10 Companies that Don't Keep You Waiting on Hold Forever

Last Updated Jun 14, 2011 8:21 AM EDT

Nothing says, "We care" quite like picking up the phone on the first ring or answering an email quickly. And the fastest online businesses in America are an apparel store and an office supply retailer, according to a new survey.

Cheyenne, Wyo.-based clothing store SierraTradingPost.com had the shortest "hold" time, taking just six seconds to pick up the phone. OfficeDepot.com won in the email category, with a response time of 48 minutes.

The findings are part of a survey by STELLAService, which tested the top 100 online retailers.

Only one company, DisneyStore.com, made both top 10 lists. Its operators answered the phone within 12 seconds, on average. Its email response times averaged one hour and 47 minutes.

"We thought there would be more overlap in the companies that provide speedy phone support and speedy email support," Jordy Leiser, STELLAService's chief executive, told me.

Good customer service means paying attention to both phone and online support â€" even if you're an online business, he added.

"Since the phone is still the number-one way shoppers want to connect with companies -- and email is number two -- the businesses that are truly committed to providing exceptional service put significant resources behind being there for the consumer, both on the phone and via email," Leiser says. "In the world of online shopping, you can browse and purchase any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It only makes sense that someone is there to help you if and when you need it."

Of the top 100 retailers, the ten companies with the shortest average call hold times are:

1. SierraTradingPost.com (6 seconds)
2. YOOX.com (11 seconds)
3. DisneyStore.com (12 seconds)
4. UrbanOutfitters.com (17 seconds)
5. Grainger.com (21 seconds)
6. Nordstrom.com (21 seconds)
7. Fingerhut.com (23 seconds)
8. MarketAmerica (25 seconds)
9. LLBean.com (25 seconds)
10. Cabelas.com (27 seconds)

The ten companies with the quickest average email response times are:

1. OfficeDepot.com (48 minutes)
2. MusiciansFriend.com (58 minutes, 40 seconds)
3. Diapers.com (01:23:48)
4. DisneyStore.com (01:47:40)
5. Abercrombie.com (01:50:45)
6. USAutoParts.net (03:38:00)
7. Gilt.com (04:43:00)
8. PCMall.com (04:49:48)
9. Kohls.com (05:02.00)
10. Coldwatercreek.com (05:06:10)

What to make of these lists?

Leiser told me that companies that have long-held reputations for great customer service, such as Nordstrom and LLBean, have found their way to the top.

Among industries, the automotive parts and accessories category averaged the fastest email response time (3 hours 38 minutes) while the specialty non-apparel and office Supplies categories had the quickest phone support. Both categories averaged hold times of approximately one minute.

There's another side to this survey, of course. I'll explore the least responsive online businesses tomorrow.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He also covers customer service for the Mint.com blog. You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
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Photo: Loren Javier/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.

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