Schwab-Backed Firm Offers E-Mail Tools

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Charles Schwab & Co., San Francisco, has placed the development and analysis of its e-mail products in the hands of start-up company Quris, whose lead investor and only client is Schwab itself.


The June 20 announcement of the Schwab deal served as Quris' industry launch. In a buzzword-heavy description, Quris calls itself the industry's first "truly integrated electronic touch services firm."


In plainer words, Quris seeks to help business-to-consumer companies use outbound e-mail, wireless and instant messaging to develop and manage lifetime customer relationships. It plans to do that by blending creative services, technical fulfillment, campaign analysis and strategic consulting.


"Very few companies know how to create and execute a strategic and comprehensive program that maximizes e-mail's ability to strengthen customer relationships over the long term," said John Funk, CEO of Quris, San Francisco. There are firms that specialize in each component -- design, delivery, analysis and consulting -- but none that can provide all four, he claimed.


Primary Knowledge, New York -- which analyzes customer interaction data for its clients to use in business decisions -- and other companies may challenge Funk's claim. As is common with e-businesses, however, few do exactly the same thing, and a company can always point to something it does differently.


Primary Knowledge recently partnered with Responsys.com, Palo Alto, CA, to introduce its data analysis services to e-mail marketers. Responsys.com provides e-mail marketing services.


Funk said Quris will target firms that have at least 100,000 customers, but more likely those with a few hundred thousand to several million customers. Charles Schwab has more than 7 million active customer accounts.


Quris so far has helped Schwab develop seven electronic products for its investor customers. Among those are end-of-day e-mails that track a client's stock portfolio and weekly e-mails with the same goal. Schwab also sends out e-bulletins on general stock market news and mutual funds, as well as various industry alerts. Simultaneously, the companies are testing and evaluating the effectiveness of different e-mail vehicles.


"We know that e-mail is our most valuable channel for building customer relationships, yet it is also the most fragile," Gideon Sasson, president of Schwab's electronic brokerage group, said in a prepared statement. The financial firm has to e-deliver its customers personalized, timely information, and at the same time avoid sending them e-mails filled with unwanted content, he said.


The company felt that Quris, even in its infancy, could best help it identify and maximize its e-mail opportunities, according to another Schwab official.


"Their management was particularly strong, and we wouldn't have made such an important decision to be both an investor and customer if that wasn't the case," said John Summerfield, corporate communications director at Schwab. Funk's business background traces back to Exactis.com and InfoBeat.


Both companies planned to introduce several more e-communications products in the next 90 days, but they declined to be more specific.


Funk said Quris was in negotiations to add a few more clients, but he declined to cite specific names. Quris will operate on a services-based revenue stream, he said. Quris will charge its clients fixed fees that combine a retainer fee with per project costs.
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