Customer Service: The New Differentiator For CE Retail

I probably look at my iPhone 50 times a day to check my email. Rarely do I actually use it to make a phone call.
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I probably look at my iPhone 50 times a day to check my email. Rarely do I actually use it to make a phone call.

But, interestingly, if I have a question for Apple, email is not an option. The company making the most sought-after electronics in the industry does not offer electronic mail as a customer service channel.

And, if you look across the electronics industry, there’s no template for customer service.

Sure, there are fantastic stories of Steve Jobs replying to service questions after a customer tracked down his email address, but you won’t find a customer service email contact on Apple.com.

The company has simply decided, “When our customers want to contact us via email, we choose to fail.”

That’s a bold decision. But not necessarily wrong.

Apple customer service via phone is consistently among the best in the computer and electronics industry. The company has decided that it’s better to be amazing at phone support and not offer email rather than risk being mediocre at both channels.

Meanwhile, Hewlett Packard has clearly devoted resources to its email support channel with the intention of being the best in the category. The retailer has been untouchable in terms of overall email performance, leading the computer and electronics category in Stella Monthly Benchmarks for 12 months straight.

Last holiday season, Best Buy removed the email contact from from its customer service page. The retailer told Happy Customer that it planned to place a higher priority on live chat. However, by Jan. 25, 2013, the email contact form had returned.

“While our customers find chat more convenient, we still want to provide that email option,” Best Buy spokesperson Erika Webb said at the time. “There were still people who wanted to communicate through email.”

Again, there’s no template for providing customer service to consumer electronics shoppers.

Best Buy said that email was not the best channel for customers looking for fast answers or detailed technical assistance, which is why they found more value in live chat and phone. Looking at hundreds of interactions conducted this year between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31, Best Buy connected customers to a live agent via chat in 17 seconds on average, compared to a 13 hour response time for emails during the same period.

It’s clear that live chat is the better channel for Best Buy, so it’s understandable that they would want to kill email. Best Buy chose to cater to the customer, whereas Apple is willing to be unapologetically bad at a particular service channel to focus on delivering a fantastic experience via another.

But you have to wonder if ultimately the company that closes the sale is the one that has every channel covered. For instance, you can buy Apple or HP products at Best Buy – does breadth of service ultimately differentiate them in a way that earns the conversion?

Best Buy’s CEO has already said that “price is off the table,” and they intend to match any competitor. So, it will be interesting to see service continue to gain a larger share of the spotlight.

Jordy Leiser is CEO of StellaService, a company that independently monitors and rates the customer service and fulfillment performance of retailers.

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