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Despite the fact that 76% of UK organisations run a Twitter account, only 39% of them are able to answer customer service questions asked directly through the channel.

It seems that although the move to social has generally seen brands able to communicate in a more personalised and timely manner with followers, they are still struggling to provide adequate customer service through Twitter.

These findings come from the recently released Eptica Multichannel Customer Experience Study which evaluated 100 UK companies on their ability to provide answers to 10 routine questions via the web, as well as their speed and accuracy when responding to email, Twitter and via the website.

The results are patchy at best...


When companies do respond to customer questions on Twitter, the response time is generally quicker than other channels. The average reply came around 8 hours and 37 minutes later. One eager company even replied in just four minutes.

It’s unfortunate however that although many companies are keen to establish a presence on Twitter, they are failing to engage with customers.

Then again, according to a report last year, just 11% of people expect to receive customer service via social media. Perhaps some companies don’t feel it’s mature enough yet to be recognised as an effective means of communication. These will likely be the same companies using Twitter as a one-way pipeline and are therefore not achieving the benefits that true engagement with an audience can bring.

Social media should, in theory, be a highly effective way of getting a response from a brand, due to the fact that it’s a public forum. Businesses should be more wary of leaving complaints unanswered. After all, according to another recent survey, 72% of customers expect complaints on Twitter to be answered in one hour

If companies don’t respond within the one hour time frame, 38% of people feel more negatively towards the brand, and an impressively galvanised 60% will take action against the brand using social media.

Traditionally, people have been reluctant to follow standard complaints procedures; the overlong, premium priced phonecall to customer support where you’re passed from department to department; the furious letter that takes weeks to receive a response from, by which time you’ve probably calmed down or the problem’s long passed.

Not anymore, not in these days of transparent social media, where a Twitter storm can erupt within hours of a sole disgruntled tweet and PR meltdowns are a regular consequence. We like being an angry mob. It’s how we get things done and the more visible the better.


Email leads the way in terms of effective customer service, with 41% of questions being successfully answered via this more traditional route.

However email response times are slowing down. Since the last survey was carried out last year, 8 out of 10 sectors were slower responding to email. On average it took 61 hours and 39 minutes to get a response via email. That’s nearly three whole days.

Even worse still is how many more companies have removed options for non-customers to contact them since last year. Nearly a third (29%) of companies were uncontactable by email, compared to just 13% in 2011.

Website contact

Companies were able to answer an average of 63% of questions asked via their own websites. An improvement up from 53% last year. Much of this improvement is down to an increased use of web self-service software which lets visitors find their own answers to their queries. Over half (53%) of companies now use this as a solution.

Fashion retailers are the best at responding to customers via this method. 79% of questions asked on their websites were successfully answered. Entertainment and electronics retailers were next but much further below, averaging 52%.

There is a huge disparity in the difference between companies from the same sector within this channel. One entertainment retailer scored 100%, yet two competitors achieved just 20%.

Overall nearly a third of companies (32%) failed to answer more than half of the 10 basic questions they were asked online, yet 22% scored eight or more. 

In another recent survey, idealo discovered that just 14% of UK online retailers offer live chat as customer service channel. In the article 'Why do online retailers need live chat?' I discuss how this service can provide a quick and efficient support for customers and achieves the highest satisfaction levels.

Edigital’s recent benchmark saw customer satisfaction with live chat rise to 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone.

Perhaps it’s time that more ecommerce companies began integrating live chat into the customer service mix.


Looking at consistency across all the channels that any given brand uses for customer interaction has also thrown up some scattershot results.

Just 12% of companies gave a consistent response to the same question asked through email, Twitter and web chat. Several directly contradicted themselves on different channels, with one company giving three completely different answers on email, Twitter and web chat. This is clearly a training issue and speaks to greater problems within a company. 

Many companies seem to devote a lot of effort to one channel and leave others lacking. Electronics manufacturers answered an average of 70% of questions asked on the web, but just 30% of emails or tweets.  

In contrast, electronics manufacturers answered an average of 70% of questions asked on the web, but just 30% of emails or tweets.

Most shockingly of all, 5% of companies provided absolutely no way of contacting them online whatsoever, forcing customers to instead pick up the phone and call them. 

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 31 March, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (3)



Interesting to see the differences in the speed of response and the expectations of the customers. We are providing more information to customers and at repeat intervals in bite sized chunks which guides them through the buying process. That has reduced the requests for information.
Interesting that email is specific to customers and Twitter we reach a wider stakeholder group which is keen to engage on a different level.
The Twitter followers are more of our peers and suppliers, industry professionals and media.
Be interesting to hear if other business have different audiences in their social media channels.

over 2 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Group Analytics & Digital Insight at Thomas Cook Group AirlinesEnterprise

Really interesting article. With companies outsourcing more and more of their customer services work it's a definite concern as customers expect some level of service from companies and the hope would be that as a customer or user, you could receive this service through the channel that suits you best be that phone, email, live chat, social media or even offline mediums such as in person.

Unfortunately, particularly in our industry this seems to be the case less and less - As a starter for ten, prizes to anyone who can find a non premium rate telephone number on the Easyjet or Ryanair websites!

over 2 years ago



Interesting data -- too bad there was no info on Facebook. It would also have been interesting to see information on the use of support communities or help desk/tickets on the numbers.

over 2 years ago

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