E-fulfillment has taken firms closer to their customers

Tags: Knowledge
I am sure everyone knows what e-fulfillment is. For the uninitiated, it is an electronic response to a direct marketing request. It is an important part of a company’s overall one to one marketing strategy. In the right context it offers several benefits which is why more and more companies are boarding the bandwagon today.

The three biggest advantages of e-fulfillment include speed — you reach targets quickly; cost effectiveness — in some instances, it is less expensive to reach the customer; control/customisation — it provides the capability to adjust your campaign in real time.

The real one-to-one is when content, including the covering letter, types of attachments and the content of each attachment, is completely personalised. However, it is expensive and time-consuming using conventional methods. But not all situations call for a solely e-based fulfilment system. Careful consideration of the type of target being reached and the company’s marketing objective will determine the appropriate combination of e-based and conventional fulfillment components to use. For example, if a credit card company’s database identifies a person with outstanding credit and a high income, that person might get a customised email that includes an offer to upgrade her card and links to the websites of exotic vacation destinations. Someone else with a good credit history that tends to carry an outstanding balance on credit cards might get an offer for a balance transfer to a new card company.

Flexibility is an important benefit of a fully integrated e-fulfillment system. Such a system makes it easy to evaluate a campaign’s rollout in real time — watch the pick-up on the first cell, tweak the campaign, watch the second cell go out, make another adjustment, and so on. With the proper systems in place, e-fulfillment offers direct marketeers a wide range of options. It permits increased analysis and customisation of future messages, allowing marketeers to see when people open the emails, and track as they click through to website links. Real-time web reports of hits are available, detailing soft bounce-backs (server is temporarily down or a mailbox is full) and hard bounce-backs (service no longer exists or email address is not valid). If an email bounces back with a bad address or full mailbox, companies may have a call centre representative double-check with the intended recipient to confirm how he/she wants to receive the information.

The following examples offer an overview of today’s capabilities and a preview of where things are heading.

CASE 1: A liability insurance company was using mail fulfillment as a marketing tool with its professional services clients. Names and detailed information were generated daily, with policies printed and mailed twice weekly incorporating e-fulfillment. Maximising its effectiveness, was simply a matter of designing a system that converted content into a PDF file to print in the traditional fulfillment process. These files are created in the same pre-printed format that customers would have received in hard-copy form. Like its traditional counterpart, the body of the e-fulfillment text message is highly personalised based on a client’s insurance history, with rate and coverage information, policy type, brand and payment method received, but it also includes a link to the insurer’s website for more information. The policy itself is attached to the email and incorporates the same client-specific information. In addition, the insurance company finds that email enables it to send fewer reminders to get policy renewals, and it is receiving more payments at a quicker rate.

CASE 2: In many instances, customers can request information through a variety of channels, including a call centre, website or mail. In one such instance, a major pharmaceutical manufacturer generates data daily from these sources. Based on the depth of information in the marketing database, the development of highly customised text messaging is possible. The system also enables custom email messaging with links to specific parts of the company’s website. In this case, the company is developing a true one to one marketing campaign that, over time, can be further refined, based on this ongoing interaction loop.

Today, in most cases, companies using e-fulfillment with rich content are also engaged in parallel mail campaigns. They are not looking to abandon traditional fulfillment methods, but are rather looking for new ways to get closer to their customers. As consumers click through company’s websites via electronic message links, each visit adds to their individual profile for future e-marketing efforts. As the file on each person is enhanced, marketeers can cost-effectively move into more focused cross-selling and up-selling campaigns. Overall, the trend is for companies to implement one to one marketing tools. Increasingly, they are looking for expertise from direct marketing service providers, that enables them to reach customers and prospects within a structured campaign, but target each one with a specific package of information via their mailbox, inbox, over the phone or on a website. zz

(The writer is the CEO and managing director of CustomerLab Solutions)

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