Magazine Article | July 24, 2007

Strengthen Customer Bonds Via The Internet

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Don’t let Web communications make your contact with customers impersonal. If used correctly, the Internet can be a powerful tool in building business relationships.

Integrated Solutions, August 2007

Macy's motto is, 'Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.' This axiom is simple, but delivering on its promise can be challenging — especially in this day of ubiquitous connection to the Internet, where information overload and undifferentiated experiences are all too common.   

For organizations with a prominent Web presence, the challenge of 'astonishing the customer' is twofold. First, businesses must organize information in a way that is useful and helpful to customers, and second, they need to provide customers with access to that information from any location on any device.    

Conducting business is no longer a one-and-done scenario either. Organizations today want to stay in close contact with their customers, regardless of whether a transaction is currently in progress. In much the same way, customers want to feel like the vendors they work with on a routine basis  have a vested interest in them. Witness the recent increase in free-standing retail banks.

Banks continue to provide full-service tellers who interact directly with customers to understand their needs and desires and provide a friendly face to help resolve issues. This is not an indication that online banking isn't working, but it should be a wake-up call for all industries that consumers will no longer accept a one-dimensional relationship.

Fortunately, the Web can deliver more personal, engaging customer interactions that foster community building, trust and accessibility. Successful organizations are using Web 2.0 as the foundation for their own next-generation Web, allowing them to engage their customers, differentiate their brand, and build loyalty.

Successful banks are leveraging the Internet to help customers get more from their banking experience. Wachovia Bank, for example, provides a personalized Internet experience for customers through Wachovia Mobile. The service allows customers to view their entire financial picture from Internet-enabled devices including PCs, cell phones and PDAs.

Imagine a bank sending an instant message letting a customer know as soon as a paycheck is deposited or alerting the customer his or her home loan is approved. This is just an example of the myriad ways organizations can leverage the Web to reach their customers through multiple touch points. 

As Internet technologies evolve, Internet-based services and experiences become richer and more interactive. Today, most of us are familiar with blogs, wikis, and RSS. This is a more interactive Web where the consumer of content is increasingly in control. YouTube, Flickr, Digg, and a host of other sites and applications are all symbolic of this new participatory Web.

The travel industry is also beginning to understand the value of a rich, differentiated, online experience. Typically, consumers find a non-differentiated online experience when booking a ticket directly through the airline or travel agency. Ultimately, what distinguishes one site from another is how engaged the company is in the customer's complete travel package, not just the ticketing. Some of the more popular and successful online travel companies offer suggestions about what to do once a customer reaches his or her destination and allow users to post comments and photos from similar trips. Ultimately, by taking advantage of next-generation Web technology, travel sites are able to create a sense of community and interaction that travelers value, ensuring loyalty. 

Every organization is faced with unique challenges. The nature of a quality customer experience and the threshold for customer loyalty differs from business to business. To truly 'be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer,' every organization must find some way to develop interactive ways to engage the customer and establish an ongoing, personal connection. Anything else would be less than astonishing.