Re: QUERY: trying to increase website use by our customers

Subject: Re: QUERY: trying to increase website use by our customers
From: Tom Murrell <trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001 11:49:58 -0800 (PST)

--- Donna Horowitz <horowit -at- en -dot- com> wrote:
> Our company designs and manufactures equipment for the transportation
> industry with heavy emphasis on the automotive segment. As Hickok has
> become acquainted with the WWW, our management, driven by the board
> of directors, wants to use our website as a tool for encouraging
> customer contact.

Well, that's all right as far as it goes, assuming your customers use the web
already. Has anybody researched your customer base to determine what
percentages use the web, how sophisticated they are in their web use, how
willing they would be to use your site (assuming it was well-designed) for the
purposes your board would wish? From my vantage point too many companies have
determined that they have to "be on the web" but haven't thought it through as
to what that means or whether it will benefit _both_ the company and its

> One of the recent suggestions is that we eliminate any addresses in
> our manuals and instead give phone number and website address. When

Bad idea. Do you intend to write off those customers who don't have access and
won't have it under any circumstances? (Doing so may make the numbers (e.g.
complaints dropping) look better, but will that be because you're handling
complaints more efficiently or because people have given up trying to reach

> they call or contact us through the website, they will receive an
> authorization number for service which they need to include with the
> equipment when they return it. We want to encourage customers to
> contact us before sending equipment back to us for service with no
> clue as to what the problem is.

I'd make the argument that you're trying to solve the problem with the wrong
tool. You want customers to tell you what the problem is with a piece of
equipment. Solve that problem independently of the web. Then if there's an
application of the solution that will work through your web site, implement it.
The solution shouldn't be to "make the customer" do something; the solution
should be to make it worth the customer's time and effort. Give them incentives
they want. Don't give them something that will make the company's life easier
or be less costly than the current situation.

> When I listen to the comments and suggestions at the meetings, I'm
> getting the idea that the main concern is to improve our relationship
> with our customers. We typically have distributors selling our
> equipment, so we are often invisible to the end user. The issue here
> is that often, when customers have any problem, even something minor,
> they go back to the distributor who doesn't really care about
> providing service to the customer.

Then you don't have a customer problem; you have a distributor problem. Quality
distributors know the importance of service after the sale. As an entrepreneur
friend of mine is fond of saying, "Service is the gift that keeps on giving."
Perhaps you need to improve your relationships with your distributors rather
than work on the web as a solution to all of the company's problems.

> They (distributors) solve the problem by taking
> back the equipment and sending another one; this leaves the customer
> with the idea that the equipment was faulty. We are newly eager to
> cut to the chase in these cases so that customers know we are here
> and willing to provide service that is both effective and timely.

It can be a very tricky situation to bypass your distributors. In most cases,
they are a manufacturing company's lifeline. Has anybody looked at the problem
from the distributors' point of view? Is it possible--however remotely--that
your company does not provide sufficient incentives to the distributor to be
your partner in solving these problems? If the situation has deteriorated to
the point where you have to bypass your distributor base, you may have problems
a web site, no matter how fully functional and well-designed, can't solve.

> In terms of my documentation, I'm trying to think of ideas that will
> address this new eagerness. I have a contact information page that
> provides all the phone and fax numbers and Web addresses. This page
> is next to the warranty page at the back of the manual and has
> references to it in the warranty and a few other places in the manual
> (for example, any reference in the manual to equipment maintenance or
> trouble has a reminder that we are here to help . . . see the contact
> information for numbers . . .

Okay. Those are good ideas. You might also want to explain to customers how it
helps THEM (not your company) to use those contact numbers and addresses. But
don't forget your actual mailing addresses, too.

> Does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts on ways to improve
> customer communication while also increasing traffic to the website
> using the manuals or other items that the customer gets with the
> product. I'm brainstorming, so I'll be happy for any thoughts however
> far-fetched or perhaps tried and true but forgotten.

I've tried to intersperse my thoughts at the relevant points of your email. I
hope they're useful. I think the web is a wonderful thing. I'm responsible for
a part of my company's Intranet, and I work very hard at making it useful to my
user/customers. But I recognize that first you have to identify the underlying
problems, then you have to identify solutions to those problems. Only after
that can you identify the tools that will most effectively solve the problem.
I'm not convinced that the web, particularly 'forcing' your customers to use it
for communication, will resolve the problems you've mentioned. I also realize
that your management may be like deer caught in headlights, mesmerized and
unavailable to reason, but it's worth a try to think a little larger than
seeing the web as THE solution to all problems.

Your situation reminds me of the mechanic whose only tool is a hammer. To this
mechanic everything needing work looked like a nail. <g>

Tom Murrell
Lead Technical Writer
Alliance Data Systems
Columbus, Ohio
mailto:trmurrell -at- yahoo -dot- com
Personal Web Page -

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