EDITORIAL: The Customer Experience

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It was back to the basics for many attendees at last week's National Center for Database Marketing conference in Orlando, FL. Several of the beginners' sessions, including testing and e-mail marketing fundamentals, were nearly standing room only. On the exhibit floor, it was all about being able to gather information about a customer in real time: tracking his behavior while he's at your Web site so you can tailor a page or send an e-mail based on that user experience.

Be careful of what data you collect and how you collect it, warned keynoter Judy Kincaid, director of customer relationship management at Hewlett-Packard. Privacy is becoming a much bigger issue. That's the no-brainer of the year. But there are pitfalls when gathering information in the online world - and increasingly in the offline world. Kincaid suggested giving customers access to their information and letting them change it if it's incorrect. Yes, companies are known to get information wrong. Take a catalog I recently received from J. Jill. It was addressed to Ms. Tad Clarke on the outside (don't quite agree with what J. Jill is implying there) and to Mrs. Tad Clarke on the inside order form. (The bigger question is why I received a women's catalog in the first place.)

I'm sure a simple call to J. Jill could clear this up, but I doubt that I'll take the initiative. If I were "in control" of my information, it might be a different story. The problem there, however, is that people lie about themselves. That was a point author Jim Sterne made in his keynote speech. In actuality, I'm 5 feet, 10 inches, but I've always wanted to be 6 foot. Oh, yeah, and let me boost my income by another few thousand. So, what sounds like a good idea might need further thought and should be done only in a very controlled environment.

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