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About the Author.
Using the World Wide Web for Marketing--What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
Customer Service First.
The Usable Web--Be Kind to Your Users.
Interactivity Goes with the Flow.
Value-Added Marketing--It's Personal.
Personalization--Getting to Know You.
Professional Personalization--Extranets and Customer Relationship Management.
Partner Relationship Management.
Measure for Measure.
Managing Your Site and Your Sanity.
Looking toward the Future.
Note: The Figures and /or Tables mentioned in this sample chapter do not appear on the Web.
It used to go without saying that a company had to manufacture demand when manufacturing a product. A better mousetrap would languish unless people were made aware of their deep-seated desire for a mousetrap and why a better one was absolutely necessary to their well-being.
Television blossomed into an ideal way to mold public opinion and acquisitiveness. The medium changed the way corporate America communicated with their customers. In Sponsor (Oxford University Press, 1979), Erik Barnouw pointed out that the move from the 60-second spot to the 30-second spot on television changed the tenor of messages broadcast into our homes.
Everyone knows what the job is: instant drama, posing threat and promise. An important corollary is that the promise should be an undeliverable promise. There is scarcely time now for technical persuasions, documentation, "reason-why" advertising. Everyone knows that soap will clean hands, a razor remove hair, and a car transport you from one place to another. To promise such things means little or nothing. But there is no sure formula for being irresistible, for winning and holding those you love, or for rising to the top of the business or social circle. These are the promises worth dangling.
The goal was clearly defined as figuring out new and better ways to make people want the products we were making. Creating demand equaled survival.
In the next dozen or so years, focus shifted slightly. "Create Demand" became "Find a Need and Fill It." It was the task of the marketing professional to scour the country (global marketing belonged only to the few) for a product that people wanted but couldn't find on their store shelves-yet. In addition, the public was no longer a mass audience. They were being segmented through database marketing. Soft drink companies needed a flavor and a campaign for each market segment. Cars were made to captivate different age groups. Products took on personalities to appeal to more and more diverse audiences.
THE DEMASSIFICATION OF THE MARKET
Then we were hit with mass customization. Henry Ford's, "You can have any color you want as long as it's black," has become "You can have any color you want." The assembly line producing pagers at Motorola was designed to create any of 250 configurations based on customer orders. Mrs. Fields Cookies and Benetton Clothing jumped on the power of a computer in every store to shoot sales information straight to the factory floor. Each day's production was tied directly to the previous day's sales. What flavor are they buying today? What color are they buying today? Product development and production have become service industries. If you find a product that has universal appeal, you had better exploit it faster than the knock-off shop down the street. Holding a lead in this fast-moving world depends on dexterity.
Sitting in an ivory tower and foreseeing the future is a risky business. Sitting in a corporate laboratory and counting on a scientist to invent the next Post-It Notes is not the model for today's marketer. Today's marketer is out in the street asking people what they want to buy. How do you like our current product? How would you improve it? How can we change our services to better accommodate your needs? What do you want your political candidate to stand for?
This is the type of marketing Don Peppers and Martha Rogers talk about in their book, The One to One Future. "The 1: 1 future will be characterized by customized production, individually addressable media, and 1: 1 marketing, totally changing the rules of business competition and growth."
I always felt that it was not the Vice President of Marketing's job to know what customers want.
THE SURVEY FINDS A NEW FORM
Surveys, focus groups, and market share are the glass-bottom boats we use to guess what the fish are thinking. We are able to ask only a handful or two for their opinion, and we try to scientifically extrapolate the answers out into a sea of consumers. A Web site gives us the ability to ask each of the individuals. A Web site gives us the tool to accurately record every answer.
A hefty envelope arrived at my desk one day from a company I enjoyed doing business with. Perhaps it was a new product update or another special discount for good customers. Maybe it was their annual report on the state of the industry. They usually sent me items worth reading, so it went into my in-basket until I could get to it. When I opened the envelope several weeks later, I found a three-page survey in 8-point type and a five dollar bill. I was surprised and wondered how many five dollar bills had wafted their way through the U. S. Postal Service. I wanted to help this company and was very pleased they thought my opinion was worth buying me lunch. I carefully placed the survey back in my in-basket until I could get to it. I carefully placed the five dollar bill in my pocket. The survey stayed in the basket for weeks; the five dollars lasted until noon.
When I finally dug down into my in-basket far enough to find the survey, I saw that I had missed the deadline. Good intentions or not, five dollars or not, that company did not find out how much I liked their services or what ideas I had for improvement. They would never know that I would buy more from them if only they would change a few simple operations.
Now, we look at the same issue from the electronic perspective. When logging on to America Online in the middle of March 1995, I was stopped short by the question:
Do you own a CD-ROM?
[Yes] [No] [I don't know]
In my momentary frustration and my desire to get my work done I answered with the truth. After all, it was the first answer that popped into my head. It took anywhere from two to five seconds to read and answer the question. I immediately forgot about it and went on my way. The next time I logged in, the question was nowhere in sight.
Since then, AOL peppers their customers with advertising. In that short window of time, they learned a critical piece of information about their customers. Since then, AOL has been mailing out CDs.
The survey has gone online. Everybody who dialed into America Online that day had to answer that question. Scientific? No. Controlled? No. Valid enough for clinical trials of FDA-approved drugs? No. Of value to America Online? Infinitely. Instead of asking a few people, we now can ask everybody. Can we ask everybody on the planet? No. Can we ask everybody who buys our product? Only if we're America Online. Can we learn about the needs and wants of those people who visit our Web sites? Absolutely.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
You've put a lot of time and energy into providing an accommodating, interesting Web site for your users. Now, it's time to get something from them in return-demographics and psychographics. Who are they? What are they interested in? What do they like about your products? Your company? Your competition? Your Web site? Probe them, and respond quickly with thanks and praise for their participation and good ideas. This will help create the bond that keeps an individual a customer for life.
Keeping It Simple
When the DealerNet site first went up in 1994 (www. dealernet. com), it wanted to know a few things about the people visiting its Web pages, so DealerNet gave away a car (Figure 8.1).
DealerNet's approach to getting visitors to reveal something about themselves was a wonderful example of simplicity. They asked for the usual information: name, e-mail address, street address, and so on. Then, when they had the user salivating over the prospects of acquiring a new car, they asked a few more questions.
Rather than ask for blood type, shoe size, and eating habits, they went right for the smallest bits with the biggest bang. They wanted to know the year, make, and model of the user's current car. Why didn't they go whole hog? Why not age, income, family size, miles driven per year, plans for next purchase? The philosophy was clear: The fewer the questions, the better the response.
These few answers gave DealerNet the information it needed to carry out its marketing strategy. People were encouraged to answer the questions because they were so short and easy to answer. Then DealerNet asked a key question, "Would you like to subscribe to DealerNet's upcoming monthly e-mail newsletter, dealerNet Report- Yes/ No."
You can be sure the person who claimed to drive a 1968 Volkswagen Microbus got a very different dealerNet Report than the person who drives a 1995 Mercedes convertible. The latter was filled with trade-in value reports and leasing options; the former described how to get oil stains out of the driveway.
Remember a few sacrosanct rules:
The DealerNet method, however, is a tacit agreement by the users that they are willing to accept e-mail from you. They want to be on your mailing list. Just be sure to deliver value.
How Are We Doing?
The good people at Leon Leonwood Bean (www. llbean. com) want to know what you think, and they get right to it in their survey (Figure 8.2).
L. L. Bean received more than 14 million phone calls in 1996. That rep-resented 80 percent of contacts, the rest coming in the mail and over the Net. If you account for the growth of the Internet over the past few years, it's quite reasonable to say they get 20 percent of their orders online (about 2.8 million orders/ e-mails/ surveys on their Web site).
If you had that much traffic on your site, you'd want to make it better, too, right?
Is this visit to our web site your first experience with L. L. Bean?
How has your impression of L. L. Bean changed now that you have visited our web site?
About the same
I just love it when it's obvious the people in marketing have participated in the design and development of a Web site. The previous question isn't about sales. It's not about merchandising. It's not about advertising. It's about brand. L. L. Bean wants to know if they are helping or hurting their image and their reputation in the real world.
The next question is a direct shot at "How can we make it better?" and "Here are some ideas we like, but we want to know what you'd like." Bravo.
What other services, features or information would you like to see on our site? Please check all that apply.
More products to view and order on-line
Tips or advice on buying outdoor gear
The option to check the status of your order Sale items
The ability to request Monogramming or Alterations on-line when you place orders
Chat/ on-line discussion forums to share thoughts on outdoor adventures: the gear, the destinations, the great experiences
The next questions plumb the depths of buyer misgivings. "This Web stuff might be fun and cool, but is it helping us sell you stuff. If not, why not?"
Have you purchased L. L. Bean gear or clothing on our site?
If you haven't, please tell us why not. Please check all that apply.
I couldn't find the product( s) I wanted.
It takes too long.
I'd rather just call.
It's too difficult to navigate through the ordering process.
I don't feel comfortable sending my credit card number over the Internet.
This is my first time visiting the site.
I'm still browsing.
How would you prefer to place your orders using the L. L. Bean web site? Please check all that apply.
View and order items from the On-Line Product Guide.
Place L. L. Bean catalog orders on-line using Catalog Quickshop.
View information and products on-line and place orders by telephone.
Should We Be Doing This?
Communicators Federal Credit Union in Houston, Texas, was organized in April 1937 by 11 Southwestern Bell employees (www. cfculink. com). They're doing a decent job getting their feet wet on the Internet. But they're still not really sure, so they're asking a few questions (Figure 8.3).
First CFCU wants to know how people are connecting to the Internet:
How are you connected to the Internet? (Which dial-up service do you use?)
What browser are you now using?
If you are not using a Netscape Browser, have you considered changing?
What kind of equipment are you using?
What type of operating system do you use?
What speed modem are you now using?
Do you have any of the following? (Soundcard, microphone, camera, etc.)
Do you use any of the following Internet features? (E-mail, newsgroups, chat, etc.)
Do you use any of these money management software programs?
Then, when they've got you in a question-answering spirit, they slip in the only questions that really matter:
How interested are you in accessing your Credit Union Accounts?
Would you be willing to pay a $2.00-$3.00 fee per month to cover the cost of unlimited access to your account from this WEB site?
Ahh, leave it to the banks. They did it with ATMs already, didn't they? "Here's a way you can do business with us that is so much cheaper for us than having branches full of tellers we can't believe it, and we're going to charge you extra for the privilege!" Unclear on the concept.
Going Whole Hog- Black Box
When the Black Box (www. blackbox. com) Catalog went online in 1994, they had the same sort of trepidation, although they never considered financially penalizing their customers for shopping online. Their site was (and still is) full of communications connectivity gear for the serious network aficionado.
Black Box wanted to find out from their customers if this Internet thing was going to catch on. Like L. L. Bean, they started off with a healthy round of Ed Koch questions (Figure 8.4):
How would you rate the value of the Black Box On-Line Catalog?
How do you rate the value of ordering products on-line?
How do you rate the importance of encrypted order processing?
What's the probability you'll purchase products over the Internet?
Would the Internet provide value to their customers? Should they add encryption? Is it a serious sales tool? Rather than make guesses based on their own feelings, extrapolate based on a handful of focus groups, or study the forecasts of industry pundits, Black Box went right to the people who matter. Black Box takes this line of questioning further by outlining their plans and asking their users to help design the future Black Box Web site:
We are considering a number of feature extensions to the Black Box On-Line Catalog. These extensions include both additional content and additional functionality. We'd like to get your feedback on which features are more important to you. For the following questions please refer to these definitions of feature extensions to the Black Box On-Line Catalog.
Add more Black Box product information to the Catalog (with information as currently provided in the Products section).
Include more general information material describing technologies and product applications (as described in the Reference section).
Extend order processing support to include direct on-line ordering by customer number, PO, and credit card.
Enhance On-Line Technical Support, by including FAQs, discussion group support, and e-mail technical contact.
Here's an innovative survey technique that made its Web debut on the Black Box site:
Please indicate how you would rate the value of each of these feature extensions to Black Box On-Line Catalog in your use of it in your professional activities.
For each pair of feature extensions, please indicate which extension you would prefer more than the other one (selecting a radio button closer to the feature implies you more strongly prefer that feature over the other one).
Then, Black Box proved it has true marketing people on its team by asking a series of standard Marketing 101 questions: purchasing authority, industry segment, job title, and so on. Finally, it offered a blank piece of electronic paper for personal comments.
The results were surprising: In 1994 everybody wanted more product information; in 1995 everybody wanted more product information; in 1996 everybody wanted more product information. But the attitude about online ordering changed.
In 1994 nobody was intent on online ordering. Users had a catalog, a toll-free number, and a purchasing agent. But in 1996, 1997, and 1998 that ceased to be the case. People wanted to research the products, determine the right products, and order the products while they were there.
It didn't take Black Box long to get the message. The survey came down and the order form went up in its place (Figure 8.5).
A Survey That Hits Close to Home
Mama's Cucina (Van den Bergh Foods, Ragú Sauce) (www. eat. com) (Figure 8.6) is still a fine example of playful brand building and a service to customers. As the first packaged goods site on the Web, it deserves every one of the almost 20 awards on display in the site's Trophy Room. If you spend half an hour there, you'll learn to not take yourself too seriously.
The questionnaire at Mama's Cucina is nothing if not complete. Its length may have an effect on the quantity of the responses, but the depth is nothing to sneeze at.
Alicia Rockmore was the Associate Brand Manager for Ragú Pasta Sauces when they put up this survey in 1994. She told me they were shocked at the responses they received. Oh, sure, I thought, anybody would have spent 20 minutes outlining their shopping and eating habits in detail in order to get their hands on a "Ragú Surfing Team" t-shirt. I know I did.
But Alicia said that even after Ragú stopped offering the shirts, they got many more responses than expected. Perhaps the tone of this delightful Web site was enough to encourage people to fill out a form that includes so many questions:
What is your overall opinion of the site?
How did you find out about Mama's Cucina?
How often do you think you will return to our site?
The phrases listed below may or may not apply to the Mama's Cucina Web Site. On a scale of one to five (1 = Strongly Disagree: 5 = Strongly Agree), indicate how much you agree with each of these phrases: Mama's Cucina . . .
Improved your image of Ragú
Is very innovative
Is relevant to you
Told you something important
Is something you would like to visit again
Is different from other web sites
Told you something new
For those phrases that you selected "4" or "5," please explain why:
How often do you eat pasta for dinner?
Which of the following products have you used in the past year? (check all that apply)
How many people in your household (yourself included) are (enter numbers below):
Under 3 years old
3- 6 years old
6- 12 years old
13- 17 years old
Over 17 years old
Do you work:
Homemaker/ Do Not Work Outside the Home
What is your level of education?
High School or Less
Some College or More
Graduate Education or More
Mama, write to me when Ragú (check all that apply):
Offers coupons in the newspaper?
Features new items on the Web site?
Introduces a new flavor? Introduces a new product?
When so many of the first Web sites went up because it was possible, the technical crowd carried the most weight. Page design and questions asked were the responsibility of the software and systems people, while the marketing departments stood by in awe. Sites like the Black Box Catalog and Mama's Cucina show that marketing departments caught on pretty quickly and had an important impact on how the company is represented online.
RETHINKING THE SURVEY PROCESS
The World Wide Web gives us the opportunity to think outside the box. We no longer need a number 2 pencil- we have a mouse and all of cyberspace in which to play. A couple of the surveys described earlier are fairly complete, but they're lengthy. As a consumer, you have to really want them to know what you think, to spend so much time answering questions. Given the level of interactivity available on the Web, you can create surveys that do not resemble their paper progenitors.
The Conversational Survey
If you want to run a long survey, consider building it out of multiple pages. Each page should contain several questions, which all fit on one screen. When the questions are answered, the user can click on the Continue button and the next set of questions pops up.
This model of feeding users a few questions at a time has a very positive effect on the experience. Instead of receiving one long page that scrolls and scrolls to the end of time, the user is asked to answer only a couple of questions at once. This method makes the user feel as if he or she is participating in the survey instead of just being an input device-being inter-viewed instead of being shown to a desk monitored by a proctor with a stopwatch and a suspicious disposition. This is the kind of action/ interaction that keeps the user involved.
The Intermittent Survey
There is no need to make users sit through a survey session per se. Why not ask on-point questions as they traverse the Web site? A user surfs over and clicks on the minivan selection. At the top of the minivan page is a question box-" Are you looking for a minivan for work or for family use?" A quick click, and the user has given you an important data point.
The Hewlett-Packard printer locator is a fine example. Hewlett-Packard will help you find the right printer for your needs. At the same time, Hewlett-Packard collects a good deal of information about who is visiting its Web sites.
Another method for collecting information about your user's proclivities is tracking the number of people who visit specific pages in your site. This approach is discussed in detail in Chapter 11, "Measuring Your Success."
The Personal Survey
If you take a vacation that you booked through Preview Travel (www .previewtravel. com), they want to know how the vacation went. Did you have a good time? Did the accommodations meet your expectations? Were the flights on time? Would you use this service again? Preview Travel really needs to know in order to keep their customers happy.
Preview Travel uses e-mail to ask these questions. When the calendar tells them you're back home, off goes the questionnaire. Because you've just returned, chances are very good you're willing to tell them you had a wonderful time-all except for that hotel in Montreal that lost your laundry.
BUYING DEMOGRAPHIC INFORMATION
There are a number of reasons to collect an individual's specific identity-the e-mail address. The first is to be sure one individual is answering one question, one time only. An Auto Emporium user could easily indicate a need for a family minivan 5 or 10 times before getting bored. Somebody with a desire to throw your numbers off wouldn't get bored so easily.
Once you have people's e-mail addresses, you can entice them to put themselves on your e-mailing list for future contact. This is such a good formula that you should offer something in return: "Each month our e-Newsletter contains hundreds of dollars in discount coupons you can use online or in our stores" or "Once each month we give away a free widget to one lucky subscriber." A more subtle reason for collecting an e-mail address has to do with the validity of the answers received. After people have identified themselves, they are much more likely to give their answers a little more thought than the individual just surfing through. Asking for an e-mail address is not a simple step; there must be something in it for the user. This is where the buying-and-selling, give-and-take dance begins. A Web site should be treated just like a trade show booth. You want people to come up and finger the literature. You want them to examine the product. You want them to ask questions. But many exhibit hall habitués are repelled from a booth by an eager salesperson intent on getting name, title, company, address, phone and fax numbers, and shoe size.
Trading Knowledge for Information and Money
Offer information about the company, the products, and the industry. Give users something of value. Prove to them that you have something to offer, and then offer them something better. Begin by dividing up your valuable information into three progressively interesting categories. The first category is of general interest and will attract people to your site. The second category is even more interesting; the third category is absolutely fascinating and almost impossible to find elsewhere. With these three classes in hand, you can begin to barter.
The first class of information belongs on your Web site, prominently displayed and available to all. The second class is a bit more rare, a bit more precious, and worth a little effort to obtain.
"This White Paper is the first of its kind and is yours if you answer the following 12 quick questions."
"We've collected a wide variety of copyright-free images regarding the widget industry. You can download them after helping us improve our Web site."
One rather gruesome example of this was CNET: The Computer Net-work. This is an all-computers all-the-time television channel for those who don't wish to stray too far from their computer terminals. The CNET Web site (www. cnet. com) (Figure 8.7) wanted you to join their club by giving your e-mail address. This was a tacit agreement that you were willing to receive their newsletter. In return, you got to download a computer animation of how Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman might have been murdered by a single African-American male (Figure 8.8).
"Digital Dispatch is CNET: the computer network's FREE weekly electronic newsletter for community members. Subscribe now and access CNET's extraordinary recreation." Rest assured that CNET got a lot of traffic at their site.
Let's hope the pictures, sound bites, and video clips you offer will be in better taste-the sort of information you'd give to the semiqualified individual who spends more than 10 minutes in your trade show booth, the sort of information you'd send to somebody who's still near the beginning of the sales cycle. It's the sort of information you'd rather not give directly to the competition. You save your best for last.
Category three information should literally be worth its weight in gold-so charge for it. If you're in a knowledge business, this is your stock-in-trade. If not, this is the intelligence you've carefully gathered and that is truly unique. A Web site is a fine place for the sale and distribution of your unique monographs, images, sounds, or videos.
At each progressive stage of information sharing, be sure you are on the receiving end of data that is just as valuable. Munificence is a wonderful corporate image builder, but it can be a drain on the budget when carried too far. The people who visit your office can tell you if the waiting-room chairs are comfortable. They can give you their impressions about the physical plant, the way they are treated at the reception desk, and how far they had to walk through the snow to reach the front door. People who call your company can open your eyes to what it's like being on hold, how frustrating your voice-mail system is, and whether your customer service department is worthy of the name.
Therefore, you should look to the people who visit your Web site as the source of information about how your company represents itself online. What impression does your Web site give of the company? Does it look like a Fortune 500 corporation? A nimble start-up? Or a couple of grad students with their own Web server?
Make Them a Coconspirator
When Eastman Kodak (www. kodak. com) had a new home page design that it wanted to test, it asked site visitors for their opinions. It linked its then current home page to the new design and invited people to take a look and vote. The voters had comments about what they saw, which prompted changes. When the voters registered their approval by more than 90 per-cent, the new page was put online.
If you visit www. yahoo. com you can find its home page (Figure 8.9). If you go to beta. yahoo. com you can find what Yahoo! is thinking about for next time (Figure 8.10).
Notice the predominant "What Do You Think?" and "Please Give Us Feedback" links at the top of the proposed page. These people are serious about catering to their public.
CLOSING THE FEEDBACK LOOP
If you advertise an 800 telephone number on TV, you'd better have operators standing by. If you send a direct mail offer to a list of 500,000, you'd best be prepared for a round of Business Reply cards. If you put up a Web site, you most certainly ought to be prepared to respond to your e-mail.
This is where free-form feedback comes in. Maybe they couldn't find it in the FAQ. Maybe they couldn't find it in the knowledge base. Maybe they didn't even look. Doesn't matter. E-mail is a customer's way of reaching out to you.
It absolutely amazes me that today, as I write this in the middle of 1998, there are still companies like Southwest Airlines (www. southwest. com) (Figure 8.11). For all the flashy colors and online ordering on their site, they simply do not want your e-mail.
At the bottom of their home page is Southwest Airlines' contact information:
Southwest Airlines passenger reservations phone numbers:
En Espanol 1-800-221-0016
Telecommunications Device (TDD) 1-800-533-1305
Southwest Airlines Home Gate
P. O. Box 36611
Mail Drop 5MD
Dallas, Texas 75235-1611
fax (214) 792-4017
Why we don't accept e-mail
At Southwest Airlines, we want to provide you with the best possible Customer Service by responding to your concerns and questions in a timely manner. At the moment, our ability to support e-mail in a manner consistent with our service expectations is not fully in place. Please feel free to drop us a line at the above address.
Thank you for your interest in Southwest Airlines!
Thank you, Southwest, for your utter indifference.
The general expectation on the Internet has always been 24-hour turnaround. This is due in part to crossed time zones, late-night e-mail sessions, and automated Mailbots. It is also due to the informality of the Internet. Responses don't have to be channeled through six layers of management; they just get written and sent. Therefore, have responders at the ready, with ready responses. Build a staff of people to handle the incoming mail from your Web site. Draw on the team that handles the 800 phone lines. They already know most of the questions and have the answers on hand. Bolster this group with a few people who know their way around the Internet, people who know a good idea when it comes in and can acknowledge it appropriately. This is the public relations side of things (where the "public" has become the audience of one).
The formal reply letter received from a corporation usually confirms that a complaint, suggestion, praise, or threat has been received. It is always boilerplate; it is always more form than substance. This goes against the grain of the online culture and will do more harm than good. Each time some-body registers a problem, makes a suggestion, or asks a question, the response should include enough to let the user know a human looked over his or her words. Just adding a few comments about the message to the paragraphs of outgoing boilerplate on hand will make the difference.
You may put together the fill-in-the-blank, mix-and-match boilerplate that covers the critical 80 percent. Once you thank the user for helping you make your products/ services/ Web site better, ask him or her to answer a few more questions. The user volunteered an opinion the first time; it's a safe guess that he or she would be flattered to be asked for more.
Go the Extra Mile
It is necessary to give people every means possible to get in touch with you. Accept their e-mail, post your phone number, list your postal addresses, and take phone calls. For the moment, that means training your phone operators in the fine points of your Web site. You want them to be able to say, "Yes, I can help with that!" rather than, "Oh? We have a Web site?"
The folks at GEICO Direct Insurance (www. geico. com) definitely want to talk to you, and they've hooked up their phones to their Web site to do it (Figure 8.12). Click the mouse; your phone rings.
This is a momentary workaround solution to a problem that's going to go away soon. There's no mystery to sending voice packets over the Internet. It's just a matter of time before you'll simply be able to talk through your computer. That time may even have been between my writing and your reading. Then, "Can I help you?" comes with complete knowledge of what page you're on and an idea of how to help you.
Companies like Talx (www. talx. com) have a little button at the bottom of the pages they build for their clients. Talx got started in the interactive voice response (IVR) business and realized that the Web could not be ignored, so they combined the two. For years they have been making systems that can solve people's problems by letting them talk to a computer over the phone.
"To change the number of dependents on your W-4 Form, press 1."
The Talx system takes over and completes the transaction by linking the phone to your company's payroll applications. They also make systems that solve people's problems by letting them talk to other people over the computer. If you're doing your own data entry through a browser and you have a question, click the button and the customer service desk or the help desk gets a phone call.
That's good so far, but there's one more step. The screen that you are looking at and questioning is displayed in front of the customer service representative when the call goes through. Instead of, "Who are you? What's the matter? What do you want?" it becomes, "Hi, Fred, sorry you're having a problem with the W-4 Form. How can I help
Put that to use on your Web site when you're trying to make a sale, and fewer people would surf off in confusion just when they were about to buy.
GET THEM TO TALK TO EACH OTHER
This topic was brought up in a previous chapter, but it bears repeating here. If you want to know what your customers are thinking, get them talking. I devoted an entire chapter about this subject in Customer Service on the Internet and with good reason:
Beyond posting purified, disinfected data for the masses, and besides answering e-mail from individuals, there is tremendous value in getting your clients to talk to each other. Getting them to talk about you and your products can be a very powerful tool for building loyalty. It can also expose you in unpleasant ways.
Marketers have always used testimonials. Now there is a way to get people to express their ongoing love affair with your products and services in their own words: on line and in real time.
On the other hand, they will also air their dirty laundry. They will be only too happy to espouse your shortcomings. They will be delighted to take their frustrations out on you in public. Kept them waiting on hold longer than they could tolerate? Didn't offer a refund? Didn't even say "I'm sorry"? Now your customers can tell the world in an instant. Is this really such a good idea?
It's a very good idea. Managed properly, these complaints become a wealth of information for product and service improvement. They become the springboard to people helping each other and forming a community of customers. They prove to your customers that you value their contribution. It also shows that your company is embracing this new technology in order to open the doors between you and your clientele instead of using it simply to disseminate the company line.
Getting clients to talk is one thing (and a good thing), but building a community is another thing entirely (and a great thing).
Awareness in marketing leads to branding. Community on the Internet leads to bonding. Bonding occurs when customers are so closely connected to your products they don't just use them and repurchase them; they also recommend them and are happy to make public pronouncements about how your products changed their lives.
One way to move customers toward bondage is to create a place for them to congregate. They'll get to know each other. Then they'll complain. Then they'll gang up on you. Then they'll start helping each other.
If You Build It, They Will Bond
Cisco Systems did more than create automated methods of helping its customers; it created a way for its customers to help themselves. Open Forum was one of Cisco's first customer-only and customer-specific features. A private newsgroup managed by the customer service staff, Open Forum was created for posing less straightforward technical support questions (Figure 8.13).
Here's the process: A customer asks a particularly troublesome question, and the system scours a Cisco knowledgebase for the answer. Potential answers are shown to the customer; if the answers don't fit or aren't sufficient to solve the problem, the customer can ask again, or the customer can send the question to the engineers. Cisco engineers are tasked with finding the answer. If they do, great. The question and the answer are fed into the knowledgebase for next time. If they don't find the answer, the question goes to the Open Forum, where all customers can take a crack at it.
If the customer sees an answer he or she likes, it and the question are sent to a team of technical writers and senior engineers to check the veracity of the information, as well as grammar and style. Once they clean it up, the question and answer go into the knowledgebase.
As a result of this system, 75 percent of questions are answered before they hit the Open Forum. The bonding happens because of the interesting mix of camaraderie and competition in the Open Forum. Celebrities are created and honored for being willing and able to help their fellow customers.
The reason this customer service application shows up in a marketing book is simple. If you add more value to your products through customer service, your products are more valuable to your prospective customers. And besides, you had better give them a place to talk to each other about your products for one good reason . . .
If You Don't Build It, They Will
Imagine the surprise over at Corel Corporation (www. corel. com) when they heard that people were talking about Corel. Lots of people. In fact, there was a whole Web site set up by Corel customers just to talk about Corel products. In fact, this Web site was so popular and so populated, they were able to sell advertising (Figure 8.14).
When Corel got wind of this site, they rushed right out and bought up the advertising before their competitors could. But that didn't quite make Corel feel comfortable enough.
Their lawyers advised that advertising on a discussion site that could contain questionable information might be construed as endorsement of that information by association. So Corel bought the site-lock, stock, and barrel. This move was far easier in the long run. Now, Corel has the Corel newsgroup page (Figure 8.15).
This area is intended to provide users the opportunity to exchange information, tips, and techniques with other users regarding Corel applications. To ensure a smooth flow of information, please note the Expectations of Service and Rules of Conduct for the newsgroups.
Corel understands the power of letting customers talk to each other and understands the power of being the focal point, the starting place, the portal to that discussion. Corel also understands that some rules are valuable and some moderation is necessary.
Expectations of service
Corel's role: Corel does not offer any formal support in the public news-groups. Instead, Corel technical support staff will monitor and moderate the newsgroups to ensure the smooth flow of information and ensure messaging guidelines are maintained.
Users are free to exchange advice amongst one another, but users must use discretion when receiving technical information from individuals who are not Corel staff.
Corel assumes no liability for information exchanged amongst users of these message areas.
All responses obtained from Corel representatives will be indicated as such.
Rules of conduct
Appropriate Language: The purpose of the newsgroups is to exchange technical information and expertise on Corel products. Please avoid personal attacks, slurs, and any use of profanity in your messages.
Message Topics: Please keep the topic of messages relevant to the subject of the newsgroup. It's normal for some message topics to drift from the stated subject. However, to ensure maximum impact and benefit for all involved, please keep your messages close to the newsgroup's subject.
Advertising/ Solicitation: The newsgroups are for peer-to-peer assistance on Corel products. Participants are asked to refrain from posting advertisements or solicitations not pertaining to the intended use and purpose of the newsgroups.
NOTE: Corel reserves the right to remove, without warning, any messaging that does not fall within the outlined criteria for message postings within these areas.
All of the above is followed by a disclaimer so serious, Corel felt compelled to print it in gray on a white background so it wouldn't be too jarring. Nevertheless, you have to hand it to them for being brave enough to ride herd on some 59 different discussions covering all the different versions of all their products.
Be Brave and Benefit Philips (www. philips. com) makes a hand-held computer/ personal digital assistant/ gizmo called a Velo. It runs Microsoft's Windows CE and keeps track of your life for you. In the spring of 1998, Velo owners were a little miffed about some problems they were having, such as a delayed upgrade in operating system and a loose hinge. In fact, they were upset enough to bring it to the attention of Ed Foster.
Ed Foster is a writer for the industry newspaper Infoworld. You don't want your customers to get in touch with Ed-his column is called The Gripe Line.
People who wrote to Ed wanted him to know they were not lone voices in the wilderness and pointed him to the discussion of their problems by many others on the Philips Web site. Are you willing to air your dirty linen in public? Philips says, "Yes."
Ginger Moschetta is the marketing manager for Web solutions at Philips, and she's all for it. She knows the value of listening to customers, not just listening to them in focus groups or by reading the amalgamation of their survey responses. She especially listens to them when they com-plain. An unhappy customer represents two different but very important opportunities: a chance to fix something you may not have known was wrong and a chance to delight an unhappy customer.
People who complain are worth their weight in pain. They are willing to step forward and help you. They are willing to point out the error of your ways so that you can stop disappointing other, quieter customers. They care. And, if you are lucky enough to be able to solve their problem and do it well, they will be dedicated customers for a long time to come.
Letting people gripe and grumble as a group empowers them to be more vociferous. It's the mob-mentality thing: "Yeah! Me, too!" You certainly don't want that to get out of hand, but you do want your customers to feel that you want to hear from them and that their opinion is important.
Keep an Open Mind and an Open Ear
Your Web site is an opportunity to bond with your customers through enthralling information, entertaining activities, and exceptional service. If you concentrate on getting feedback from them, you will know how to cater to them. If you acknowledge them individually and in public for their participation, they will cling to the relationship.