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IBM.com Bolsters Customer Service, Marketing

IBM.com, the Internet presence for one of the world's largest computer manufacturers, has beefed up its online customer service and marketing efforts as the Web site prepares for the e-commerce long haul.

Live text chats, “call-me-now” buttons and simpler self-service drop-down menus were among the first initiatives launched by the site with the goal of creating a more pleasant shopping experience for consumers. Other new features will follow in the near future.

“First and foremost, we have the opportunity to really do a better job than our competitors in responding to our customers' needs,” said David Bradley, vice president of marketing at IBM.com, White Plains, NY. “We wanted to add a human element to the online experience. It's something customers clearly want.”

A recent study conducted by Cyber Dialogue, New York, found that the number of consumers looking for online customer service has doubled and that two-thirds of consumers look for the sites with the best customer service.

The company revamped the site's 200,000 pages to make the shopping and support functions as quick and easy as possible. Text chats and “call-me-now” buttons — through which a consumer will receive a call from a telesales agent within 30 seconds of clicking the mouse — have been expanded to 500 pages within IBM.com.

Speedier self-support features, such as faster searches and standardized, extensive drop-down menus, also have been added. Additionally, icons and navigation buttons are being renamed or repositioned for a consistent, global meaning.

Information about these new features is being integrated into IBM.com marketing efforts, which include direct mail, e-mail, print, broadcast and other media forms. “We need to strike the right balance between selling something, having a tangible offer and introducing some of the new elements,” Bradley said. “We'll weave it in and out.”

The site has been involved in a “strong and sustained” marketing effort for the better part of the year, according to Bradley. Many of these efforts are designed to draw consumers to the site to purchase items including the ThinkPad T series and IBM's latest NetVista product.

One recent campaign included print ads in USA Today in which consumers received a code that led them to a specific part of the site, allowing IBM to track the ad's effectiveness. Additionally, IBM.com has been very active in the use of e-mail marketing since it has an aggregated mailing list of millions, Bradley said. “We will do a lot more of that,” he said.

The campaigns are subject to change as the company adjusts its efforts. “We're trying to be good direct marketers. We'll evaluate [the campaigns] on ad-by-ad and week-by-week [bases]. It will be very dynamic,” Bradley said. “In the months ahead, you'll see more from us; you will see an increase in all direct response media.”

The site's target audience includes small businesses as well as individual consumers. It was originally launched in 1994, and its most recent incarnation is its 10th redesign.

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