Best Of 2000 In Online Customer Service

Tuesday Dec 26th 2000 by Alexis Gutzman
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After a rough year, here's a look at the top performers of 2000.

Every year at this time when we compose our Christmas letter to send to family and friends far away, we marvel at all that's happened in the past twelve months -- a new baby, a new book, many firsts for the children. Unfortunately, a Christmas letter about the last year in e-commerce would read like an obituary -- so many carcasses littering the road behind us. However, many companies remain to serve customers who continue to go online to shop, looking for better value, greater convenience, and personalized service. Technology vendors will be needed to serve these companies.

In some of these categories there are a lot of competitors. In my investigation, I may have overlooked a vendor or two -- heck, at least eight new alternative payment technologies were announced in the fourth quarter of 2000 -- so if you don't see your favorite on the list, please let me know what it is and why it merits mention. The ones I selected below are those that solve pressing problems with sound technology. In every case, the business problems drive the technology, not vice versa.

Best Marketing Technology for Grabbing Visitors at Your Home Page Angara -- Angara permits your site to recognize anonymous visitors the first time they arrive at it. Using anonymous cookie information they've purchased from a number of vendors, they can tell -- before your server delivers any content to a visitor's browser -- the location, income, and other non-personally-intrusive information about the visitor. This enables you to serve the appropriate content and the appropriate promotions the very first time. When you know that more than 50% of visitors to your home page won't click any deeper, you realize that it's essential to grab the visitor with home page content. (See Recognizing Customers You've Never Seen Before for more information.)

Best Alternative Payment System for Online Purchases InternetCash -- Truth be told, there are several good payment solutions that offer consumers who generally prefer to pay with cash the opportunity to shop online. I like InternetCash because they don't rely on customers coming to the merchants through their own shopping portal. The problem with the shopping portal model is that the merchant pays the payment solution company for a customer every time (in addition to a discount rate). Can you imagine how big MasterCard would be if all shoppers who wanted to use MasterCard had to go through the MasterCard site, then merchants had to pay MasterCard a 3-15 percent affiliate fee? Everyone would prefer Visa. I first saw InternetCash offered as a payment option at Overstock.com. It's not yet clear which alternative payment solutions are likely to achieve critical mass for B2C commerce. One of the factors that will dictate success is the availability of cash-paying consumers to purchase it at brick-and-mortar outlets. InternetCash is available from over 5,000 retailers nationwide. Other factors are branding and visibility. Because InternetCash is a payment option next to Visa and MasterCard on the checkout page it will certainly have a leg up over the shopping portal systems, which are doomed to remain bit players. (See InternetCash for more information)

Best Anonymous Shopping Solution Incogno -- Incogno's solution facilitates more anonymity than shopping in the real world with cash. With cash, you leave fingerprints and people see your face. With Incogno, each party to the transaction gets only the information it needs. The entire checkout process takes place inside the Incogno SafeZone. Product purchase information goes to the merchant, shipping information goes to the shipper,

payment information goes to the payment system. Everything is handled on a need-to-know basis. This is an ideal model for the future of online shopping (see An Open Letter to Visa and MasterCard for more information).

Best CRM solution Siebel -- I know I'm going out on a limb here. It's great to see so many other companies that had formerly offered either ERP or Business Intelligence software moving into this space, but Siebel still dominates. Because of Siebel's broad customer base, they can deliver innovations requested by customers in one industry to other industries. Everyone benefits from the large installed base.

Best Personalization and Recommendation Engine Yo.com -- If you want to make next year's list, do what someone else is doing, do it better, and do it via an ASP. Yo.com offers the best of LikeMinds personalization and recommendations engine via an ASP. They've also added a few benefits such as the ability to change an e-mail marketing campaign after it's been mailed! If you find that one of the offers you made is wildly more successful than the others, change the dogs into winners so that people who haven't yet deleted the message will see the winning offer when (or the next time) they open the message. Yo.com also permits you to personalize the ads that your customers see on affiliate sites! I haven't written about Yo.com by itself yet, but I will soon. Check back for more details.

Best Business Intelligence Software Coremetrics -- This is a very crowded field with many, many impressive offerings (I've seen most of them). Coremetrics impressed me with its reporting. Business Intelligence software has two components: grabbing the data and displaying the data. The reports were clear, easy to manipulate, and available in near real time. On top of all that, the price is very competitive and the solution is offered on an ASP model. I'll soon dedicate this space to Business Intelligence software, so keep watching for more details.

This article originally appeared at ecommerce.internet.com.

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