Customer service survey says...

WorldCom/Modalis report: Help Me Please

Consumers are increasingly using the Internet for contacting government agencies and companies, but many are dissatisfied and want online services to be better integrated with traditional forms of communication, according to a national survey.

The survey, "Help Me Please! The Changing Face of Customer Service in the Digital Age," was released Aug. 22 and found that 98 percent of respondents had used some form of online customer service. But it further indicated that online resources — including e-mail and self-service Web sites — still lagged behind traditional in-person and telephone methods in terms of satisfaction.

The survey was conducted by Modalis Research Technologies Inc. and was commissioned by WorldCom Inc.

"People want to have it all," said Donna Victoria, vice president of accounts at Modalis. "They want a variety of ways to communicate with a company or government agency."

Of the 1,000 people surveyed, about 18 percent reported a customer service experience with a government agency. Among the results:

* 51 percent of respondents find it "very important" to be able to use automated online self-service systems when dealing with a government agency.

* 85 percent agree that the security of their personal information is"very important" when dealing with a government agency.

* More than 83 percent said that it was important that customer service was available when they needed it when dealing with a government agency.

"It's not like a company where if you're not satisfied, you can take your business elsewhere," Victoria said. "You can't go to another government."

Some other highlights of the survey include:

* 49 percent of online consumers have been very satisfied with their recent in-person contacts at a retail site; 46 percent were very satisfied with their telephone contacts, and 43 percent were very satisfied with response to their e-mail contacts. But only 34 percent were very satisfied with self-service(FAQ) areas of Web sites.

* Half of all consumers strongly agree that if they can get the same answers in the same amount of time, they would prefer to resolve an issue with a company using the Internet, rather than the telephone. 45 percent strongly agree that the company Web site is the first place they go "when they need help quickly."

* Online chat with a customer service representative, while not widely experienced by consumers (12 percent), has been a very satisfying experience for 62 percent of those who have tried it. Victoria said even though a small number of respondents used online chat, its high satisfaction rate is something that government agencies should consider adding to future customer service efforts.

Modalis officials said all respondents passed a screening procedure to ensure that they had had at least one customer service experience in the six months preceding the survey, which was conducted from April 27 tom ay 4.

In related news, WorldCom on Aug. 22 announced the availability of its web Center, an Internet-based customer service solution. A hosted service,Web Center combines the functions of traditional call centers with online communications features to address increased customer service demands. The public sector is a target market for the product, according to a Worldcom spokeswoman.

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