The Four Rs of Superlative Service

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As the Internet becomes an integral part of the marketing mix, more marketers are realizing its potential as a marketing tool. The problem, as we've recently seen in the dot-com fallout, is generating a viable revenue stream from your e-marketing activities. I believe there is only one way to do this -- by offering a superlative customer experience based on what I call the four Rs:


Recognition: Consumers want to be recognized, not for their value to the merchant, but for what value they bring to the merchant through association and shared common values. Recognition does not necessarily require or demand individual identification, but consumers do see value in communicating their interests, preferences and uniqueness to trusted providers that are then better able to respond.


Response: Consumers seek out merchants that respond to their individual needs for quality, value, service, delivery and customer appreciation. Consumers desire flexibility within their needs for that occasion. Current-day, online technology has compromised the relationship between consumer and merchant, with both parties sacrificing their needs.


Relevance: Consumers desire a deeper, yet appropriate dialogue with the online merchant, within the context of their specific shopping occasion. Consumers speak out frequently -- with their loyalty and their checkbooks -- and say "I have unique needs, please help me to fulfill them." They tire quickly of product and service presentations that do not speak to their lifestyles. Neither party benefits from an exchange where lack of relevance exists.


Respect: Consumers understand that for true, quality personalization to work effectively to their benefit in the online environment, they must provide some amount of specific information to the merchant. Merchants must respect the confidentiality of this information and restrict its use to what lies within the context of the relationship.


Think of the great online brands -- Amazon, eBay, Yahoo. These brands are the result of learning the hard way that superlative customer care is the ultimate measure of success. On the Web, delivering this quality of service requires grappling with fast-moving technology, a volatile regulatory environment and, frequently, an anonymous customer.


Following the four Rs is good business: Bill Seltzer, executive vice president and chief information officer of Office Depot, said, "Incremental increases in the customer experience have a big impact on the bottom line. If a customer rates you as a five on a scale of one to five, they're six times more likely to return to you than if they rate you as a four."


Smart e-marketing acknowledges consumers' lifestyles, and demographics are changing. "There is a shift in the way people are leading their lives," said Dr. Jack Sansolo, executive vice president of global brand direction at Eddie Bauer. "They're more pressed for time. They multitask. They're looking for shortcuts -- brands that represent quality and a guide to what's relevant for them."


The Internet is here to stay because it has the potential to offer consumers the best of both worlds -- convenience and superlative customer care.

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