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Follow That Customer

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Posted January 10, 2003 By Jonathan Jackson     Feedback

In this economy, no one can afford to let a customer get away.

CRM at the Speed of LightCRM at the Speed of Light
By Paul Greenberg
480pp. Berkeley, CA: McGraw-Hill. $29.99.

What's the simplest way to generate sales online? Make that one-time purchaser at your site a repeat customer. Repeat customers are a business' bread-and-butter. And it's generally estimated that acquiring a new customer is 10 times more expensive than retaining an old one.

The importance of customer retention is the source of what is currently the strongest trend in e-business: customer relationship management, or CRM. Technically, it covers all touch points between a business and its customers. In the context of marketing, CRM often travels under the name of customization, personalization or one-to-one marketing.

In his encyclopedic tome, Paul Greenberg tells you just about everything you ever wanted to know about CRM. By no means a quick read, the time invested in digesting this book will undoubtedly pay off handsomely. The more you know about CRM, the better off you'll be.

For the sake of simplicity, we can say that it is the dialogue between a marketer and the consumer. This conversation has, of course, already been going on for years--it's just that it has changed radically, thanks to the revolution in IT. Current CRM growth is largely about the development of software that captures data from multiple sources, then databases it for analysis and distribution. It's not just about the Internet, but includes such things as call centers, inventory management and real-time availability of detailed customer information at the point of sale.

The tech-heavy nature of CRM has meant that mainly larger businesses and corporations have been its major users. Voting with their dollars, these companies have been spending huge sums on CRM. There's no question that IT, as it underpins e-business, can bring marketer and consumer into a close and warm (and very expensive) embrace. But focusing only on IT's potential overlooks the other side of CRM: the marketing side.

Stripped of all the IT, what does CRM really boil down to? Basically, it means knowing your customer and putting that knowledge to use. Many CRM professionals give the same advice: Keep it simple. That's good news for businesses on tight budgets.

If CRM is all about having a dialogue with your customers, then there's no better place to talk than the Internet. Think about the many ways you currently interact with your present and potential customers. For instance, they can call your company. But this is often expensive, as it typically requires a toll-free number, as well as the time of customer service personnel. Alternatively, they can use snail-mail. However, this is slow, and it also requires the company to respond with written material, generating printing and postage costs. What if all these things could be done quicker, cheaper and faster? In essence, that's what the Internet offers.

If there's one phrase that sums up a successful CRM strategy, it would have to be "the personal touch." Your customers will respond well to kindness. By tailoring a specific communication solely for that customer, you virtually guarantee a positive response. It's basic human nature: If a person feels that a message has been created just for her, she in all likelihood will be drawn to it. In the same way that a personal letter has more impact than a form letter, a personalized online experience is infinitely more seductive than a cookie-cutter Web site. The beauty of Internet technology is that it allows companies to personalize their Web sites in a cost-effective way.

All this and much more is discussed at great length in "CRM at the Speed of Light." While the expense and complexity of CRM may seem daunting at first, Greenberg lightens the load with a deft writing touch and boundless knowledge of the subject. And in this economy, no one can afford to let a customer get away.

Reprinted from ECommerce Guide.

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