Firms Add Online Help to E-Mails

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Responsys.com, Palo Alto, has teamed with LivePerson Inc., a New York sales and customer service provider, to offer marketing and e-commerce firms the ability to integrate live, online help into their e-mail marketing campaigns.


The deal will enable Responsys' e-mail clients to place links within e-mail that recipients can click for more information. The link will open a small window that allows e-mail recipients to chat via text with live customer service representatives.


"This is about taking a piece of your Web site to the consumer instead of waiting for the consumer to come to your Web site," said Anand Jagannathan, president/CEO of Responsys.com. "With LivePerson, the interaction between the Web site and consumer is more dynamic. Now we are bringing that to e-mail." Responsys' e-tail business customers will be the most likely to consider this service, he said, because they frequently send e-mails with promotions and offers that might inspire follow-up questions.


Larry Wasserman, vice president of marketing at LivePerson, said its online chat service can play two roles for e-commerce sites.


"The LivePerson chat functionality is used by a lot of people for customer service, but it is also very strong in converting sales," Wasserman said. "Expectations on the Web are very high and people are looking basically to get their questions answered immediately."


Both companies said they operate as outsourced application providers and require no hardware or software installation or specialized servers. This was a major factor in their decision to partner with each other instead of with similar providers, according to Jagannathan and Wasserman. Though the partnership allows for the integration of both services, clients must enter into separate contracts with Responsys and LivePerson.


The clients also must decide whom they want to staff the online help service. While LivePerson does offer third-party customer service representatives, Wasserman said most companies prefer to use their own employees because they are already familiar with the products or services. When using the live chat service in conjunction with e-mail, the learning curve is reduced even further.


"When you have a controlled environment like outbound e-mail with one or a few items at best, then the options become limited to where you can easily cover prepared responses, upsell opportunities and all-else-fails scenarios," said Wasserman.


Another challenge is staggering the e-mail delivery so that all of the messages do not go out at the same time and overload online reps.


The companies have already begun beta-testing the live, chat-enabled e-mails. Jagannathan said he believed it would take a few months to fully integrate the service into clients' e-mail campaigns.


Responsys and LivePerson also anticipate upsell opportunities for themselves as part of the deal. Jagannathan said his firm has the chance to promote its full-line, e-mail marketing campaigns to LivePerson clients who might only be using the chat service on their Web sites. LivePerson, in turn, can try to convince the firms that use its online chat browser for e-mails to make the service a permanent feature on their Web sites.
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