Customer Promotion

In most CRM implementations customers are users too, so they need some degree of information just like internal users. The schedule and depth of communication may not be quite as aggressive as for internal users but the principles remain the same.

Focus on Benefits

Customers sometimes get the (true!) message that the CRM system will decrease costs. The more sophisticated and less cynical bunch may conclude that a decrease in cost is actually good for them, since in the end lower costs equal lower prices. However, many will conclude that service levels will decrease, so you need to provide some reassuring information. Make a concerted effort to extract realistic and, ideally, measurable benefits for customers. That could include:

  • Faster service, whether through self-service or by leveraging electronic channels.
  • Instant information on products availability or service conditions.
  • Online configuration for complex products avoids errors and speeds up ordering.
  • The ability to subscribe to proactive alerts on user-defined topics.
  • Free support for all users through the online knowledge base.

Use Many Channels

Depending on your customer base and the type of information you have on your customers, use all the appropriate channels to deliver the CRM message. If you're just starting out and your database of e-mail addresses is not entirely reliable, as is often the case, use a hard copy mailing, making sure to collect reliable e-mail addresses once the customers visit the portal. You may want to entice customers to visit with an appropriate reward. Simple raffles work very well (post the recipients of the award on the site for additional effect). E-mail notices are perfect if you have a reliable set of e-mail addresses. Use them to announce major upgrades too. Mention the portal in your on-hold messages. This works well for call centers. Don't expect customers who are calling in to hang up and go to the web instead (although some might, especially if the wait is long), but some customers will try the portal the next time around. Add a mention of the portal to all e-mail messages sent through the new system. For added effect, add a URL that points to the specific issue or support case the e-mail is about, reinforcing the use of the web site as a status-checking tool. Ask all staffers to reinforce the use of the customer portal. For instance, a telesales rep could e-mail a customer the online version of a datasheet they discussed, specifically highlighting the URL of the datasheet. Staffers will only reinforce the use of the portal if they are convinced of the value of the tool for their own work, which is another reason to work on internal promotion. Tell new prospects and customers about the customer portal. If the portal functionality is particularly deep, offer an online orientation to ensure that customers experience all its features. Finally, provide the same level of service to customers who choose to do business electronically and to customers who call in. Many companies respond 10-30 times slower to electronic requests and then wonder why customers keep calling. Customers who conduct business from the portal are also much more likely to use self-help, so reinforce their good habits.

To Limit Access or Not?

To me, the whole point of customer portals is that they should be wide open. Granted, some information may need to be shielded from competitors, although much energy is expanded in that direction without much cause, in my mind. Determined competitors can usually access the information anyway through an alias of some kind, and little if any proprietary information is visible to customers in any case. If you wish to restrict access to your customers, by all means define a registration process and assign logins and passwords (and create a process handling or overseeing the registration requests). Beyond that, it's counter-productive to limit online access to only certain segments of customers. The incremental cost of serving customers through electronic means is so much lower than through other channels that you should attempt to serve all customers through electronic channels whenever possible, reserving the more expensive channels for your better customers.

Leverage Customer Usage

Once you attract customers to your portal, leverage their experience to improve it. I'll discuss ways to collect and measure what they do on the site to determine what's working or not in the next chapter, but don't neglect good old-fashioned feedback. Provide an easy way for customers to report problems and make suggestions for improvements. The traditional e-mail to the web master is fine if someone will indeed attend to the request, take appropriate action, and get back to the customer about it. If the tool you are implementing has a support component, it's a great idea to leverage it for such as purpose.