Everyone Gains With Self-Service Lists

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Do you remember the first time you bought something online?


For most of us, the Internet is old hat; we buy gifts, make hotel reservations, research competitors and request information on a daily basis.


You probably had reservations about going online the first few times. Can these Web sites do all the wonderful things they are advertised to do? Will they really save me time? And possibly money? Will the Web even be around in a year?


Reaching the "yes" answer didn't happen overnight. You had to lose your fear of doing things differently, and companies creating e-commerce sites had to lose their fear of losing control over the sale.


Something similar is spreading slowly through the list industry - getting customers to "serve themselves" with Internet-based count and order technology, making them happier than when you did that work for them.


At the same time, those list owners, managers and compilers who have taken the Internet plunge are seeing more efficiency across their businesses while maintaining the control over the data that they had offline. Here's a look at what's happening at some companies:


Higher count-to-order ratios, but more than double the previous orders. A national database compiler made its Internet count and order site available first to a select number of external customers. The rollout to these customers included day-to-day, one-on-one training, routine reinforcement through e-mail, telephone conversations, direct mail pieces and education on the benefits of running their own counts and orders.


Sixty days after the launch, the compiler saw its count-to-order ratio almost double from 4-to-1 to 7-to-1. Counts were up, but so were orders. Those same customers started ordering more of the counts that they were running themselves. Before they would call or fax the compiler.


The explanation? One user, a list broker, of the compiler's systems summed it up. She called it the hassle factor, saying that in the time it used to take her to pick up the phone or fax over her count request, she could click here, click there and in seconds she had the count or multiple versions of similar counts.


Even though the compiler's staff was always accommodating, she said she didn't want to put people out by running four or five versions of a count. The count and order system was so fast and easy for her that she could present multiple counts to her customers while she still had them on the phone. Between her speed of service and showing her own customers multiple counts, she said her chances of turning one into a sale increased.


More customer consultation time for upselling, cross-selling - and just plain selling. Before putting its data in an online count and order environment, a large and growing licensee and aggregator of business and consumer databases was at a crossroads. Business was growing, but customer care and sales staffs were taxed keeping up with the counts and orders they ran for customers.


The company couldn't hire or train people fast enough to keep up with the volume. The staff felt they were missing out on opportunities to act as the data consultants they had advertised themselves to be. They were missing revenue-generation opportunities.


At the same time, customer satisfaction was passable but not excellent. The company examined its customer base and determined that 35 percent of its customers ordered the same counts and placed the same orders regularly. When the company launched its site, it targeted those customers first. The staff members even set up count templates for each targeted customer on the site so getting them to use the site would be easier.


After 30 days, staff members found themselves having more time to work with customers, finding out about more opportunities for additional list and data sales. One account manager, who was fearful about losing the count and order control, became the biggest advocate. He said that his customers would run four or five counts, then call him to review them. Instead of doing the count work, he would consult with his customer and perhaps help them modify a count to get better results.


After one year, the company's total sales grew 22 percent from the previous year. But its overall staff decreased by 25 percent from the prior year through attrition and routine hiring practices. So the company expanded its corporate book of business without having to increase staff to support it.


Customers have more time to get things done. A Midwest company that owns a smaller niche database saw immediate results from its online count and order system. Customers were logging in and running counts and placing orders at all hours of the day, before and beyond the company's business hours. And order volume jumped 18 percent in the first 90 days.


The company president said that one of the most unexpected benefits of the site was that customers were calling the company to let staff know that the count and order site "had saved them" in some way. Site customers gave examples such as not having to wait until the next morning when working late on a marketing proposal and needing a count or multiple counts, or when they had forgotten to place the order during normal business hours.


Moving customers to self-service count and order systems involves doing what you might have done a decade or two ago, when you taught people not to fear computer systems or even fax machines in the office. You offer one-on-one training. You provide constant reinforcement. And you show customers that this is a tool rapidly becoming easier to use, with great benefits to them.


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