E-mail test catches firms off guard

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Some business-to-business companies scored below average in a surprise customer service e-mail test conducted over Memorial Day weekend by The Yankee Group, a Boston-based e-commerce consulting firm.

The Yankee Group sent e-mails over the Web sites of 40 b-to-b and business-to-consumer companies on Sunday, May 30, and judged the responses on factors such as timeliness and accuracy. It released its findings in late August.

Computer Associates International, Security Dynamics and BroadVision were among the b-to-b companies that scored below average when compared with other companies tested.

The three companies were sent e-mails that stated the Yankee Group was a customer that had received a damaged product and wanted to know how to replace it.

How they scored

Computer Associates, an Islandia, N.Y.-based software company, was given a rating of 10 out of a possible 100. Its e-mail response told the Yankee Group to call customer service and to "have a nice day." The company lost points because it directed the sender to a phone number.

A Computer Associates spokesman said the company's Web site is primarily used as a marketing collateral venue, and its customers have told the company they prefer to do business over the phone.

BroadVision, a Redwood City, Calif.-based supplier of Internet software, was given a score of 35. Its e-mail told the Yankee Group, "You need to get back to your sales [representative]," and supplied a contact name and phone number. BroadVision lost points because of the informality of the e-mail.

Simon King, BroadVision's director of support and quality assurance, said the company knows all its 350 business customers and none of them interact with the company over its Web site e-mail link.

Security Dynamics, a Bedford, Mass.-based supplier of data security packages, never responded to the Yankee Group's e-mail and was given a score of zero.

Security Dynamics will communicate only with a business customer that has been set up on an encrypted communication link, said Gerry Comeau, director of worldwide technical services. "There's no way ... to validate a customer over [regular] e-mail," he said.

Boston-based Fidelity Investments, which focuses on the b-to-b market through financial adviser unit Fidelity Institutional Brokerage Group, scored 80, second only to retail Net brokerage Datek Online, Iselin, N.J., which scored 85.

Fidelity, which was asked for the minimum investment amount required to open an account, has more than 25 e-mail reps, with an average of three to four years' experience, said Peter Smith, product director.

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