Three Big Ideas for 2008: How to Do CRM Online

Three Big Ideas for 2008: How to Do CRM Online

Just as all politics is local, all business is now online. Even if you don't offer e-commerce, customers and critics will be talking about you online anyway. Here's how to cope.

How about this for a New Year's resolution: Find out who your customer is.

We don't mean the people in internal departments using IT or the business sponsor who shakes the money tree to finance projects, but the people who pay your company for its product or service. Real customers.

The external customer is exactly whom CIOs should understand, says Rick Roy, senior vice president of customer operations at CUNA Mutual Group, a $US3 billion company that provides services to credit unions.

IT, operations and customer service are melding, he says, especially in the financial services industry. But even across industries, understanding how customers interact with the company must inform the work of IT managers. Doing so can mean more profits for the company, but it's also "a tremendous opportunity for career development", he says. Roy was CIO at CUNA Mutual before taking over customer operations in December 2005.

Following are three ideas about the intersection of customers with technology that IT leaders should take into 2008.

1. Let folks talk; then listen to what they say. Giving customers online tools to review your site, service and products can spur sales. Shoppers are willing to pay 20 percent more for services receiving an "excellent" rating from fellow consumers, than for the same service receiving a "good" rating, according to research firms comScore and The Kelsey Group. The firms surveyed 2,000 Internet users in October about the influence of peer reviews on purchasing decisions.

Ninety-seven percent of those who said they made a purchase based on an online review said they found the review to have been accurate, the survey says. Perhaps most telling is that respondents said reviews generated by consumers had a greater influence than those done by professionals.

That kind of interactivity is another layer to manage in the relationship with customers, but consumers now expect to collaborate with each other and with their chosen companies, says Bill Band, an analyst at Forrester.

The problem, Band says, is that existing CRM suites from Oracle and SAP, for example, don't have built-in capabilities for blogs, forums, wikis and social networking. Analyzing the information generated in those interactive outlets requires special tools, he says.

Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a unit of media researcher Nielsen, has tools to mine what it calls customer-generated media — the opinions and preferences people express online. Marketing consultant Andy Beal, who runs the Marketing Pilgrim site, has several ideas for tracking what Internet users are saying about your company, including tips on monitoring blog conversations and social media sites such as Technorati.

As in so much regarding online retail, Amazon is the granddaddy in customer reviews. But customers can chat and review products at sites ranging from discounter Lillian Vernon to luxury carmaker Mercedes-Benz.

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