Marketing and Electronic Commerce

  1. Customer Support
    1. Static Support
    2. Dynamic Support
  2. Intranets and Extranets

Customer Support

Customer support is an application that has already proved successful for WWW marketers. The following areas are where customer support is enhanced:
  1. Additional product information
    1. Static
    2. Dynamic
  2. Additional feedback mechanism
  3. Reducing traditional customer overhead
  4. Enhancing traditional support mechanisms
Static Support
Companies are able to make extensive amounts of product information available to customers. This is especially the case in high-tech markets like computing. The following are good illustrations: Customers are able to navigate these resources to identify information that they are looking for. With good design (and search capabilities) the customer should be able to easily find information important to his/her support needs. Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) documents are essential to compile. Have a look at Microsoft's Sales Online link for an example. 70% of Cisco's customer support (of 500,000 customer support inquiries each month) now takes place on the web. Dell has created customized Dell Web sites for some of its larger corporate customers which makes the process of interacting for each company simpler.

Of course, this information is not limited to current customers, it can also be used to help convince a potential customer to buy. By offering all the online support a customer requires, you are establishing additional assurances (part of the augmented product) that the product is a good purchase. This support does not need to be limited to the computer industry. Any product that requires after sales support should benefit from WWW in this manner.

Dynamic Support
Federal Express and UPS are excellent examples of what I call dynamic support. Customers are able to interact with the sites to get support information. Federal Express was the first to offer this level of support with Tracking. A customer can identify the status of a package delivery from the WWW site. UPS followed (necessarily) and also pioneered some additional areas of support. UPS has recently announced that it has signed a deal with three Internet search engines (Infoseek, Lycos and Yahoo) so that customers can track their packages directly from the search engines. Further evidence of the importance that UPS places on the value of WWW marketing, and its efforts to push its services to the customer. WWW is truly a part of the entire product that customers are purchasing from these delivery companies.

WWW should be considered an additional feedback mechanism that customers can use to interact with the marketer. With the recent growth in the use of 1-800 (888) numbers to allow customers to communicate, WWW only makes sense. It is very important, however, that there is adequate support from the marketer to answer the WWW queries (via Email). Monitoring the content of the queries is also very important. This information should be used in helping design the customer support end of the web-site (included in FAQs etc.)

The cost of WWW customer service can be significant. In order to evaluate its effectiveness a marketer should consider two important outcomes:

  1. Reduction in other marketing costs
  2. Increased overall customer satisfaction
WWW should become a support facility for a portion of your customer base. This should move those customers away from using the 1-800 number (very labor intensive) or other feedback mechanisms. Those customers using WWW should experience a richer quality of customer service, increasing their positive experience with the marketer and strengthening the bond between the marketer and individual customers.

WWW can also enhance current support mechanisms. Intranets (see next section) offer employees rapid access to company and product information. Employees that answer the 1-800 # calls can use WWW to get quick access to information to resolve the customer queries. With the use of push technologies (to be discussed in session 10) customer service representatives can be alerted to critcal information as it becomes available.

Internal and distribution channel communication (intranets)

The focus of WWW, up to this point, has been the ability to communicate with current and potential customers. Many organizations are also turning to WWW to enhance communications within an organization and communications with the organization's distribution channel members. An Intranet is a WWW network developed for internal communication within the corporation. It is basically a web-site of information that can only be accessed by those within the organization, and is protected from those outside the organization by "firewalls". An Extranet (other terms are also used) is a similar system, but can also be accessed by those outside the organization who receive permission from the organization (usually suppliers and large customers (business to business perhaps) etc.) The following are reasons that WWW is a good internal communications tool:
  1. Scalability
    WWW is a useful communications medium regardless of the number of people within the organization. The ability to add new users to the system is as simple as adding another PC with a WWW browser. Other "group ware" products may be limited to a certain amount of people at a fixed cost, with the addition of one person over that threshold requiring significant additional software costs.
  2. Cost
    The cost of WWW as an internal communications medium is very low when compared with other systems. The costs associated with WWW are those for the server, hosting the information, and the client PCs accessing the information.
  3. Ease of use
    The point and click nature of WWW is very simple to understand. Many employees will already be familiar with it from other WWW activities. This is more attractive than having to train employees from all levels of the organization (and levels of IT competancy), the use of more complex communications software.
  4. Platform independent
    Regardless of the terminal on the employees desk, they can access WWW. Thus employees can use the type of computer system that creates efficiencies in other areas of their work, with the knowledge that they can access WWW with a browser from that platform. Some employees may need to use a Mac for their creative work, while others benefit more from an IBM PC. Employees are still able to communicate with each other across those platforms.
  5. Collaboration
    Employees can use WWW to collaborate on projects regardless of location. Thus you might have two employees who are experts in a very narrow field, but who work on different continents. They can now collaborate with each other to the betterment of both. Teams working on two independant consulting projects with similar attributes can now collaborate. Solutions can be archived for further reference when similar projects are undertaken in the future.
  6. IT Integration
    WWW can be integrated with other technologies to effeciently use information. You can use WWW to search databases for example. The employee only needs to be familiar with the client, the browser technology, not the database itself.
  7. Information distribution efficiencies, time and money
    Because you can update information when it needs to be updated, and it is updated globally, there are great efficiencies that can be realized, especially if the organization is geographically dispursed.
  8. Network computing capability
    Network computing means that information is stored on a server, and can be accessed, via a network, by terminals. This is the case for WWW. It makes managing information less complex, since all information is at a (few) central location(s). The terminals do not have to have multiple programs running on it to access the information, just the web browser. This can reduce cost and complexity.
  9. Demand pull information
    Information is accessed only when it is needed. This can reduce a lot of wasted documents, moving away from sending everything to everybody, to only the individuals needing the information accessing it. The development of push technologies (which will be discussed in detail at the end of the semester) does enable companies to "push" relevant information to employees, making sure they don't miss something that is urgent, because they didn't browse the WWW server.
Eli Lilly, a global pharmaceutical company, pioneered intranets when it developed ELVIS (Eli Lilly Virtual Information Systems) in May 1995. It now includes approximately 80 web servers and requires 30 full-time employees to manage the system. 18,000 employees around the world have Netscape to access the system (the goal is to have 25,000 of 28,000 employees have access). Applications include simple ideas like a worldwide calendar, phone directories, mail directories to more ambitious applications like an executive information system for human resources, a virtual employee learning center, applications for buying software directly from vendors and a job posting system.