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Customer relations has a major role in the e-world

MANY small and medium-sized enterprises looking to expand and improve their e-business operations should focus on customer relationships rather than technology, according to the author of a new book on e-business marketing in Australia.

Lynne de Weaver, a marketing and e-commerce consultant, said many small and medium enterprises were ignoring traditional bricks and mortar business fundamentals when developing their e-business operations.

“The website is just the tip of the iceberg. The back end technology and fulfilment of consumers’ orders is the real problem that, in the past, has not been addressed properly,” Ms de Weaver said.

She said that, although website functionality was an important aspect of e-business, SMEs shouldn’t ignore basic customer relations techniques.

“It’s all to do with relationships,” Ms de Weaver said.

“People tend to go back to the same businesses if the staff remember your name or perhaps the sales staff have a transparent database and they can recall details of your last purchase and recommend new items.

“It’s that concern for looking after your customer that a lot of businesses overlook.”

She said figures showing 80 per cent of business came from just 20 per cent of their customers also applied to online operations.

“They should nurture and treasure them and always look at the unique characteristics of those 20 per cent,” Ms de Weaver said.

The availability of customer relationship management (CRM) software, once used only by IBM and Compaq to automate the communication of their technical bulletins, has enabled SMEs to manage their online customers more cost effectively.

According to Ms de Weaver, the software can automatically track accounts and make purchasing recommendations to customers based on past purchases.

It also offers cost savings for sales divisions by tracking the activity of potential and existing customers and recommending when they should be contacted.

But the focus on customer service meant the design and functionality of an e-business website had to be up to scratch to entice the customer and keep them coming back.

“When you go onto a site, does it involve you, does it capture your attention? It’s that interactivity that really hooks people in,” Ms de Weaver said. “You have to remember that customers want service and they want to see benefits.”

She gave the example of online book seller Amazon.com, which offered reviews, hosted discussions on books and recommended book titles similar to those already ordered by the customer.

“They do a tremendous amount to engage customers and I think that’s lacking in a lot of websites,” Ms de Weaver said.

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