Show Me The Value, I’ll Buy

Many of you may not have heard of a dotcom venture called chaitime.com. They were in the market for only a very short time, may be as much time as it takes to finish a cup of chai! They used non-traditional media to build a strong community, spent very effectively, and worked closely with the youth through colleges in the North India. But their investors from the UK decided to pull the plug. A small lesson here: If you are not offering any useful service to the customers, you must be ready for the long haul.

There are many such examples of startups that have misplaced value propositions. They all thought they would succeed and more investors will pump in money into them for the long haul. They all wasted a lot of resources in advertising and branding. Yet, they disappear after less than two years of launch! Another small lesson: Innovation for the sake of innovation is stupidity. It has to be meaningful to the target customers.

One thing is clear from these failure stories. The Web changes many things but not the fundamentals of customer marketing. Once you understand this everything else falls in place. Buyers are sellers. Products are services. Markets have been turned inside out. But one thing about doing business in the new economy has not changed: The most fundamental goal of every company is to serve its customers. Companies may be working faster, smarter, and in more unusual ways than ever before – but they must also work with customers better than companies did in the old economy, or there will not be any business at all.

Customers.com, a book by a good friend (Patricia Seybold) turns all the excitement about Internet commerce on its head – by focusing on the most important URL of all: www.yourc­ustomers.com. A 20-year veteran of the computer industry and founder and CEO of the Patricia Seybold Group (a consultancy based in Boston), she has co-authored of a series of five books on professional computing. Seybold knows as much as any topmost expert about what it takes to develop a customer-centric organisation, one that is capable of flourishing in multiple media: Web, email, pager, voice mail.

In Customers.com, she uses 16 case studies – of such companies as Boeing, Dell, Hertz, Cisco Systems, Wells Fargo, Amazon.com, and American Airlines – to illustrate eight core principles of e-commerce. By adhering to these principles, she argues, you can make it easy for customers to do business with you. I can indeed provide you with a toolkit if you are so inclined. Those interested can tweet me at MuneerMuh.

Packed with real-world stories that explain how to learn more about customers, how to build customer loyalty, and how to save money, Customers.com has developed its own strong customer base. Here is some of what I have taken from her, which I think will be of use to my readers:

Self-service is the ultimate service. More than anything else, customers value control on their time: They want to place an order, to check on a shipment, or to get help – whenever they feel like it, and through any of several media: phone, Web, fax, email, even direct human contact. Giving customers many ways to get the information they want will save you money in the short term and build loyalty in the long term. Every week, for example, more than 25,000 Dell customers check the status of their order on that company’s Web site, saving Dell 8 dollars every time a customer substitutes a mouse click for a phone call.

The experience is the message. Your brand is nothing less than the complete experience of doing business with you. It includes the experience of using your products – but it extends beyond that point.

Enhancing the customer’s experience means eliminating snags and finding ways to reduce customer anxiety. For example, Amazon.com lets repeat customers buy books with just one click of the mouse. And within a few minutes of ordering, customers receive an email notification confirming their order. And if it were a Kindle book it would have downloaded into your device by that time. The process is easy, and it reduces customer anxiety (Did my order go through?) even before a customer has time to start worrying. Today most e-commerce businesses imitate this.

· Help customers help each other. Who will know the answer to your customer’s questions better than you do? Other customers. A smart company will figure out how to let its customers talk to others with whom they have something in common. In that way, it will build an organic, self-propagating community. For example, Microsoft uses its Web site to organise meeting places around customers, jobs: CIO, CTO, and developer. Cisco Systems has found that people using its customer-support Website excel at helping one another – and often provide answers faster than the Cisco support staff can. Amazon, of course, has this mechanism to get users to answer other customers’ questions.

(The author spearheads execution and innovation for clients @CustomerLab)

Columnist: 
M Muneer