The Anglo File: Emails to British Companies Lost in Space

A survey shows that many of the U.K.'s FTSE 100 companies are not using the Web to communicate with customers and investors.
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LONDON -- Often it's the simple things that are overlooked.

Unfortunately that lesson doesn't seem to have been learned by many of the U.K.'s largest companies when it comes to the Internet. Obsessed with e-commerce and e-business, many of the U.K.'s

FTSE 100

companies are failing to use the Web as a direct communication medium with customers and investors, according to a survey last week by the marketing communications consultancy

Rainier Limited

.

Don't Email Us, We'll Email You

The survey by Rainier, conducted between March 30 and July 7, found that 26 of the 100 companies failed to respond to a request for basic investor information after a wait of more than 100 days. Perpetrators of this egregious Internet crime included such illustrious names as

National Westminster Bank

(NW)

and supermarket operator

Tesco

.

A further 15 companies, including mobile phone operators

Orange

(ORNGY)

and

Vodafone

(VOD) - Get Report

, either could not be contacted by email or email contact details were not easily located on their Web sites.

"This is pure ignorance in not appreciating the potential of the Internet," bemoaned Stephen Waddington, one of the coordinators of the survey for Rainier. "They're missing the beauty of the Internet, which is that it's a cheap mechanism to bring customers and investors right into the front room of the company. Having a Web site without a direct feedback mechanism is like having a freephone help line but no receptionist."

Brian McMillan, the head of the U.K. Internet service provider

Colloquium Limited

, agrees there is a huge amount of naivete in the U.K. corporate world concerning customer relations on the Internet.

"I get people in here all the time saying, 'I want to market this on the Net, I want to sell this on the Net, I want to do this on the Net," McMillan says. "But you can't hide behind this

Kellogg's

(K) - Get Report

-corn-flakes-packet thing where you send off your check or postal order and wait 21 days for the product to be delivered."

"People expect an automatic email acknowledgement of the order or whatever within 5 minutes," he says.

Talk to Me, Please

The producers of the survey certainly have a vested interest in exposing corporate Web sites as mere wallpaper. The consultancy makes money from designing marketing communications campaigns for companies. And Rainier's Waddington admitted that some results would perhaps have been different if they tried to contact the companies in question on a different day.

So to test whether those companies might have had an off day,

TSC

contacted Tesco to see if emails to the supermarket were still being lost in the ether. Tesco stood out in the survey because research by the

London School of Economics

in May ranked the supermarket's Web site as second best in the world according to a variety of criteria, ahead even of those sites belonging to

IBM

(IBM) - Get Report

and

Walt Disney

(DIS) - Get Report

.

TSC

fired off an email and after receiving no response for three hours, contacted the press relations department of the supermarket by telephone. A spokesperson said the company could offer no explanation as to why Tesco did not reply to Rainier's email, saying that the company's investor relations department gets quite a lot of email and it tries to respond to all of them on a "daily basis."

Rainier's Waddington said his researchers also looked to see whether some sectors of the corporate world were better at responding to customers' emails than others.

Unfortunately, no trend emerged in Rainier's survey. The most responsive companies were the mining and metals company

Billiton

(one minute) and the insurer

Allied Zurich

(three minutes). The least responsive companies were insurer

Standard Chartered

(20 days) and pharmaceutical retailer

Boots

(30 days, 21 hours and 43 minutes).

Not all was doom and gloom, however. Almost a quarter of the 100 companies responded within three hours to a request for financial information, and only one company had no Web site at all. The Luddite was

British American Tobacco

(BTI) - Get Report

, which, let's face it, is involved in an industry that likes to avoid any customer contact if at all possible.