Try Explaining eCRM on an Airplane Banner

Last July 4 weekend, I was just settling back on a low-lying beach chair, adjusting my wide-brimmed hat to shield the intense sun from my face. The Cape Cod sand was warm on my feet, and the cool rainy New England spring seemed finally behind us. My eyes were becoming heavy as I watched single-engine planes fly along the crowded beachfront, carrying banners advertising a bank, local bands, a job-search web site, and a new brand of tequila. I was just about to doze off when a new plane banner caught my eye it had some company’s name that I can’t remember, followed by big letters, “eCRM.”

I bolted upright in my chair. “eCRM… on a plane… here on Cape Cod… what the…” I mumbled to my wife, Jean.

“Yeah, very strange,” she says. “What is eCRM?”

“Well, technically, it stands for electronic customer relationship management,” I explained. “It’s about how companies relate to their customers online.”

“You mean like when I enter an order at Amazon?” she asks.

I tried to clear my head. I sensed that my nap had disappeared along with the banner-toting plane. “Well, that’s just a small part of it,” I reply. “Actually, there are four key aspects of eCRM. My colleague at Circle.com, Paul Baudisch, articulates them better than anyone I know.” (His full analysis of eCRM is contained in an article set to appear August 1 on the EntreWorld web site for entrepreneurs.) So I paraphrased Paul’s list:

  1. Audience acquisition, i.e., finding enough of the right folks who will consider buying what you’re selling.

  2. Relationship building, i.e., getting closer and closer to your audience in a way that ultimately results in sales.
  3. E-commerce, a.k.a. taking customers’ money and processing their orders.
  4. E-care supporting your customers online.

She’s looking at me with a blank stare. “I’ll bet there aren’t 10 people on this beach who know what the hell you’re talking about. Why would anyone hire a plane to advertise eCRM on a Cape Cod beach?”

“I guess because it’s the latest in-thing,” I tell her. But I’m not very convincing.

I know that eCRM is much more than the latest in-thing. At Circle.com we spend endless hours of meeting time, programmer research, and email exchanges debating, analyzing, and implementing eCRM approaches on behalf of our clients. It’s a matter of continual refinement and improvement. There’s no way it can be communicated on the back of an airplane, like a rock band or new swizzle drink.

Now I’m getting revved up. “A growing number of companies are becoming adept at the first three tasks that Paul describes. Unfortunately, most of them stop after the third step. Where many of them get hung up is on the fourth item customer care and integrating that with the first three items.

“The best way for me to explain the challenge is to give you a couple of eCRM examples,” I said. With that, I recount my recent experiences as a customer/partner of well-known Internet companies. These relationships have come about in connection with a new book I’ve just written and published, “Better Than Money: Build Your Fortune Using Stock Options and Equity Incentives in Up and Down Markets“.

The first experience I describe is with iUniverse.com, supposedly on the vanguard of the online publishing revolution. It promises to provide instant, professional book publishing and distribution for authors and publishers. No more publisher rejections or long waits for printing if you do get a publishing contract. All this for a mere $99.

I decided to give iUniverse a try when my book was ready for publication late last spring. Pay your money, and you’ll see page proofs in two to three weeks and your book will be ready for purchase in 30 days, the account rep told me.

iUniverse has done a great job executing on the first three steps I described earlier. It’s obtained great publicity and forged alliances with various reputable writers’ organizations, including one I belong to, the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). It sends out an exciting newsletter about the wonderful success of various authors using its services. And it took my money very easily.

As for “e-care,” though, well, that’s another matter. Three weeks after sending in my manuscript and money, there was no word from iUniverse, and my calls weren’t being returned. I located an iUniverse executive and began sending concerned emails. She responded, offering to get involved, and within a few days, I saw my page proofs online. I okayed them immediately, and then everything stopped again.

By mid-June, my book was listed on iUniverse with a dead link if anyone decided to place an order. The friendly bump-smoothing executive stopped responding to my emails. The promised 30-day turnaround has extended into nearly 60 days. I located another iUniverse executive, who consulted with the original account executive, and explained that my book had only been in the iUniverse system for three weeks. When I explained that there were nearly four weeks of dead time at the beginning, things seemed to get rolling again. By the end of June, my book was finally posted on iUniverse.

But in the context of eCRM, I tell my wife, my experience didn’t follow the script. The customer being challenged by the supplier and having to justify himself and harass the supplier to provide the promised services isn’t what that airplane banner was referring to.

Now, if you want to know about how eCRM is supposed to work, I explain, consider my experience with the king of e-commerce, Amazon.com.

It started at about the same time as my experience with iUniverse. Amazon has a special program known as Publishers Advantage, through which it invites small publishers to submit books for promotion on its site; these small publishers receive the same treatment as major publishers a full graphic of the book cover, 24-hour turnaround for orders, etc. Yeah, fat chance, I thought, as I filled in the application for inclusion in the program. I was promised an answer in two to three weeks, at which time I was supposed to receive my first order.

To make a long story short, not only did Amazon.com respond two-and-a-half weeks later and enter an order via email, but everything else Amazon promised came to pass. My book’s cover, together with descriptive material and reviews, were all posted when promised, and the book was available with 24-hour turnaround. Moreover, follow-up orders are now coming fast and furious. I can monitor the status of all Amazon’s orders to my firm right online, through a special password-accessible system Amazon sets up for small publishers. You want a story with a happy ending? This is eCRM the way it should be, I conclude.

I could go on and on, I explain various companies in the supply chain for publishers, some of which do what they say they’re going to do online and others that totally drop the ball. But you’ve heard enough, I tell Jean. Let’s just relax in our beach chairs and hope that no more eCRM banners come flying by.

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