WESTPORT, Conn.—New opportunities seem to spring up almost daily on the Internet, from Web sites that link customers to auto service providers all the way to portals providing everything from tires to dipsticks.
As automotive companies try to leapfrog each other to set up so-called "e-businesses," a new survey shows that, frankly, Internet customer loyalty is low.
Digital Idea, a Westport Internet consulting firm, recently surveyed 10,000 online consumers. The results—for businesses in general and the automotive industry in particular—are not encouraging.
"We collected data on 346 e-businesses across seven industry categories," said the company's president, Peter Mackey. "What we found is that—across the board—loyalty ratings are low, 15 percent or less."
A major reason for the low loyalty ratings, Mr. Mackey said, is an inability to solve consumer-reported problems. These problems range from slow navigation of a company's Web site, to a lack of product information, to the inability to buy a desired product or service.
Among the seven industry categories studied, automotive was last in satisfactorily solving customer complaints, with only 10 percent of those surveyed saying their problems were solved to their satisfaction. The personal computer/software category, in contrast, satisfactorily solved complaints at a 23-percent rate, the highest among the industries studied.
Why's automotive in basement?
"Customers expect to be able to do online anything that they can do offline," Mr. Mackey said. "They want one-stop shopping. They want to research their new vehicle, place an order for it, finance it and have it delivered. Basically, they just want to go to a dealership for the test drive."
He said that auto-buying customers also want to obtain the value of their current vehicle—whether for a trade-in or outright sale.
The study showed that consumers who had not experienced problems had a loyalty rating of 19 percent—a little above the 15 percent norm. More interesting, Mr. Mackey noted, is that the loyalty rating among customers who had experienced problems but were satisfied with the way the problems were handled was 21 percent—six points above the category norm.
"Customers don't expect a flawless experience," he said. "Rather, they want any issue resolved correctly, the first time." He added that the immediacy of the Internet also creates an atmosphere where customers expect their questions to be answered immediately.
"How businesses deal with problems has a huge impact on customer loyalty," Mr. Mackey said.
"In the online world, much needs to be done to improve the business response when problems inevitably arise."