As you develop your CMR communications it is also important not to try to force things to the Web if there is a simpler solution. Keep in mind the story of the man who was quietly reading his newspaper when his wife asked him if he thought it was going to rain. He walked to his computer, pointed his browser to the local weather page, and was about to answer his wife, when she stood up, opened the door, and stuck her head outside. “It’s raining,” she announced, as her husband tapped away. Sometimes it’s easier just to open the door and look. Just because a bank offers online services, doesn’t mean all of its customers will want to do their banking online. Some customers may still find it easier to visit the drive-thru window during their lunch hour to deposit a check. It all comes down to giving the customer the choice.
Beyond the Internet, there are some things in the electronic transformation that will revolutionize our customer communication opportunities. Some are simple.
In some restaurants today you’ll find an electronic customer comment card tucked inside the holder that delivers your check. This small, wireless surveying device permits you to share your opinion on how well the restaurant is fulfilling your needs. The device allows the restaurant owner to get a real-time view of customer concerns and act on them right then, right there. For example, negative feedback to questions such as, “Would you recommend this restaurant to a friend?” or “On a scale of one to ten, rate your overall experience,” will trigger an alert to the manager on duty. He then can approach the table and perhaps offer an incentive for the customer to give the restaurant a chance to improve the dining experience. It is reported that the electronic comment cards are increasing customer participation in surveys. One restaurant that used to get about fifteen to twenty completed paper surveys each day now gets more than 100 electronic survey results each day. Of course there’s a lot more to this than the restaurant getting a better return on surveys; the instant gratification also makes the customer feel empowered.
Another opportunity for customer relationship building comes from Unified Messaging systems. They offer conferencing capabilities, call forwarding, call routing, and a service typically referred to as Find Me Follow Me—a number portability function that allows you to be reached, no matter which of your phones you’re using. To offer empowered personal service to customers, a firm’s representative can give his or her customers a virtual local number to call. Whenever a customer calls, Find Me Follow Me finds the rep based on preset schedules and criteria. You can create a rule that works a certain way on weekdays and another way on weekends. You can also create rules for special customers, so a call from a most important customer will blast you on all your phone lines, including your car phone and other mobiles.
A new Panasonic phone comes complete with a camera for making video calls. When the phone is held at arm’s length, the camera can either point at the user or be rotated 180 degrees to transmit what the user is seeing or a product a user wants to show to a customer on the line. Camera phones won’t be ubiquitous overnight, but they will change the way we communicate with customers.
There are other ways we’ll gain the gift of sight. A Silicon Valley start-up has embarked on an effort to let computers see the world in three-dimensions—to look out at the world through a small lens and create a 3-D picture of the objects around it. The company hopes that by early 2003 some manufacturers will place a lens the size of a fingertip in the ends of their cell phones and handheld computers. The lens would project a keyboard in front of the user that would process hand movements, allowing a person to type “virtually,” without the need for a physical keyboard. Users would type just by moving their fingers above the handheld.
How will camera phones and 3-D pictures enable CMR? It may be easier to build trust when we can see customers, and they can see us. Customers will be empowered when they can type messages to companies without the need for a keyboard. And, savvy marketers will be looking for any new tools to help empower customers.
Help is on the way as well for companies that must communicate in languages other than English, for customers in other countries or for non-English-speaking American consumers. A natural language engine from Banter, Inc. can take messages from customers—such as e-mail or chat—and extract from them what the customer is trying to say. Banter’s technologies are helping organizations to cut costs, improve service, and increase revenue by answering free-form questions on websites. This lightens the labor load for agents by suggesting responses to customers’ e-mails, providing automated responses, and routing messages to the people with appropriate skills. The technology finds patterns in e-mail and other text-based messages that used to require human analysis; thus shortening response time to make life easier for the customer.
Even television is getting in the personalization game. After decades of false starts, interactive television (iTV) is creeping into millions of American homes. Forrester Research estimates that by the end of 2002, about 15 percent of the 105 million U.S. households with TV sets will have some kind of interactive service—almost double the number for 2001. How can iTV help build closer relationships between companies and consumers? Instead of a passive ad, iTV enables an active, individualized relationship-building campaign.
For example, the first time a viewer is shown an offer for a financial services company, the overlay might include a new account kit. If the viewer has already taken the initial offer, the next overlay will change. Instead of an icon asking if the customer wants that same brochure, the message asks, “Did the material arrive?” Messages can be adjusted to individual households based on previous behavior. It’s not quite a dialog, yet, and it’s not quite CMR, but with companies like Ford, American Airlines, and Charles Schwab testing it, it is another important trend to keep an eye on.
So how far might we go in the sphere of customer electronic empowerment? Computer power seems limitless. As companies collect more and more data from multiple sources to strengthen customer relationships, the experts are talking about petabytes. Although a petabyte of data is difficult to fathom, the editors of Information Week tell us to think of it as the equivalent of 250 billion pages of text, enough to fill 20 million four-drawer filing cabinets, or a 2,000 mile-high tower of 1 billion diskettes. Sears Roebuck & Co. is already combining its customer and inventory data warehouses to create a 70 terabyte system. The retailer will hit the 1 petabyte threshold—1,000 terabytes—within four years.
Will computers be able to cope? It would appear so. In 2002 scientists studying nuclear weapons detonated the first E-bomb (a computer simulation of a nuclear explosion) as part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, which manages the safety, security, and reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent. The researchers at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Labs detonated two of the largest computer simulations ever. The computation used more than 6.6 million CPU hours, which would take today’s home computer more than 750 years to complete. The data consumed was equivalent to thirty-five times the information available in the Library of Congress. And now some see supercomputers the size of pencil erasers that will work ten times faster than the fastest computers today.
Richard Louv, “Technology Hasn’t Freed Us; We’re Under Its Spell,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, February 3, 2002, p. A12.
Jo Bennett, “Customer Feedback for the Hands That Feed,” INSIDE 1to1, January 28, 2002, p. 3.
Michael Cohn, “Messages from Anywhere,” Internet World, April 2002, p. 50.
Ashlee Vance, “Canesta Lets Computers See,” IDG News Service-idg.net, March 26, 2002, p. 1.
John Ziooerer, “Sprechen Sie Deutsch,” Internet World, April 2002, pp. 52–53.
 “Interactive TV Arrives, Sort of,” nytimes.com, April 4, 2002, p. 2.
Bill Millar, “Smart TV’s Implicit Bargains,” 1to1 Magazine, January/ February 2002, p. 33.
 “Tower of Power,” informationweek.com, February 11, 2002, pp. 1, 2.
George V. Hulme, “Simulations Go Nuclear,” informationweek.com, April 8, 2002, p. 1.
David M. Ewalt, “The Next (Not So) Big Thing,” informationweek.com, May 13, 2002, p. 1.