Research released today reveals 53% of British online adults say that they are now conducting more transactions online than they did in the past due to the current economic climate, with the ability to compare products and prices cited by 74% of these as the main reason. However, the 2009 Survey of Online Consumer Behaviour, conducted by Harris Interactive® and commissioned by Tealeaf®, (available to download from http://www.tealeaf.com/harris-uk), finds businesses are failing to fully capitalise on this, with 77% of online adults who have conducted an online transaction in the past year saying they have experienced problems when doing so. 46% of these advised they would abandon the transaction as a result, with 40% saying they would switch to an online or offline competitor. In the British retail sector alone, a potential £11.2bn of revenue could be affected by website issues .

Consumers, empowered by social media, increasingly likely to share experiences and opinions about companies, rather than with them

The survey results show that online adults are increasingly turning to social media to broadcast their online experiences to others, rather than directly with companies. 13% of online adults who encountered problems conducting online transactions said they shared those experiences on a blog or social networking site, nearly twice as many as in 2008 (8%). However, direct communication with a company declined, with 25% of online adults who experience problems conducting online transactions then posting a complaint on a company website (down from 29% in 2008) and 35% of all British online adults contacting a company’s call centre after encountering problems using the website in 2009 (down from 42% in 2008).

This shift in consumer behaviour extends the business impact of customer experience issues beyond any single transaction to an overall long-lasting negative impact on brand reputation, with 74% of online adults saying negative comments they read online influence their likelihood to do business with a company. Further, the survey reveals that social networking sites can be highly influential, with 51% of online adults saying social media content had directly influenced how they conduct online transactions and 75% of those saying it had affected their choice of vendor.

But it’s not all bad news, as interestingly, the survey also found that online adults whose transactions have been influenced by social media content actually respond to positive reviews (35%) more so than negative ones (26%), so good online transaction experiences are amplified online just as much, if not more, than bad.

Businesses still ill-equipped to deal with web enquiries

The percentage of consumers who have experienced problems (77%) when conducting online transactions has actually improved compared to the last two years (89% in 2008 and 86% in 2007), with many companies realising the benefits of becoming more ‘customer-centric’ and investing in usability or customer experience management solutions.

But customer service teams are still unable to efficiently deal with website enquiries: 51% of British adults who contacted a call centre after encountering a website problem were unable to have their issue resolved, and 77% reported that the agent was not knowledgeable about the website or about their particular online problem.

“Over the past few years, companies have increasingly focused on the online customer experience as the impact of that experience on their business results has become apparent,” said Rebecca Ward, CEO of Tealeaf. “The focus on the online customer experience accelerated in 2009 as the economy drove more transactions online and the web became an increasingly critical channel for organisations.”

A recent Forrester Research, Inc. report, “Best Practices: Five Strategies For Customer Service Social Media Excellence,” (August 2009) stated that “when companies blatantly ignore product or service issues, customers now can use the Internet as a medium to broadcast, very publicly, their frustration to millions. This has switched the balance of power from corporations to customers…The risk of corporate reputations being ruined by poor customer service interactions has greatly increased as consumers have gained the ability to share their opinions directly with each other. “

As the web channel matures, we are focusing more on making sure that the experience our online visitors receive is equal to what they would expect on any other channel. As the Tealeaf survey shows, this is fundamental to protecting our brand identity and maintaining good customer relationships,” said Alasdair Wright, Director of Online and Interactive Channels at BSkyB.

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