Going online with CRM

When my grandpa sold bootleg whiskey during prohibition, he understood that commerce doesn't end when the money changes hands and the goods are delivered. He understood the necessity of giving the best quality hooch to the cops that frequented his house, and he understood the need to communicate product availability to his existing customers; he contacted his Polish customers a few days before Dyngus Day and his Irish customers a few days before St. Patrick's Day.

Besides providing the goods, he also advised clients on keeping them hidden. (For himself, he had a second gas tank under his Pierce-Arrow automobile that was always filled with whiskey.).

The same philosophy holds true today. E-commerce doesn't stop when the sale is completed; it goes on through the entire life cycle of the product. If you happen to own a Honda automobile, you have a great example at your fingertips. Web consulting company Genex (http://www.genex.com) helped Honda extend its customer relationships through a unique Web portal that provides product-specific information and services for Honda and Acura owners. XML technology has made it much easier to publish these types of technical specifications on the Web, making them instantly accessible, and allowing the vendor to publish updates as often as needed without having to print out additional pages and mail them out to tens of thousands of customers.

The biggest winner in that type of paper-based product information model is the post office. It's expensive for the vendor, and it's not efficient for the customer.

Anyone can put up a Website with product information, but Honda took it a step further, using its site as a tool to increase customer loyalty.

And what's more, the site, called Owner Link, serves as an integration point that brings in not only the manufacturer, but the dealer channel as well. It also links multiple product lines. For example, if you own a Honda car, and you also decide to buy a Honda lawn mower, you can get your information all from the same single sign-on portal. This functionality serves both the customer and Honda: the customers get a convenient way to get up-to-date information on all their Honda products, and Honda gets an opportunity to cross-sell. This gives Honda an opportunity to service its customer, and then also get a marketing benefit from the same function.

And after all, CRM isn't just about providing service and benefit to the customer, although that's certainly a big part of it. CRM is also about providing benefit on the sales side of the equation. It goes without saying that the customer gets the benefit of centralized product information, updates, maintenance reminders, etc. Honda gets a happier customer who is more likely to buy the company's products again, an opportunity to sell additional brands (lawn mowers, boat motors, motorcycles, etc.), and an easier way to publish technical specs.

As we see in this example, a good CRM system designed to service customers better and more efficiently will naturally have several other functions and benefits that will flow out from it (on both sides), whether those are intentional or not.

Dan Blacharski has authored several books on technology, business, and entrepreneurial concepts. He has been a freelance writer and editorial consultant for nearly ten years and currently covers high-tech topics for the trade press. You can read more about his work at http://www.startuptrends.bigstep.com, or reach him directly at dblacharski@attbi.com.

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