Rapid-Response Targeting

A few years ago online marketers began to realize en masse that much of the money they were reinvesting in getting consumers to click through to their Web sites was being wasted due to a lack of post-click optimization strategy. Though many marketers have addressed that gap by optimizing their "outbound communications," few have addressed or even acknowledged another blind spot: lack of responsiveness to inbound email communications from the customers they've already "converted," as Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, explains below.


Behavioral Insider: Can you explain how a company like yours, which has been known primarily as an enterprise software firm, has adopted behaviorally driven methodologies?

Sabrina Parsons: We've been focused primarily until recently on tools to develop and manage business planning for small businesses. The way we were prompted to move into the email space actually stemmed from our own experiences. We've done a lot of work in optimizing our Web site and paying attention to how customers were using it. This is useful in learning how to personalize and customize offers, promotions and content. But what we found, ironically, is that there was no really affordable and accessible tool for managing responses, communications and relations with consumers once they did in fact respond to us. We had to develop our own in-house platform for managing that communication and that's what became the basis of Email Center Pro.



So what we've become focused on is providing smaller businesses with the opportunity to make sure they manage emails to stay on top of what customers' concerns really are and to be responsive to their needs by tracking customers' conversations with the marketer over time.

BI: So you see the reciprocal aspect of email communications as lagging?

Parsons: Marketers use analytics in depth to see whether and what customers are clicking on on the Web site, but then once a customer initiates their own conversations, be it via email or chats, the knowledge and insight potentially gained from that is completely lost.

There's so much emphasis on increasing touch points, yet in the most personal communications marketers and customers businesses somehow remain incredibly unresponsive. A related problem is that customer queries, comments or complaints get routed to the wrong place and are either lost completely or poorly handled.

People want instant response when they have questions. Yet what they still too often get are canned automatic responses that can be infuriating. Think of it. It's as if you spent all this money on a cable TV infomercial with a great presentation, and then set up 800 number for consumers to call in, and then just had one phone line working, so people calling in just got a busy signal or a message machine.

This kind of frustration is chronic. I was getting ready to go on vacation and realized I needed a bathing suit quickly. So I went to an e-commerce site and paid extra for immediate overnight shipping. What do I get but an automatic email saying thanks for your order. We'll be processing it and it should be going out in 48 to 72 hours. This kind of thing goes on all the time and creates what we call email fatigue. It's not because customers are not interested in email communications. It's rather that they are sick of irrelevant emails.

BI: Could you give me examples of how understanding consumer communications more deeply enhances behavioral marketing?

Parsons: The key is simply to pay as much attention to what customers say as you do to properly framing and targeting the message you push out. One example of how this makes a real difference in deployment is a customer of ours, Herbal Buddy, which is one of the largest online herbal products distributors. They used Email Pro in tandem with Google Analytics, not only to answer questions more quickly and responsively, but to learn about patterns of customer behavior that had remained hidden. For example in tracking the volume of customer queries they realized that there were particular times of day when they'd get an influx of customer questions. They were able to identify peak times to target keywords on Google and bid higher for keywords at the exact times when they know customers are looking for products.

Another customer from a large retail clothing site used histories of customer communications to send out newsletters with personally targeted services and products. These kinds of synchronization of customer response behavior with other kinds of analytics data not only [create] stronger click-through and conversion rates, but in a wider variety of metrics from increased repeat purchases, loyalty and share of wallet.

BI: What sorts of behaviorally oriented refinements do you see driving email innovation going forward?

Parsons: The critical factor over the coming year will be to continue converging Web site, search and other behaviors with consumer-initiated communication channels, be they email, IM or even offline call centers. The goal will be to constantly improvement alignment between front-end touch-points and back-end customer service.

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