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Make Sure Your Customers Come Back for More

By Geoffrey Miller (geoffreymiller@wwwiz.com)

 Customer service has always been an integral part of any business–whether it is brick-and-mortar, click-and-mortar or no mortar at all (Internet pure plays). Customers expect the same level of customer service whether they are conducting business online or offline.

          Consumers have more choices than ever and subsequently demand added value from a Web site. With the click of a mouse, your Web site visitor could go to another supplier that can give him a satisfactory answer to his question.

          ``Customers asking questions about the Web site do not care that the Web is a new channel. They expect the enterprise to address their questions about the Web site as it would any business question," said Donna Fluss, an analyst with Gartner Group.

          The Internet translates into speed, efficiency and lower costs for all kinds of business transactions. As a result, the number of customer service-related inquiries and requests have surged into the stratosphere.

The overall number of online customer service email messages and free-text Web-based forms will reach one billion per month by December. In addition, the time required to handle these messages could exceed 230 million man-hours per month, according to Gartner Group analysts.  

What is eCRM?

 eCRM stands for Electronic Customer Relationship Management, which basically means managing online customer relations–building long-term customer relationships by responding to the needs and wants of a customer through the Internet. So it's not just about acquiring customers, but also retaining them.

          Because of this demand, eCRM has become a niche industry. A myriad of dot-coms specializing in this field are poised to cash in. 

eCRM in action

 What typeof ebusinessesneed eCRM? The answer is just about every kind. Here's a sampling of ways eCRM could be applied in business situations:

·      eCommerce–by employing an application, which will remember customer preferences, and buying habits.

·      eSales–in business-to-business, by providing more direct contact with each customer through eSupport/eServices (listed below).

·      eMarketing–by implementing email campaigns that may include newsletters, news releases, seminar offers to keep customers and prospects informed. 

·      eFinance/eTransaction–in banking, and online B2B transactions, applications that react to a customer's action and can make suggestions accordingly.

 In other words, to properly implement eCRM, various departments in an enterprise, such as sales, marketing, accounting and customer service must be in synchronization with one another.

To address this, many eCRM companies offer product suites that integrate multiple communication channels. Communication between customer and business goes beyond picking up a telephone and calling an 800 number to get help.  Some examples include: 

·      Web-based self-help–customers/visitors help themselves by choosing an answer from the enterprise's database.

·      email-based self help–customers will receive an instant response email generated by the enterprise's database with an answer best matching the question.

·      Text chat–a customer will use instant messaging right on the Web site to communicate with technical support/customer relations personnel.

·      Voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP)–a customer communicates with support personnel through the computer's phone.

·      Video–same as voiceover IP, but with video. Not seen often, but expect it to be commonplace in the near future.  

How can implementing eCRM help you?

 Determining what types of eCRM tools to implement depends on how you anticipate your customers' needs. Say a customer purchased something from your Web site and needs to know how to return merchandise, will it be necessary to offer a customer service representative to answer the question? Or will you use the latest eCRM technology to provide the customer with an instant answer and save on the cost of having a person answer a simple question?

          Automatic response technology is an example of an eCRM tool that helps you effectively and efficiently communicate with customers and build close relationships with them. By doing so, you'll gain customer loyalty–which you will discover is worth more than gold.

Consider this: It can cost up to 10 times as much to attract a new customer as to retain a current one, according to Jeff Golterman, a Gartner Group analyst.

          And according to Datamonitor, a market research firm, for every completed online transaction, there are nearly four times as many transactions that are abandoned for various reasons–one of which is poor online customer service.

          Some eight percent of abandoned transactions are salvageable–that is, transactions would have been completed if the customer had received better online customer service, Datamonitor researchers said.  

Delivery options

 Self-hosted applications–the software is hosted by the ebusiness. The vendor will teach users how to put the software to use. Downside: it costs more, you have to maintain the applications yourself and implementation time is usually longer. Upside: you have absolute control and customization power. 

 Application Service Provider (ASP)–the vendor will host the software and system. Upside: You don't have to do much implementation and don't have to know how to use the system and deployment is faster. Downside: changes and customization are more difficult to make, reporting capabilities are limited and there is the perception that there's less security.

Outsourced model–similar to the ASP option. A company with limited resources and capabilities will utilize outside businesses to fill in the gap. Upside: you don't have to hire additional employees and commit to complicated and expensive applications. Downside: less control.  

eCRM Providers

 

Some of the biggest eCRM providers include Primus and E.piphany. E.Piphany's customers include big players such as Wells Fargo and HomeGrocer.com.

CRM industry giant Siebel Systems eBusiness provides a range of services: call center, field sales and marketing applications for ebusinesses.

          In order to manage the glut of electronic inquiries received by the average customer service Web message team, ebusinesses may call on companies such as Island Data, Kana, eGain Communications Corp. or AskJeeves.  For example, Island Data's ExpressResponse, an automated eInquiry response application, features technology based on a combination of message analysis and natural language search and retrieval techniques. ExpressResponse analyzes an eInquiry message and either sends a relevant reply or routes it to an appropriate department.

          AskJeeves has a line of customer service products for online support and targeting. The company says AskJeeves business solutions will help save companies in support phone call costs, which average more than $30 a call.

 Future of eCRM

A growing number of companies big and small are rushing to provide eCRM suites to enterprises. The larger ones are likely to continue acquiring those eCRM providers outside of their own competencies–to broaden the scope of services offered.

          Inexorably, more and more businesses are moving online and maintaining a good relationship with customers remains as important as ever. Whatever form of eCRM you choose–or even if you decide to tackle services in-house, keeping customers happy is just plain good business. 

 

Geoffrey Miller is account supervisor of Schraff Group, a fully integrated e-business agency with a successful 22-year history. The firm leverages its expertise in advertising, public relations, Internet application development and Internet business consulting to offer its clients truly integrated business and marketing support.  Schraff Group is Orange County's leading firm for hot ramp Internet start-ups, as well as established companies with e-business initiatives.  Additional information can be accessed at http://www.schraff.com.

 

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