UPDATE: LiveManuals.com Aims to Plug Customer Service Gap, Aid Sales

Technological services provider e-SIM launched an e-commerce Web site this week that offers consumers the ability to examine and learn about electronic products before purchasing them. LiveManuals.com, which enables consumers to test products via interactive simulations, also aims to complement the customer service operations of participating manufacturers.

The Web site enables consumers to manipulate the features and controls of several electronic products, including videocassette recorders, remote controls and cell phones. A user can either manually click on feature buttons or watch an animated demonstration of how the product works.

LiveManuals offers up to 80 different simulations on more than 10,000 products from about 40 manufacturers, according to e-SIM representatives.

E-SIM, New York, launched LiveManuals because of what it believed was a lack of adequate in-store customer service, said Bill Sims, president/CEO of LiveProducts, a division of e-SIM.

“There's a lack of sales presentation on the retail sales floor,” he said. “You can end up with a consumer that doesn't have a good grasp of how the product that they bought works and how to actually operate it.”

Zenith Electronic Corp., Glenview, IL, features six of its remote control products on LiveManuals. The company hopes LiveManuals will complement its offline customer service.

“We expect that this will significantly reduce our cost to serve customers while enhancing their customer satisfaction,” said John Taylor, a spokesman for Zenith. “It's really a win-win situation for the consumer and the manufacturer.”

LiveManuals also enables consumers to create a customized product portfolio that saves model numbers and tracks warranties. The Web site notifies customers via e-mail when their warranties are close to expiring.

Manufacturers can use those e-mails as a platform to cross-sell and up-sell other products, Sims said. Consumers have to opt in to receive additional offers and can only be marketed to by the manufacturer from which they purchased a product.

“We can actually track usage, and we can provide that marketing information back to the manufacturer,” Sims said. “We can get a sense of what it is that the customer is interested in knowing about and use that for marketing purposes toward next year's product line.”

Manufacturers are placing the LiveManuals logo and Web site on their offline products to drive customers to the site, Sims said. Zenith, for instance, is putting its own Web address — www.zenith.com — on its offline materials, such as operating guides, product literature and packaging, in an effort to drive customers to LiveManuals.

E-SIMS is promoting the Web site through trade advertising and an agreement with America Online that includes link-share opportunities and keyword searches. The Web site is being displayed on each manufacturer's Web site as well, Sims said.

Sims reported that e-SIMS plans to expand its service from consumer electronics to other industries, including automotive and aerospace. The company has begun discussions with representatives of three major automobile manufacturers — Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

Sims also said LiveManuals could serve as a customer service and support area for online retailers that are not necessarily manufacturers. E-tailers would benefit from the content LiveManuals provides alongside the product simulations, he said.

E-SIMS plans to syndicate LiveManuals, Sims said, enabling retailers to link to the Web site and integrate that content into their sites as well. Retailers, he said, would have the option of co-branding their Web sites, linking them to LiveManuals, or making it look like their own Web sites, with a Powered by LiveManuals.com link.

“It's an opportunity for information to be made available both on a pre-sale and post-sale basis,” Sims said.

E-SIMS has begun negotiations with several online retailers, Sims said, but nothing has been finalized.

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