In both the business-to-business and business-to-consumer worlds, the Web site is beginning to be seen as merely an alternative to ordering by phone, fax, or in person. In other words, expectations are as high as for any other means of doing business. Your customer service and professional image must be consistent in order to meet these expectations. That said, there are several popular avenues for online marketing:
- E-mail newsletters and promotions: Consent of the recipient is essential otherwise most will view you as an annoyance. However, there is nothing wrong with asking customers if they would like to receive periodic updates about your service category (whether it is news and views of the world of accounting, real estate, airfares, trucking, or productivity improvement) and upcoming special offers.
- Build traffic through Web links with other sites: Ask industry associations, suppliers, business customers, and providers of complementary products or services if they will place a link to you on their sites in exchange for links to them from your site. It's free advertising targeted to your industry. In cases where there is a fee, the cost is often worth it.
- Offer something free: A health-food restaurant chain might offer a per-portion fat-content calculator while a transportation company might offer a mileage calculator. Guides and libraries are also useful and contests can be appealing. The cost involved buys traffic and builds recognition. Do what you can to let new customers know that you are knowledgeable and valuable as a business partner.
- Buy a banner ad: You place your ad on a popular site and pay for the traffic it generates - usually about $25 to $40 per 1,000 page views. You'll probably be paying between $1 and $4 per visitor to your site.
- Get involved in discussion sites related to your industry: Any search engine or directory will soon find them. Be subtle - it's a venue to impress potential customers with your knowledge and approach as a business partner, not an advertising opportunity. An e-mail "signature" - company name, address, phone number, Web address, e-mail address, and one-line business slogan - indicating your affiliation will be advertisement enough.
Reduce marketing costs: replace expensive printed company brochures with regularly updated electronic versions
Place marketing information such as company brochures on your Web site. Customers access the site to download your company's views on issues related to your sector, case studies, pictures, customer testimonials, and corporate background. You save time, materials, printing, shipping, and mailing costs. Plus, you can update your materials as often as you like.
Improve customer service: offer round-the-clock or quick-turnaround response
Going to 24-by-7 service obviously involves expense. If you choose this route, you may outsource responses during off-hours. Another option is to promise a limited-time turnaround for e-mail inquiries.
The key is to live up to the promise. Prepare your customer support team with a professional service training program and post your response capabilities prominently on your Web site. Don't make commitments you cannot keep regarding turnaround. It's better to under-promise and over-deliver. Do let your customers know you will bend over backwards to hold onto their business. Good prices win customers, but good service keeps them coming back.
Reduce customer service costs through "do-it-yourself" features on your Web site
Customers who conduct their own information searches get exactly what they want because they get it themselves.
Your site's search engine allows customers to enter keywords or phrases, which the search engine uses to rummage through your site and provide them with a quick link. Remember that misspellings and unclear results can mislead the customer, so keep working to make your site's design intuitive and easy to navigate.
Other do-it-yourself options:
- A FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list;
- Customized display - when customers identify themselves or their industry, your site presents specially selected categories of services, information, and/or prices;
- Branch or chain locations - usually works by the customer entering his or her postal code;
- Calculators, libraries, directories, installation guides, and specification sheets;
- Industry news;
- Multi-language content.
Offer improved customer responsiveness and service delivery over the Internet
E-commerce, both business-to-business and business-to-consumer, has a dramatic impact on the way services are managed, bought, sold, and delivered.
When the Internet arrived on the commercial and industrial scene, the ability to use the new medium to deliver services was considered an attractive, if trendy, add-on. Now interactive Web capability is an essential option for service delivery. Customers now expect to be able to buy tickets, make reservations, place orders, and conduct a broad range of financial and real estate services over the Internet.
Improve customer service and satisfaction through electronic customer relationship management (eCRM)
Electronic customer relationship management (or eCRM) generally includes an electronic sales platform - for some customers, sales may be their only contact with the company -as well as gathers and co-ordinates customer information.
Information can be used for several purposes:
- Customer service: Whichever medium the customer uses, sales and service personnel can quickly identify the individual's essential background information such as location, recent purchases, account history, and payment status.
- Self-service: Customers can access Web-based or telephone-based electronic systems to track their own accounts, identify the nearest store outlet, or find the answer to a question.
- Customer analysis: Many businesses use customer information and purchase data to guide operations and marketing, and to improve service.
Act quickly on customer/market feedback: share customer information throughout the organization
Web technology makes personal interaction with customers possible on a large scale. By sharing customer information including sales and service data throughout various segments of the organization, employees begin to work better as a unit, responding to new customer opportunities or potential customer losses more effectively.
Automated customer service and call centre technology can make use of integrated database marketing, lead management, and sales analysis to pursue more sales leads while providing better overall customer support.
Personalize service, optimize marketing, and improve customer relations: co-ordinate customer information for electronic, telephone, and office-based formats
Electronic CRM solutions tie together multiple channels of communication, including live chat, telephone, e-mail, and Web-based frequently asked questions (FAQs).
The idea is that customers can choose the way they want to do business with you. In turn, you will always know who they are and whether they have just placed an order or made a complaint through another channel, even if it was just five minutes ago.
Remember, poor implementation can actually hurt you. Care must be taken in putting these systems in place:
- Get some help. Hire good consultants in the field because it can be daunting to confront the number of vendors, claims, and variety of solutions in the marketplace. Your consultant should begin with an analysis of what you can spend and how you can expect to benefit at each stage of your implementation.
- Gather only what you need. Customer information is plentiful but you can upset consumers with too many questions. Zero in on what you need. For instance, postal codes can be very helpful with marketing but how would the customer's age be of use? For business customers, gathering information should be part of a larger effort to grow the relationship; take a moment to consider what information will help you offer better service. For both consumers and businesses, keep in mind that your best return is on existing high-value customers. Identify them and treat them well.
- Be selective about outsourcing. While it is a cost-saving option that is quick to implement, limit outsourcing to high-volume customer interactions that are not core to your business.
- Use only what you need, as you need it. Don't fall in love with technology for technology's sake. Analyze your customers and find out how they like to deal with you. Most companies start with telephone and e-mail, adding Web capabilities when the need arises. Find out what's right for your business.
- Set standards for your system. Repeatedly measure performance against the standards. You may wish to have every call answered within three rings, every email acknowledged within four hours, and every Web page loading within 30 seconds. Check that you are saving more than you are spending on eCRM.
Grow profitability: analyze customer information to optimize marketing efforts
The philosophy behind CRM and eCRM is that some customers make you more money than others.
It's not just a matter of how much they spend or are likely to spend. Profitability of a customer also depends on the amount of hand-holding and negotiating they require.
The idea with both eCRM and CRM is to attract and retain highly profitable customers. By gathering and analyzing customer information, an e-strategy can help cut the cost of sales and cross-selling, thereby increasing revenues from lower-profit customers.
- Identify typical characteristics of high-value customers - location, size, industry, or type of business - to guide marketing, service, and operations;
- Anticipate customer needs: initiate cross-selling by monitoring customer behaviour such as surfing patterns on your Web page, common service requests, etc.;
- Reduce cost of sales by using customer profiles and histories at inbound call centres.
Remember, eCRM is about retention, conversion, and loyalty. Possession of customers' personal information is a privilege, so gather it selectively and use it wisely with these goals in mind.
Provide better customer service and track customer concerns with an online help desk
Computers excel at performing repetitive, programmable tasks such as answering frequently asked questions. Organizations can save money by providing automated help desks 24 hours a day, resulting in better service at less cost.
The usual formats are:
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) lists;
- Searchable help files.
Questions accessed and files searched are statistically tracked to gain an understanding of areas of customer confusion in order to improve advertising, sales, service, or customer information.
Discussion forums: Another route is the online discussion forum. The organization can provide a "bulletin board" service allowing customers to talk to one another, with a separate area to discuss problems with a company service representative who monitors the site. This allocation of resources is useful because both consumers and business customers appreciate a quick and personal response.
Some businesses assign a full-time moderator to their service site. For some customers, a moderator creates a more conversational tone than a formal e-mail problem-resolution format.
Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.