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A How-to Guide to Satisfying Your Customers

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Posted May 3, 2001 By Jerri Ledford     Feedback

How do you build a solid long-standing relationship with your customers and increase your revenues to boot? Well, first, you have to make every effort to respond to their needs from the first click to the point-of-sale.

The Internet economy has brought about many changes in the way that companies do business. Among those changes is the way that people make purchases and interact with their retailers, suppliers and vendors. That interaction, the application service provider industry has finally realized, is the key to attracting, satisfying and retaining customers.

The Internet doesn't change buying behaviors. No, people still shop around, debate purchases before they make them, and in general, buy on the Internet the same way they would buy in a retail establishment. However, Robert LoCasio, founder and CEO of New York City-based LivePerson recently told Comdex attendees that the Internet enables business to "embrace the customer at the point-of-sale."

And this point-of-sale interaction is a key driver in increasing revenues and building a solid, and long-standing, customer base. So how do you take advantage of the Internet in general, and ASP services in particular, to interact more effectively with you customers? The good news is that there are several methods of interaction.

Interactive Automation
"The Internet is about right now-real time," Tom Rearick, vice president of product strategy for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based eGain Communications said during the Comdex panel, entitled "Managing Customers' Interactions With You." And, right now, means just that. Not answering e-mails three months after they come into your organization, he said.

In fact, a recent Jupiter Media Metrix study pointed out the dismal response by retailers in responding to customer service inquiries.

Rather, every effort should be made to answer all customer contacts within a few hours, if not minutes. One way to accomplish that is through automated e-mail services such as eGain Mail, which routes, tracks and responds to e-mails based on Web forms and previous interactions.

The process is critically important, said Punita Pandey, CEO and founder of netCustomer, based in San Jose, Calif. "Even if you have great people and great technologies, if you don't have great processes, you're still not utilizing customer relationship management to the fullest extent," continued Pandey.

But, responding to customers via e-mail is only one part of the technology equation. A second, and perhaps more important part, is live interaction – chat.

According to LivePerson's LoCasio, one example of how well live chat works is Nordstrom's Web-based operations. LoCasio said that when Nordstrom's added click-to-chat to their e-commerce site, sales increased by about 100 percent. He added that when using live chat, 35 percent more Web customers ended up buying and that subsequently decreases customer interaction costs (at the call center level) by about 40 percent.

A third way to interact with your customers in a more virtual way is to implement an interactive chat agent. Interactive chat agents are programs that can respond intelligently to customer questions based on information collected and catalogued from previous customer interactions. The agent responds to keywords to provide answer to basic questions about the availability of products and services.

"Your options are as wide as the number of companies that exist," said netCustomer's Pandey. However, eGain's Rearick noted that businesses should choose carefully when instituting a Web-based customer care program. Web sites and agents must speak with one voice, all coming from the same direction, he said. "If the Internet can't be better than the mall, what's the point?" he asks.

Multiple Levels of Interaction
Interacting with your customers on the virtual level has its advantages. Costs are much lower when you can satisfy your customer without actually having to use the telephone. For example, Dell Computer Corporation spends about $50 per call dealing with customers over the phone. What's more, interactive agents, automated e-mail, and even Web-based chat with real people, shorten the length of time it takes to deal with a customer.

However, don't let the potential cost savings and advantages of technology drive all your business decisions. "Loyalty is an emotional response," said Rearick. "To engender loyalty you have to have real people there." Keep a knowledgeable customer service staff and make it easy for the customer to get to that live person.

"It's really all about interaction," said Pandey. And a recent study bears that out. Market analysis firm, Data Monitor in July 2000 found that "$173 billion could be lost in sales over the next five years due to poor customer service." So, if you don't want to be included in that statistic, it's imperative that you put a customer service plan in place that combines technology and "the human touch."

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