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Substituting Technique For Technology; eCRM and the Web as a Communication Channel

Article By Ari Buchwald May, 2000

I just thank the lucky stars that .com will not fit across an M&M… or will it?

In the new millennium’s fast moving environment, the web is becoming the primary resource for communication, resource management, research and distribution. The challenge today is in applying sound business techniques to this technology to give the customer what they want, when they want it and how they want it. In other words, use the web to manage and enhance customer relationships.

Theories behind CRM mandate that companies need to change their focus from the product to the customer. Understanding the customer requires establishing a 1 to 1 dialog. The best channel for that is the Internet, where information can be disseminated, retrieved, analyzed and acted upon instantly. Keep in mind that proper systems and strategies need to be implemented to manage the channel.

Companies should ask questions such as “What do you, the customer want? And “Does my product fill your need better than the competition?” The goal here is to keep the customer involved. Think how the web fits – what can my customer tell me through the web? Am I listening if they are?

Imagine stopping someone on the street to ask the time. Typically, when this happens, the person will tell you, or apologize for not having a watch. What if the respondent instead echoed the web address of their favorite Chinese restaurant? They gave you what was on their mind instead of what you asked for. This happens in business all the time. Customers ask for one thing and receive something different. This can be seen in mass advertising and just as often in customer service.

Do not consider the web a tool; rather consider it many tools, many chapters that may together bring you success. Email for internal and external communication, email as a marketing tool, a web site for customers to gain information, to help find you, to place orders, to link up suppliers, to hook into their systems for ordering and shipping status and a billion other uses….

The internet toolbox:

A customer wants something from you, so how do you focus on making sure that what you offer matches what they want, not just now – but into the future?

The Internet can function as a critical communications channel. How does defining your brand, content, ease of navigation and creative affect customer acquisition and retention? Does a site affect the “Stickiness” of a customer in a positive or negative way?

  • Define yourself. Are you an eBusiness or a business with e-access?
  • What is your content - product, service or information?
  • Is the web your primary contact or is it one of many ways to interact with you?
  • Who is your customer? B2C, B2B, C2C? What are their traits, habits, profile, demographics? How does your site’s creative look fit or not fit in with their lifestyle? What is their technology profile? Are they early adopters of state-of-the-art equipment, or are they surfing on an older home PC?
  • What is the advantage of your site over others? If you are not sure, ask your customer. They know you and your competition.
  • What customer service tools do you use in your site?
  • Do you collect information? How do you use this information?
  • What customer service techniques are missing?
  • Are you relevant, individualized, and compassionate to your customer?

Are you integrated with your website?

Can a user access the same information, as they would find on in a catalog or a store? Consider Victoria’s Secret… the store and catalog offer different selections, meaning that if something does not fit, one needs to return through the channel in which it was purchased.

Audit your site for simplicity.

Can a user find your address, phone number and be directed to the person most likely to be able to help? I recently tried to find a company in which I used to work. It is a primarily Business-to-Business company, owned by a major newspaper. The company was not listed in the phone directories on the web, and the link from the parent companies’ site had been removed. When I finally guessed the web address, the phone number was nowhere to be found on the site!

Will your customers abandon their shopping carts?

Consider the implications of technology. Will a slow computer or connection make someone abandon their shopping on your site? Is it easier to just call in rather than click? It is easy to measure churn in the digital world, so track your progress. It’s easier to keep a customer than to find a customer, so make sure your site allows the customer to keep you.

Make sure you are not magnifying problems and desensitizing your customers.

Review your communication techniques to ensure your company is not blasting the customer with too much information. The net magnifies your ability to provide irrelevant information and untargeted offers. The desensitization to those offers by your recipients will result in your efforts falling on deaf ears, and you will get your DUE (Deleted, Unread, Emails).

A few tips on the marketing front:

  • Communicate relevantly and use the channel to hear the customers’ needs. Make sure the web offers the same experience as your store and your 800 numbers.
  • Tell the customer that you hear them and repeat what they said (no one likes form letters). Evaluate your system by looking at the techniques you apply. Do you accumulate, evaluate, collaborate and disseminate information? 
  • Do not lose your human touch (don’t let the system remove the company from the customer).
  • Identify what stage your customer is in and respond accordingly.
  • Continue to learn and improve your systems and products.

The technology curse:

Are you alienating your customers with systems and bandwidth? Can a user get the same information on a 386 computer with a 14.4 modem as they would on a Pentium II with a T1 line? Will your snazzy streaming graphics lock up a potential customers’ computer? Not all users have state-of-the-art equipment loaded with the latest software. Consider the implications of having to stop and download additional software just to access a site. Unless the experience promises to be amazing, the technology will not substitute for the technique of keeping it simple.

The same goes for email, as does the web. A user on AOL may not be able to read attachments from Microsoft Outlook, and a Macintosh user will not be able to run an application designed for windows.

  • - How does your design and creative affect productivity of the site? (are you substituting “cool” technology for a consistent vision and message) Are you losing relevance in your creative?
  • Does your site light up like a Christmas tree from banners, frames and images? Remember the old adage, “one trick per page”.
  • Is the site navigation friendly and organized by topic, with a help function and site map?
  • Do you link to other sites? If so, do you keep your viewer, or do you toss them away to another site? Consider the Internet as an ocean. If you catch a fish, do you keep it in a net or toss it back and hope to catch it again?
  • Is your site a “Favorite” that users bookmark and return to on a consistent basis? Have you asked them why or why not? -
  • No Spam.  Don’t make a user hunt through the “noise” on your site to find the gold. -
  • Is the information collected available to other channels such as your store’s point of purchase, your sales reps and 800 operators?

Don’t lose site of your basic business techniques while implementing that cool technology! Do you learn from your web site? Do you collect information on your customers? Can you apply this information to your business? How are you using it to market and sell?

By focusing on the customer, you are taking care of business.

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