respect Group’s own guidelines.
The 90 different attributes Fairchild mentioned are grouped into six main elements: Privacy, or the treatment of personal data; Transparency, or how clearly the company tells its customers how personal data will be used; Principles, or how well-protected the personal data is and how flexible the company is in providing its customers with options about how their data will be used; Responsiveness, or how quickly companies responded to queries; Simplicity — to wit, how easy the Web site is to navigate; and Attitude, which has to do with the tone of communication and the effectiveness of customer service presented on the Web site.
How Apple ranked
The Spring 2004 study lists 61 Fortune 1000 firms that focus specifically on computer products and services. At the top, with a rating of 9.5, was Hewlett-Packard Co., followed by Science Applications International Corp. (tying with 9.5), IBM Corp. (9.0) and Xerox Corp. (9.0). Also ranked higher than Apple (6.6) were companies like Microsoft Corp. (8.2), Dell Computer Corp. (7.9) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (7.0). Apple beat out Silicon Graphics Inc. (5.4) and Gateway Inc. (5.3). Brightpoint Inc. trailed everyone on the list with a 2.6.
As the Customer Respect Group sells its findings to subscribers, Fairchild would not share the specific numbers that Apple or other companies scored outside of the overall Customer Respect Index ranking. He offered some other details, however.
“Within Apple’s scoring, it looks like they had a good, simple site. They scored well in Simplicity and Transparency, for example. But Apple also tended to score low in Responsiveness and Attitude, and they scored lower in the area of Principles,” Fairchild told MacCentral.
What the numbers mean
The last time the Customer Respect Group did this report, Apple’s Customer Respect Index was 6.5, so the company has improved slightly — but the average was lower as well, at 6.6. Fairchild said that comparing the last report to this one has only limited value, since the number of attributes used to compare each Web site has doubled. Of more interest to prospective subscribers is how well their site ranks against their competitors, he added.
The Spring 2004 report was generated by a pair of research analysts working for the Customer Respect Group. The two analysts double-checked each other’s work and did most of their research in March, 2004. The intent of the research, said Fairchild, is not to criticize or single out companies for having bad Web sites, but to offer companies a basis for comparison of how effectively they treat their Web customers compared to their competitors. It’s big business, he said.
“Back in 1999 we projected that e-commerce was going to grow to a $1+ trillion industry by 2004. No one expect that was achieved but studies show that number reaching $2.4 trillion this year,” said Fairchild.
“Ten point six percent of all transactions in the United States are initiated with a visit to a Web site,” said Fairchild. Consumers have made the Web a key resource when comparison-shopping for big-ticket items like cars and computers, he said, but that 10.6 percent represents all transactions, not just the big ones. Twenty percent of the time, online visitors leave a Web site because of the factors that the Customer Respect Group has identified in its reports, Fairchild explained.
The Customer Respect Group’s research also suggests that Internet users are less brand-loyal than other consumers; in fact, they’re more likely to consider brands recommended by friends or colleagues — a phenomenon the company has coined the phrase “Word of Mouse.” A customer who’s put off by a dissatisfying Web site experience is less likely to recommend the company to other users, which can have a ripple effect.