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Web operations are lousy at customer service, according to a new report by Jupiter Communications. Of the top-ranked Web sites, 42 per cent took longer than five days to reply to customers' emails, or they never replied at all, or weren't accessible via email. Jupiter says this means they're missing opportunities, discouraging brand loyalty and opting out of user-initiated one-to-one relationships (NB we're sure Jupiter isn't really recommending we date our readers). The report splits a total of 125 sites into five categories: content, consumer brands, travel, retail and financial services. Retail sites performed best, with 54 per cent responding in less than one day, but 19 per cent of travel sites took at least three days to respond. "This effort illustrates that many Web sites have been unable or unprepared to respond to the flood of user questions that come in via e-mail from their sites," says Ken Allard, group director of Jupiter's Site Operations Strategies. "Answering thousands of questions per month is an enormous challenge for sites offering complex products and services, especially if they never had a traditional call centre. Yet, companies that delay responses to user questions instantly lose a significant degree of credibility and user loyalty, and not responding perpetuates the consumer notion that using the Web site is not a reliable method of doing business with that company." ® Click for more stories

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