Leveraging E-Service to Bolster Your Direct Marketing Efforts

The Internet offers enormous opportunities for direct marketers; unfortunately, few use it to their best advantage. Businesses would be wise to leverage their efforts in electronic customer service to help drive direct marketing programs.

I characterize e-service as any form of electronic interaction that successfully resolves an inquiry between a company and its customer. It involves the use of e-mail, Web forms, knowledge bases, frequently asked questions, live chat and integrated phone messages. Just as important, e-service equates to timely, accurate, personalized responses. No customer feels pampered when their inquiry is finally acknowledged one week later or they receive a canned e-mail response that doesn't pertain to their issue.

The hard-working Web form. Web forms in particular are truly the direct marketer's dream. It surprises me that most businesses don't exploit their value. Using Web forms to provide e-service makes a great deal of sense for several reasons:

* You can gather the exact information you need;

* You gain an organizational structure in the database;

* There's less chance of entering erroneous data;

* And you get the customer involved in the process.

Simply put, Web forms do the work for you, collecting a wealth of vital information for direct marketers. The electronic medium of Web communication is ideal for marketing purposes and more efficient because all the data can be tracked and recorded, allowing you to easily refer back to it and mine it. Other avenues of customer service, like toll-free lines, are inherently more limiting since they're not designed to capture data for reporting purposes.

The trick is to find the right e-service solution that gives people that high-touch feel they are accustomed to when using the phone. So today, not only can customer service inquiries be addressed quickly and easily using e-mail, this medium allows for far more data to be collected and analyzed to serve your customers better — and it's much less expensive than the phone.

Whenever your Web visitors volunteer information or take steps like sending an inquiring e-mail, clicking on a yes button, or filling out a form to receive a sample, there's a much higher likelihood of customer retention caused by interaction. As you know, the costs of obtaining new customers — versus retaining them — are enormous, providing yet another important reason to quickly and intelligently manage interactions with your customers.

What's needed is a tool that helps you stay focused on your customer and take control of the e-service process while transforming incoming information into a gold mine of opportunity. In real terms, it would provide a way for your business to effectively respond to the daily flood of the hundreds or thousands of e-mails and quickly and properly address each customer's inquiry or complaint, while having the bandwidth to actually leverage that information.

Provide superior service. Great customer care has always been at the heart of my business. I've dedicated many years toward delivering customer care solutions, from outsourcing services to out-of-the-box software. Through this experience, I've gained invaluable insight and expertise as it relates to world-class e-service and managing electronic customer interactions. As a long-time advocate of using the Internet to engage prospects and service customers, it comes as no surprise to me that corporate e-mail message volumes are growing exponentially.

People have a low tolerance for poor service, and it's a challenge for companies to keep up. In order to maximize customer responsiveness, businesses must carefully manage the flow and follow through of e-mail and Web forms. In the process, they'll benefit by building a robust customer database when capturing information volunteered through Web forms and e-mail correspondence. So, when a user clicks on [email protected] to request product specs or fills out a Web form to solicit support, all that information and correspondence is logged into a database to build a meaningful body of information about your customers and prospects.

Identifying key information. Now that the data is captured, your marketing group needs a way to extract just the relevant information. From my own experience, accessing the proper information must be simple and fast or I won't bother. Users need a tool that's powerful yet easy to use to retrieve pertinent information. Direct marketers, for instance, may find it useful to identify only those customers with special considerations, such as premium service contract holders or frequent buyers. Or, when working on sales opportunities, they should have a complete picture of the account, including past contact with various departments, as well as the nature of any prior complaints or requests. A solid e-service solution captures all this information.

Take control and reap the rewards. When businesses take full control of the e-service process, the rewards are multifaceted. Customer satisfaction ratings increase because of enhanced customer care, and marketing efforts are refined since more comprehensive and relevant customer information is readily available. The enlightened direct marketer will tap into all sources of information about their customer. By leveraging the customer intelligence accrued through e-service, direct marketers will have the complete customer picture to help them prosper.

Pradeep Singh is the CEO and founder of Aditi Corp., Bellevue, WA, an e-mail and Internet services firm. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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