Among E-Retailers, Who’s Got the Speediest Service? Who’s Got the Slowest?

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Given the troubled state of the brick-and-mortar bookstore business, you’d think that Barnes & Noble would be focusing on ramping up its e-retail customer service. But in a new study, the bookstore chain had the longest average call hold time (8 minutes, 3 seconds) of the top 100 e-retailers. You might not be able to finish a book in that time period, but you certainly could download one. Quite a few, actually.

Customers can expect much speedier service from the likes of outdoors apparel discounter Sierra Trading Post, Office Depot, and Disney Store. [time-link title="(Read about Customer Service Hell.)" url=http://moneyland.time.com/2011/06/07/customer-service-hell/]

Those are some of the findings from a new study conducted by STELLAService, a new company that rates online retailers for customer service.

According to the study, the ten companies with the shortest average hold times are:

Sierra Trading Post (6 seconds)
YOOX.com (11 seconds)
DisneyStore.com (12 seconds)
UrbanOutfitters.com (17 seconds)
Grainger.com (21 seconds)
Nordstrom.com (21 seconds)
Fingerhut.com (23 seconds)
MarketAmerica (25 seconds)
LLBean.com (25 seconds)
Cabelas.com (27 seconds)

The study also rounded up data for how quickly retailers responded to customer e-mail inquiries, and the fastest average response times came from:

OfficeDepot (48 minutes)
MusiciansFriend.com (58 minutes)
Diapers.com (1 hour, 23 minutes)
DisneyStore.com (1 hour, 47 minutes)
Abercrombie.com (1 hour, 50 minutes)
USAutoParts.net (3 hours, 38 minutes)
Gilt.com (4 hours, 43 minutes)
PCMall.com (4 hours, 49 minutes)
Kohls.com (5 hours, 2 minutes)
Cold Water Creek (5 hours, 6 minutes)

As for the slowest service, Barnes & Noble tended to keep callers waiting on hold the longest, as mentioned earlier. Macy’s was another large retailer with we’ll-answer-when-we-feel-like-answering customer service, finally getting to calls after customers waited on hold an average of 7 minutes, 12 seconds. (The average overall wait time to get a live human being on the line, by the way, was 1 minute, 41 seconds.)

Crate&Barrel, meanwhile, was slowest in responding to customer e-mails. A shopper had to wait an average of 88.5 hours before a Crate&Barrel rep shot an e-mail back.

How did STELLAService come up with all of these figures? It’s not like all of the retailers would openly provide this data—especially not if it painted the company in a poor light. STELLA explains its methodology:

Through 1200 calls, e-mails, and “mystery shopping” interactions, STELLAService engaged each business over multiple days and multiple times periods of the day to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity.

In other words, they gathered data by pretending to be regular old customers. But, hey, wait a sec—or actually, wait many, many minutes. By conducting the study, didn’t they occupy the time of customer service reps who might have otherwise been tending to real customers? Wouldn’t that make the wait times longer for everybody?

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