Talk to a marketing executive for a large bank or Credit Card Company and she might claim to have been doing â€˜Customer Relationship Managementâ€™ (CRM) long before the term was invented. Indeed, large financial institutions were at the forefront of relationship marketing, which is a subset of CRM.
The emergence of the Internet heralded a new opportunity for customer relationship building. For one thing, search engines made it easier for customers to find online merchants and interact with them. And, once found those merchants offered customers more streamlined ways of ordering and receiving products and services.
Moreover, the Internet simplified bidirectional communication, for the first time offering a better way for consumers to relay personal information to the merchant. Instead of waiting to be mailed a form to open an account or order a phone line, a prospective customer needed only to send an application through cyberspace, resulting in shorter delivery time, improvement in accuracy and quite often a higher positive perception. In fact, the Internet is an environment offering real-time information and often on-demand product delivery.
Internet users appreciate not having to go out of their way to buy what they want, and the simpler the process, the higher the potential for customer satisfaction. Indeed, the Web offered customers options they hadnâ€™t had with other delivery channels, namely:
1. 24-hours access
2. Up-to-the-minute information (on, for example, stock levels, product features and prices)
3. the ability to research a product or merchant during a shopping trip
4. Online customer support.
5. Online self service.
6. Personalized content
Consider the old way when a customer needs a new set of window blinds. He goes to the kitchen, finds the yellow pages, and calls his local blind company. The representative explains they can have someone come out and measure for the blinds a week from Thursday. The rep arrives from the blind company, measures and shows the customer photos of various blind styles and colors. Then the rep takes another two days to write an estimate. Almost two weeks later the customer has the pricing information he needs. Now he must decide whether to get another estimate or take his chances with the only vendor he has contacted.
Compare that to the Web version. The customer enters â€œmini blindsâ€ in his favorite search engine which returns the web sets for several catalog window treatment firms. He chooses a company, which displays a series of blind designs and prices-per-inch. The customer chooses a design he likes, enters his window measurements, and receives online pricing including tax and shipping. Before purchasing, he browses a couple of other window-ware Web sites for additional blind designs and prices, eventually placing his order in less than an hour.
Although basic, the above examples illustrate why the Web has made doing business easier than ever. For the customer, the time savings â€“ even if he has to measure the window himself is improved by orders of magnitude. Plus, while he awaits delivery he can revisit the Website to validate measurements or refresh on his chosen style.
For the blind retailer, the order arrives electronically decreasing sale time while reducing the chance of error. The measurements, after all, are now the customerâ€™s responsibility. Furthermore, the company has captured other information â€“ the customerâ€™s preferred blind style, his neighborhood, his interior color scheme for potential use in follow up communications.
Cisco CEO John Chambers put a new spin on leveraging customer loyalty with the Internet. Chambers demonstrated a Web connected gas pump that allowed a customer to swipe a â€œloyalty cardâ€. Swiping the card not only starts the gas flowing, it also illuminates a digital screen displaying personalized messages such as traffic reports while the customer pumps her gas. A customerâ€™s initial reluctance to subscribe to such services can be more than offset by the value they provide.