Good foundations for eCRM

Ever company talks about eCRM and in the late 90’s it used to be one of the industry’s most favourite buzzwords. Since then the hype has calmed down, possibly because there aren’t as many companies hopping on to the bandwagon. Nevertheless eCRM is just as important today but perhaps better understood. eCRM is basically a company’s ability to build, retain, improve and expand online customer relationships profitably. eCrm can be driven through but is not limited to e-business transactions, interactive marketing campaigns and continuing interaction with customers.

eCRm foundations
eCRm foundations

The following should be considered when developing a realistic strategy:

  1. Offer a clear value proposition: A clear value proposition needs to be offered by a company to its customer. Both sides of this equation must be satisfied. First, the company must clearly define its vision for a long term customer relationship. They need to make sure that they have the supporting marketing and technology strategies in place to be able to define its key metrics (ROI – return on investment, LTV – LifeTime Value of a customer) and establish a measurement process to gauge its success. Second, from the customer perspective, a web site needs to offer a compelling reason for them to make the return visit a habit. So if the company wants more information out of a user they better not just clearly define that value to the user but demonstrate it. (explaining to them in text is not proper justification, better sites will offer something tangible for this information)
  2. Deliver a clear brand message: This is key. A web site is usually just one contributing factor that builds brand awareness for a company. Therefore the material presented must maintain a consistent voice and “look and feel” with the rest of the company’s communications efforts on or offline. (e.g., TV, print, direct mail and internal communications).
  3. Adopt a user friendly privacy policy: The company must define and publish a privacy policy that covers any collection and use of a user’s data. This policy should be written in plain English using proper terminology and a tone appropriate for the user and be backed by proper data security and quality control practices. If needed a permission based practice (opt-in for e-mail communications) is recommended.
  4. Capture information on users: As technology evolves so does this point. Implicit data (user’s click stream) should be captured from multiple touch points which will allow a more complete user profile over time. Also explicit data on users such as their preferences, registration information and collected data from past interactions including site visits, transactions and customer service inquiries or their posted comments can be captured. However if this is done, this information must be clearly defined in the privacy policy and stored securely. There is no worse PR than a breach of security.When properly analyzed, this data will allow the company to create specific customer segments. Then the move from ‘one to everyone’ towards ‘one to many’ towards ‘one to one’ marketing may take place. Of course this is where the cycle now resets, as targeted contact strategies and marketing campaigns can be further refined for each specific segment.
  5. Customize the content and message: Companies may choose to customize content and messaging to different degrees. Depending on the data collected messages can be addressed to different groups within the site’s audience, or a company may use this collaborative filtering to make recommendations based on ratings of products and online selections or purchase histories. A company may also include personalization by using the available data to greet customers by name then anticipate the customer’s needs and deliver content, offers and services. A further effort can be made to provide special services to high value customers. Also it should be kept in mind that customers are outside the corporate wall and do not necessarily understand your lingo, make sure that they are spoken to in a manner and with language that they understand.
  6. Enable e-business transactions: A company must offer a ‘call to action’ for potential customers and provide current ones with the ability to access their complete purchase history online.
  7. Leverage promotion and cross-sell opportunities: If possible the company should provide a range of offers that include both ‘soft’ advice and ‘hard’ offers (e.g. discounts). Also the introduction of related products and services based on visitor data should be included.
  8. Contact and keep strategies: A company may need to encourage users to visit a site for the first time through targeted ‘drive to web’ direct mail campaigns based on defined customer segments. Of course, once there, the company needs to continue to build relationships even if the user is offline by encouraging some type of dynamic feedback through email by the way of site, article, comment or newsletter updates.
  9. Create site stickiness: Using interaction, a site may encourage visitors to return by supplementing product information with other useful content such as tools and ‘how to’ advice. A community environment may contain standard features like bulletin boards to post their own experiences and moderated discussions to figure out problems and even event listings for helpful live demonstrations.
  10. Offer customer service: This is the single point in which all the tremendous hard work performed by your company may come to ruin. And I cannot say this enough, ‘to be successful from a customer relationship perspective, you absolutely must have the infrastructure in place to grow a healthy relationship’. That means simply respond to your customer in a timely manner, with accurate information that is consistent and listen to them in a genuine fashion.

I originally helped write this document over ten years ago, and although I have made a few changes due to the improvement in technology, the basic tenents are still valid. And from personal experience, and most likely yours as well, companies are still faltering on points 3, 5 and 10. It seems that although the technology may be in place, the customer etiquette may be lacking.

As a final suggestion I would encourage all executives in charge of these efforts to place themselves in the customer’s shoes for a day or two and use the various facilities afforded by your company and see how the process actually works. Do you agree with the privacy policy, is your new offer valid, is friendly help easily available and do you get a consistent message? I can virtually guarantee that just because you have finished the process and followed all the best practices it does not necessarily mean that it works, or it is accurate or friendly.

Best of luck, this is a very difficult task to accomplish successfully.