This article throws light upon the three ways by which Internet can enable customer relationship management (CRM). The ways are: 1. Getting Information out to Customers 2. Getting Information Back from Customers 3. E-Commerce Sales.
Way # 1. Getting Information out to Customers:
The Internet can provide an avenue for getting information about your business and your products and services to your current and potential customers. At its most basic level, this means letting them know you are there and how to reach you in the “real world.” It can be as simple as a Web-based brochure that describes your products and services and tells customers where you are located and how to reach you by phone.
With half of American households wired to the Internet, and the numbers growing throughout the United States and the world, you should expect your customers to search the Web for information about you and your products and services. From a CRM standpoint, it’s helpful to think about this level of Internet activity in two ways, passive and active.
Whether you intend it or not, whether you create it or it comes from another source, we’re willing to bet dollars to do nuts that you have a presence on the Internet. A search of the Internet may reveal your passive presence in any number of ways.
Here are just a few:
(a) Electronic Yellow Pages, such as www(dot)SuperPages(dot)com
(b) Conversations in an online chat or on an industry- or association-based bulletin board
(c) References in articles
While you don’t directly control these sources of information— what we consider your passive Internet presence—it pays to be aware of what your customers will find when they look around the super high way for you. If you find that negative information is out there, what Melinda Goddard of Roche Diagnostics calls “word of mouse,” then you can plan a strategy to rebut it directly or to arm your customer contact employees to address it if customers bring it up.
You can also have an active Internet presence at Level 1 by putting up a simple, information-based Web page or by placing articles on sites your customers and potential customers are likely to visit. The key is to put your information where customers and potential customers will find it and use it to do business with you. After all, the core of CRM is creating, maintaining, and expanding customer relationships. You can’t do that if they can’t find you.
Way # 2. Getting Information Back from Customers:
The next level of sophistication means you not only provide information to your customers, but also learn more about them and from them. The Internet allows you to collect all sorts of useful — and sometimes not so useful— data about your customers. Sometimes this means customers respond to questions and provide you useful information. In other cases you may be able to collect information that’s very useful to your business without interfering at all with the customer experience.
To use the Internet to get information back from your customers, there are three general ways. First, you can simply have an e-mail address and make it available to your customers. For example, at the www(dot)briefcasebooks(dot)com site, you can click on info(at)cwlpub(dot)com to ask a general question or send a suggestion to John Woods and the team at CWL who put the series together in partnership with McGraw-Hill. Or you may click on the Motivating Employees book and send a question or comment directly to coauthor Anne Bruce. Second, you can also collect information from your customers by asking them to register at your site. The registration process allows you to collect some general information up front.
And, when customers log in on subsequent visits, Web-based software can track the way they use the site so you can learn about what information they seek out first and most often, what areas of your site they don’t bother to visit, and how frequently they stop off ?t your Super highway exit. If your customers might balk at signing in just to cruise your site, you can use CRM software tools to track them based on their purchases.
A third way to collect data from your customers is by putting surveys or a question of the day on your site. It also serves to actively engage them in your site. And offering to e-mail them the results or to post the results on your Web page gives you another opportunity to communicate with this key group.
Way # 3. E-Commerce Sales:
You can use the Internet to deliver products and services to your customers. You can have mutually rewarding relationships with customers you never see, meet, or speak with! Your entire relationship can successfully exist in cyberspace.
With the technology available today, you can sell your products over the Internet, respond to customer questions, offer additional products and services based on previous purchases, and evaluate customers’ satisfaction with your offerings—all without ever dealing with them in-person. Leveraging the Internet can free up resources to deliver higher levels of value to customers in new ways.
As organizations yearn to move beyond the traditional world of bricks and mortar, the call goes out: “Let’s get on the Internet and sell stuff. We encourage you to walk before you run— or drive—on the e-commerce highway. Even if you launch all three levels at the same time, consider them in a linear fashion. It’s important to know what information is already out there about you—or about your industry or service segment.
And before you start charging credit cards and shipping products, it’s vital that you have systems and processes in place to receive and answer customer questions and concerns. There are two parts to a level-3 Internet presence. One part is the actual sales of products and services.
This is what comes to mind when we hear the term “e-commerce.”Large-scale retailers use sophisticated applications to manage online sales. This requires a large investment and requires high volume sales to make it pay off. If you aren’t ready to be in ecommerce in such a dedicated way, you can still offer your products and service by linking to another e-commerce source.
For example, many authors will link their personal sites to their book publisher’s site or to a large book retailer, such as Amazon or 8OO-CEO-READ (formerly Schwartz Business Books).
The other part of your level-3 presence is providing real-time customer service support. David Sims, writing incrmguru(dot)com’s Customer Relationship Management Primer, notes, “Every person who uses online help instead of calling you saves you money” He quotes a Web-based customer service application vendor who explains, “The whole point of online customer service—e-service— is to have people taking up your website’s time instead of taking up your customer service reps’ time.”
You can provide online customer service through the following means:
i. Search engines:
A site based search engine helps your customer find answers to his or her questions, locate information, and connect quickly to the right department.
ii. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
A place on your Web site where you list and respond to the most common concerns expressed by customers.
iii. Live help:
Your customers can actually speak to a customer service representative while they’re online visiting your site through Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) applications. Online order tracking—With customized applications, you can allow customers to track the progress of their order, just as Federal Express allows customers to check package status over the Internet. Nazan Fathy, writing for www(dot)suitel01(dot)com, “Ecommerce: All about Customer Relationship Management” (April 1, 1999), said, “The epitome of online service is to respond to customers in a consistent and high-quality manner through their channel of choice, whether that is the e-mail, the phone or online chat.”