The Customer Respect Group, a research and consulting firm based in Bellevue, Wash., examined the Web sites of 61 top computer products and services companies. It ranked those sites according to a number of factors, including simplicity, privacy, transparency and responsiveness.
What it found, in results announced Monday, was that one-third of the companies don't respond to inquiries, and nearly one-third share personal data with third parties without getting permission from customers.
Hewlett-Packard had the best results of all the high-tech companies surveyed, with a score of 9.5 out of a possible 10. IBM and Xerox were tied for third, with a score of 9.0.
All but a handful of the companies in the study had privacy policies displayed on their Web sites, telling customers how their personal data would be used. Just less than half do not collect data or use collected data only for internal purposes, Customer Respect said, but 29 percent share data without permission, and 12 percent share data with affiliates or subsidiaries.
Nearly 90 percent use cookie technology, but only 20 percent provide full explanations about how to disable them, the group said.
Almost 93 percent of companies had some sort of a system for providing a response to customers, but 32 percent did not respond to any online inquiries. Forty-five percent responded to all inquiries, and of that group, most did so within 48 hours. Just more than half of the companies use an automatic response system, and of those, 58 percent followed up with a full response.
"High-tech firms need to wake up to the fact that sharing information without permission is bad for business," Roger Fairchild, president of Customer Respect, said in a statement. "Moreover, since, on average, users abandon 20 percent of Web sites they visit due to an unsatisfactory experience, you have to wonder why more than half of high-tech firms aren't responding to questions directly posed to them. Clearly, being technologically savvy doesn't correlate directly to providing a high-quality Web site experience."
Among other high-tech companies in the top 20 were Lexmark International (8.8), Oracle (8.5), Electronic Data Systems (8.3), Microsoft (8.2), EarthLink (8.1), eBay (7.9) and Dell (7.9). The sector's average was 6.8.
Customer Respect said it based its results on interviews with a cross section of the adult Internet population and a detailed analysis of more than 1,000 Web sites across different sectors.