Intersponding: A New Kind of Customer Service

Here’s a new word for your Internet vocabulary – Intersponding.A new kind of interactive, instant, interspersed pattern of responding.

It may sound like Dilbert-speak. But really what it is a new era of customer service, when the web makes knowing your customers and responding to their needs a whole lot easier.

Consider the typical web site visitor. There he or she is, navigating through a web site, uniquely and freely. Perhaps no two visitors move through a site in exactly the same way.

A visitor can go from place to place, consuming bits and pieces of information as the need arises, sometimes at random, sometimes in logical order. These patterns can be complex, because web browser software makes it so easy to go from page to page with the Back and Forward buttons.

It’s just as easy for a visitor to print an occasional page when the need arises. In fact, the web makes it easy to select and copy text and graphics from other web sites — even to obtain the HTML source code for each web page with a simple click of the mouse.

This is unheard of – actually, unthinkable — in any other medium! It provides insider access to any web site visitor, who could just as easily be your competitor as your customer. Not only does it put the power of easy information access in the hands of the individual, but it also allows easy information duplication.

Thus the web offers each individual a very unique, personal way of interacting with information on a web site. In a very real sense, the information this person receives is being individualized, even without sophisticated personalization, because the visitor is requesting and receiving it in just the way he or she wants it delivered.

Intensified Personalization

The level of personalization will intensify even further as databases continue to empower web site marketers. With database marketing, the marketer can capture information about how the visitor is using the web site, then use that data to structure and refine future information flow. So when that visitor returns, the web site “knows” his or her likes and dislikes, and will feed them personalized information by creating web pages on the fly with uniquely personalized content.

This is already a built-in aspect of many web sites that allow you to individualize or personalize pages by providing profile data. The data is analyzed by a database engine. Web pages are then created just for you. You can “pick them up” at the site, or have them “pushed” to your computer in some cases. The “My Page” on portals and large sites are good examples of this.

But how does intersponding fit in? If a web site is set up correctly, the visitor can instantly respond at any time along the way — whether it seems logical or not to respond at that point. Some web sites embed email response areas so the visitor can click an underlined address, type in an inquiry or response, and send it immediately.

Many web sites go beyond that, using interactive forms. These forms collect basic visitor information — name, address, phone number, and so on — and sometimes ask qualifying questions of the visitor. Well-constructed web sites prominently show a link to this form on the home page and in other sections throughout the site. Even better, the visitor is offered a reward for completing and sending the form with a simple mouse click.

What Makes Intersponding Different?

So far, all of this doesn’t sound much different from the traditional way of responding. The web site has a form that a visitor fills out and sends — much like a direct mail reply form or order form, or a call to an 800 number. What’s the big deal?

But on the web, this is not responding, it’s intersponding. And here’s what makes it unique, at least today: Not only can the visitor interactively respond via the Internet, he or she can also instantly be fulfilled via the Internet. This is the Internet’s compelling advantage over other direct response media.

Once the visitor sends the web response form, he or she can instantly and automatically:

  • Receive an answer that verifies their instructions or acknowledges an order.
  • Receive a more detailed acknowledgment of ordering information via return email.
  • Unlock or receive documents or special web pages, personalized to their specific needs.
  • Download a demonstration, trial, or full version of a software product for immediate use.
  • Gain access to a private event or virtual seminar that offers a free interactive learning experience.
  • Be acknowledged as a returning visitor or customer, therefore receiving special treatment. (For example, the visitor’s name, address and previous ordering information can be stored by the marketer and recalled by the user when a new order is placed.)

Each of the above responses is an intersponse — the interactive, instant fulfillment of a visitor’s inquiry — an immediate payback for their time and trouble.

Ultimate Fulfillment

Intersponding feeds the need for so many things on the part of the prospect or customer:

  • Instant gratification
  • Total and immediate responsiveness
  • One-to-one communication
  • Personal correspondence
  • The ease and convenience of an automated response

Intersponding completely changes the relationship the user has with the computer, the Internet, and the marketer. Even though a prospect or customer is sitting in front of a machine and typing on a keyboard, the response he or she receives is warm, personal, and intimate — because it’s intended just for him or her, and it’s delivered instantly, a direct response to an immediate need.

Properly executed, it is the ultimate in fulfillment — what everyone expects when they think of personalized customer service and responsiveness.

Ironically, it’s what good old-fashioned commerce used to be. There was a time when you could visit a friendly neighborhood store, and the proprietor recognized your face and knew your name. He or she knew your family, too. And he or she also knew what you liked to buy, how much you needed, and when you’d probably be back. In short, the proprietor had a relationship with you.

The Internet can, in a business relationship sense, be like that proprietor. It’s sobering to think that individuals need to go to a computer to get the same kind of personal attention they received from a real live store owner years ago. But the reality is that many businesses cannot always provide that kind of face-to-face contact anymore. Customers are all over the world, retail establishments are de-personalized and automated, and the cost of maintaining intense, personalized relationships is high.

With the Internet, that won’t be a problem, though. Because intersponding will make marketing personal once again.

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