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E-Tailers need to provide good service to stay in business

December 13, 2005

Increasingly, eTailers need to continually reinvent themselves and to provide better overall customer service. If you can do it, building a better mouse trap is fine, but in the rapidly-growing field of eCommerce, customer service still has to be the number one priority.

More and more, as eCommerce businesses and eTailers wish to reduce costs by replacing people with automated applications, customers often end up being asked to do a lot more of the work in their online transactions.

Today, shoppers swipe their own credit cards and pump their own gas. They scan, pack and pay at self-service checkout counters at supermarkets and large retail stores such as Home Depot and Lowe's.

Not surprisingly, companies say self-service and automated systems helps speed up transactions and can even boost spending.

A study by IHL Consulting Group, a firm that tracks retail and retail technology trends, says that self-service shopping will account for US$161 billion in sales in 2005 and $450 billion by 2008.

Many consumers, however, have become disenchanted with do-it-yourself service and its promised benefits -- and some companies are listening to the gripes.

"We're on a cycle of focus on customer service, and industries are trying to differentiate themselves through quality of service," says Ann Thomas, a consultant at Performance Research Associates, a customer service firm in Bloomington, Minn. "That would say people are frustrated with the level of service today in many industries."

Delivery and logistics company DHL is looking to distinguish itself in its highly competitive business by courting consumers fed up with poor service.

New ads portray extreme examples of bad service to highlight its own focus on treating customers better. The theme: "Customer service is back at DHL."

In the ads by Ogilvy & Mather in New York, the Burt Bacharach hit "What the World Needs Now Is Love" plays in the background as vignettes of abominable service unfold on the screen.

The images include a gas attendant sitting inside a warm station as a woman pumps her own gas in the pouring rain, a bus driver who closes the doors and pulls away from the stop just as a rider is about to board, a waitress who nearly spills hot coffee on a diner and a woman who struggles with a big package at a home-improvement store as an associate walks past her.

The ads are a follow-up to the first big U.S. ad campaign DHL did last year. That campaign put DHL alongside top rivals UPS and FedEx in comparative ads that were meant to make shippers aware that there's another brand to consider when shipping overnight. The newest campaign attempts to tell consumers why to use DHL.

"The next big phase of the advertising work had to be about why you would choose DHL over the competition," says Karen Jones, head of DHL advertising, brand and promotions. "We really tried to vet out what makes us different."

Though UPS and FedEx are known for solid service, too, overnight-shipping expert David Blanchard says the angle could work with customers on the fringe with their existing carriers.

"DHL is going head-to-head with FedEx and UPS," says Blanchard, editor of industry publication Logistics Today. "DHL just wants to get people thinking that if they've had problems in the past, or if they think those companies are charging too much, there's an alternative."

The ads struck a chord with many consumers, according to results from Ad Track, USA Today's weekly survey. Of those familiar with the campaign, 24 percent like the ads "a lot" vs. the Ad Track average of 21 percent. Just 3 percent dislike the ads "a lot" vs. the average of 13 percent.

The ads were particularly well-liked by women: 30 percent gave it the top rating vs. 19 percent of men.

That's no surprise to Jones, who says that shipping decisions tend to be made by administrative assistants, who are often women, or by business owners, also often women.

"The fastest-growing segment of companies are women-owned businesses," she says.

Those facts have resulted in the DHL ads airing in some seemingly unlikely places, such as on the Food Network, and highly visible places, such as the new TV season premieres, Jones says.

"We definitely wanted programs where we could get the most eyeballs."

Source: eCommerce Times

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