By Bob McElwain
CRM (Customer Relationships Management) appears to mean
different things to different people. I haven't seen two
definitions that really agree. The giant companies have many
goals when they speak of CRM. One that annoys me, that continues
to crop up, is the notion of immediate software response to
customer requests. Sounds great. But when you read the fine
print, it also means less one-to-one company to customer
interaction. This is not a direction in which a small business
wants to move.
In the end, what these million dollar CRM systems do or do
not do, matters little to small businesses. The price tag is
too high for most.
Is "Personalization" The Useful Part?
The better approach may be to look at some aspects of CRM to
see what can be done with software on our website to provide our
visitors and customers with a more pleasant and enjoyable
experience. It may help to exit the CRM derby, stroll down a
related path, and think of only part of it: personalization.
Neat things flow forth from this orientation. For example,
maybe invite visitors to check on things new since their last
visit. Or on specials for the day, specifically tailored to
this visitor in some way. Or when a customer clicks a form
to reorder, fill the entry fields with data provided earlier.
A great time saver for the customer, something they will
appreciate. Simple, effective things such as these can be
abstracted from CRM models at modest cost.
Large Scale Models
Large firms with bucks to burn can make personalization
central to a new kind of website. At a minimum, each page can
address the visitor by name. At the extreme, the entire site
can be presented according to previous information collected
about this visitor. For example, if the visitor has kids, and
a appropriate new product is available, it can be offered.
And not offered to another visitor without children.
Building a website on the fly is a bit heavy for a small
business. The coding challenge alone is heavy. The price tag
for software is high.
Still, a small business can implement simple ideas as
suggested above. And more will spring from these.
As a fellow into site performance and promotion, I'm always
leery of anything that may annoy a visitor. Hits are so hard to
get, there's just no point in inviting anybody to leave. So I'm
very concerned about any technology that risks turning visitors
I used a Pentium II PC for almost two years. Beginning about
a year back, some sites would not allow me to visit because I
didn't have the latest and greatest. Maybe the giants can get
away with this, but a small business can not afford to lose even
In most cases, the reason I could not visit was that my
a new system now, just 4 months old. A couple of days back I
ran into a site that told me my software is out of date.
I have the latest versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape
running. That is, the latest what work. (I couldn't get IE 5.5
to stop locking up my new system. And I don't know of anyone who
has Netscape 6.1 running yet; I couldn't make it work.)
To exclude any visitor because of the way a site is put
together or the technology used, makes no sense to me at all.
A small business can not afford this risk.
Let's Keep It Super Simple
Your site must seek to embrace all visitors, regardless of
their software or hardware. So what is needed to make such
systems work is a very simple recognition procedure. It might
go like this.
When a visitor arrives, put up a page in straight HTML,
without any bells and whistles that would break even older
browsers. (My wife still uses Win 3.1 on a 486, and won't even
talk of upgrading.)
check for a cookie. If the script fails, fall back and display
only HTML pages. If the script runs, but does not find a cookie,
ask the visitor if they would like a personalized visit about the
site. If no, forget it. If yes, get the information, save it,
and use it. And finally, given a read of a cookie, personalize
Will Bontrager , a top flight
programmer, sees no problem in accomplishing the above. Further,
he has a plan for holding costs down. Use a standard database
with all possible fields, all of which will not be needed by a
given site. By holding to a standard format, the great expense
of a customized database installation is avoided. While Will
did not put a price on it, a few hundred dollars might be ample.
array of personalization functions. If you don't want to get
into writing this kind of code, libraries and code generators
will provide you with workable code that can be cut and pasted
into your pages. And, of course, there are people like Will,
who will produce precisely what you need.
It's Past Time To Be Thinking
I ignored early announcements of CRM because there did not
seem to be much of value to a small business. Which is the area
in which I and my clients work.
I see now, though, that there are some things that can be
done in a simple, straightforward way. So long as we do not
reject any visitor for lack of the latest tools, we can make
the visit to our site more personal and more enjoyable for many.
Productivity And Your Business
Productivity. Has a nice sound to it, don't you think?
Positive. Upbeat. Forward-looking. Something we probably all
should be seeking to improve. Unfortunately, the word does not
have the same meaning for all.
Communicating with Customer Focus
Having a customer-focused mindset is important in providing exceptional customer service. Applying effective communication skills is equally important.
Top 10 Ways To Keep Your Customers
1. SAY thank you and smile. Project an image of someone that others will want to do business with. A good attitude is a powerful customer service tool.