customers.com

Authors: Patricia B. Seybold with Ronni T. Marshak
Times Business, Random House – 1998
ISBN: 0-8129-3037-1

Reading the critical acclaim on the book jacket, you could be forgiven for thinking, “interesting, but not really applicable to me (a data-focused technical IT person).” But if your
curiosity beckons you inside, you would see just how applicable it is, particularly in designing effective databases and other solutions and knowing topics for your data mining efforts that will
best help your organization.

This book is, of course, customers.com by Patricia B. Seybold with Ronni T. Marshak. The ISBN is 0-8129-3037-1, and it is copyright 1998.

Structurally, there are two parts to this book: a discourse on principles and best practices, and a series of sixteen case studies with eight critical success factors (CSFs) for successful modern
businesses. The read is very light, with many personal observations and examples, leaving you to build a dialog with the author. The case studies each offer many details; in fact, I was
disturbed (yet grateful) by the volume of core business plan details. Many of the case studies cross-reference others, leading to a very coherent body of knowledge that is easy to remember and
reflect upon.

There is one overriding principle in this book: to succeed, you must address the customer in every facet of your business. But the author does not stop there. You are exposed to many ways to do
just that; you acquire a ready-built think tank. Quite a value for this book’s modest price!

In the first section of the book, you learn about a five-step continuous process to succeed in e-commerce. They are: set a strategy so the customer can easily do business with you, focus on the
true end customer, redesign customer-facing business processes, wire your company for profit, and foster customer loyalty.

Step 1 opens with a very distressing personal account of troubles with a newspaper subscription. Many points are made on starting with the basics: cherish the customer’s time, remember them,
make it easy to order and receive service, delight the customer, and customize your services and products.

The next step starts with a good study on defining a customer. Microsoft’s customer approach is next described, followed by the situation where distribution channels handle customer
interactions. Anonymous customers are analyzed. This wraps up in the guise of Apple’s approach to customers, applying techniques just studied. The next step follows closely, describing BPR
from the customer’s perspective: outside in, seeing technology invoke changes, using middlemen to streamline reengineering, and identifying key concepts.

Step 4 describes the design of an evolving e-business architecture. Two challenges are described: business and technical, and four concepts to bridge them. Hot technologies are mentioned, including
XML. Finally, the life cycle of e-business is analyzed.

Finally, step 5 handles customer loyalty issues. Bottom line impacts, retention, revenue, costs, profitability, and defectors are detailed. Determining the appropriate customer and treating that
customer as the center point are closing topics.

Now begins the case studies that deal with CSFs (critical success factors). Each begins with a discussion of the upcoming topics, then each case study appears, having an executive summary, the CSFs
in the study, specific challenges and solutions (business and technical), results, suggestions by the author for future improvement, and take-aways. After the second case study, there is a wrap-up
discussion.

The first is to target the right customers, using American Airlines and National Semiconductor as examples. Specific topics are: knowing who are customers and prospects, determining the profitable
ones, deciding who to attract or retain, knowing who influences key purchases and who refers others to you, and the importance of separating customers, partners, and stockholders from one another.
The National Semiconductor story is referenced many times later in the book.

The next CSF focuses on owning the customer’s total experience. It opens with a Christmas shopping example. The focal points of this CSF are: provide a consistent “branded”
experience, minimize time and irritation of customers, provide peace of mind, offer consistent quality and service when involving partners, respect individuality, and give control over the
experience. Hertz and Amazon.com are the examples here.

CSF 3 is to streamline business processes that impact customers, citing Babson College and the National Science Foundation. The guidelines here: identify the end customer, streamline from their
POV, streamline for key stakeholders, continuously improve based on feedback, and clearly explain the process.

CSF 4 provides for a 360-degree view of the customer relationship. To do this: provide one-stop shopping, remember what your entire company knows of each customer, provide all employees with this
information, and provide a good technical infrastructure to ensure the total picture. Here, Bell Atlantic and Wells Fargo are the examples.

The next CSF lets customers help themselves, using Dell Computer (the author’s darling) and iPrint as examples. Making this happen is to: let customers help themselves to information and
perform transactions online, let them check on the state of your service, let them use their favorite media, and to allow designing their own products.

CSF 6 helps customer do their jobs. Facilitating this requires you to: get a deep understanding of those jobs, continuously refine your business processes to make them easier, give direct access to
your inventory, give the information for correct purchasing decisions, prepare bills to specification, and make it easy for them to serve their own customers. Here, Boeing and PhotoDisc are the
examples.

CSF 7 is to deliver personalized service, much like the WSJ Interactive Edition and General Motors cited here. These details are: develop a great relationship with customers, let customers create
and modify their profiles, customize content and offers based on those profiles, provide appropriate service and information based on their needs, allow access to transactional history to
customers, and encourage leaving something behind.

Finally, CSF 8 dictates fostering a community. Specifically: seduce customers to the clan, introduce customers to others with the same interest, provide and keep common values and terminology, let
customers tout their abilities, and encourage moving to the in-crowd. Cisco Systems and Tripod are these examples.

The book wraps up with a synthesis of best practices and suggests next steps.

I found this book to be very thought- and action-provoking. My only qualms? First, books are usually held to be timeless, but the incredible level of detail makes this book obsolete rather quickly
(but it is intensely useful right now). Second, the author slams a number of companies rather hard in her examples, although this adds to the actionability of this book.

Operations, development, front-line, technologist, manager; all will find much in this invaluable book.

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About Cristof Falk

Cristof Falk has been involved, for the past 11 years, with the full life cycle of line-of-business applications, particularly finance and human resource. Programming and leveraging databases in many ways have been the means, with a greater focus over time as an analyst, to allow companies to better leverage their data asset in a user-friendly manner.

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