Microsoft scores highest in customer-respect study

When it comes to treating online customers with respect, Microsoft tops the list of the top 100 companies in the US, according to The Customer Respect Group.

The company on Monday is releasing its third annual ranking of the Fortune 100 companies in terms of how they treat their customers online.

"We assess each of the company's Web sites in a uniform way -- looking at over 90 attributes that we've determined correlate to a successful experience of an online user," said Roger Fairchild, president of The Customer Respect Group.

"We've put them in one of six categories, and we provide an overall score that we describe as the Customer Respect Index."

Those six categories are simplicity, responsiveness, transparency, principles, attitude and privacy, he said.

The study provides a comparative analysis of all companies within a group or industry and offers a comparison of their Web sites from a user-centric perspective, according to Fairchild.

On a scale of 0 to 10, the Fortune 100 group averaged a 6.2. Microsoft scored highest, with an 8.7, while Supervalu scored lowest, with a 2.7.

"We saw that the companies at the upper end of the scale were high-tech companies," said Fairchild.

Hewlett-Packard ranked No. 2, with a score of 8.6, and IBM was third, with an 8.5 score, he said.

"What sets them apart from the others is that, across the board, they got high marks -- particularly in the areas of simplicity and the way they're upfront and open about all their policies on their sites," Fairchild said.

"At the lower end of the scale, the companies tended to be poorer across the board, and again, they got their highest marks in simplicity of their sites. But they were still below average and generally had low marks ... in the other categories -- responsiveness, attitude and privacy and so on."

Fairchild said the group doesn't seek trends because different attributes are studied.

"Last year, we looked at 25 to 40 attributes when we analyzed the Fortune 100 companies, but this year, (we) looked at over 90 attributes,"

Fairchild said. "We look at it at a point in time: How do you score, and how do you compare and contrast against best practice leaders in your industry and your competitors?"

Microsoft, like many high-tech companies, pays a lot of attention to site navigation, bringing in high marks for simplicity, he said. In addition, high-tech companies are attuned to what customers are seeking as an overall experience online, have done a good job stating privacy policies upfront and are reasonably responsive when people send in inquiries.

Fairchild said the companies with the lowest scores don't pay enough attention to privacy and transparency.

"It's about whether they are upfront and open about their policies," he said. "And their response to inquiries was quite low."

Fairchild said low-scoring companies need to realize that more than 10 percent of all business transactions in the U.S. are influenced by visits to companies' Web sites, whether it's to make a direct purchase online or to get information about a product. He also noted that a large percentage of the population now uses Web sites to learn about products and services to make better buying decisions.

Although the group has been doing its study for three years, one-third of the Fortune 100 companies still don't respond to all Web site inquiries.

He also said that more than half the firms share customer data with subsidiaries, affiliates or business partners without seeking permission from the online user.

"You'd think that by now, the Fortune 100 companies, as large as they are, with all their resources, would get with the program and make certain they're being responsive to inquiries to their site and would have privacy policies that allow customers to know how they're using their personal data and to be able to opt in or opt out of having their data shared," Fairchild said.

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