It was no longer a question of cost-justifying the effort. There were real dollar and time savings involved. The session attendee’s site could enhance the company/customer relationship, reduce costs, eliminate inefficiencies, improve productivity and, ultimately, improve sales and profits.
Management realized what Lou Gerstner, president of IBM, meant when he said, "The Internet and Web are about competition, growth and reaching out to customers."
Customer support and service managers agree that 80 percent of the customer queries can be solved with the first call. A "self-help" help desk on the website that includes frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers allows people to get the information they want, when they want it.
Posting application and technical documentation on your website provides an immediate value to firms in your market. That also means an immediate value to you.
Powerful Business Tool
To use a negative example, for months we had urged a client to add a searchable customer support/service database to his website rather than FAQs. Our reasons were selfish. Customers would have problems, call the contract customer support firm for assistance, be put on hold and out of frustration go to the firm’s website for someone who might help them.
In the company’s pressroom they would find our e-mail address. On a weekly basis we would receive 10 to 20 irate e-mails about our "horrible company" or pleas for assistance. To calm or assist the individual we would respond properly and cc the marketing director, engineering manager and, if necessary, the chief executive officer (CEO).
One customer had been searching for assistance and getting a run-around for nearly three months. We not only responded but we sent the individual’s audit trail of support contacts to 15 key managers including the CEO.
In an hour, the latest version of the product was sent overnight, and the customer received four separate reports on the action that had been taken and apologies.
It was an expensive means to an end for the company that a Web-based support solution could have prevented by being more immediate and more complete. We resigned and explained that sales and profits came from customers, not the sales department. It wasn’t in our best interest to continue business with a company that didn’t understand or didn’t believe that the marketplace was shifting to a one-to-one arena.
The Internet and WWW are powerful tools for business. They allow firms to economically exchange information with hundreds of thousands of people around the globe. They permit companies to seek and exchange valuable, competitive business and product information. They allow firms to reach and become involved with customers in new and exciting ways.
But the real value of Web presence and Internet connections come from helping firms develop strong one-to-one customer relationships that are difficult for competitors to unseat.
If management can’t or won’t address the relationship issues, no amount of print, visual or Web promotion will help them succeed. Too many customers understand the difference.
About the Author
G.A. "Andy" Marken is president of Marken Communications, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif. He may be reached at [email protected].