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Latest Thing in Customer Relations: A Web Page for Each and Every Client

In addition to luring new business, the specialized sites reach out to people who have already established a relationship with the merchant.

August 09, 2000|LAWRENCE J. MAGID | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It's not unusual to have an Internet home page for your business, but now you can set up pages for each of your customers and the products and services they buy from you.

EPage (http://www.epage.com) and Marketdrive Interactive (http://www.marketdrive.com) allow businesses to set up pages to help extend the post-purchase relationship with individual customers. To use an increasingly popular business buzz phrase, it's a form of "customer relationship management," or CRM.

I was a bit skeptical at first about the notion of a home page for a consumer product until I visited the Web site for my local Toyota dealer (http://www.toyotapaloalto.com) and noticed that I could create such a page for my new Avalon. It took me only a few minutes to register and, once I had completed the form, my car had its own home page that lists service history, maintenance schedule, recalls and specials as well as a place where I can ask questions or schedule a service appointment.

The Toyota dealer is also using the site to promote products and services, but I'm not bothered by that because I'm already a customer.

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And that's the beauty of this type of customer relations. In addition to spending money luring new customers, the dealership is reaching out to me and other customers who have already established a relationship with it. I don't know whether or not I'll buy my next car from that dealership, but now I have a vested interest in continuing to visit its Web site.

This particular site was created by Marketdrive Interactive, a Sausalito, Calif.-based company established in 1998 initially to serve automobile manufacturers and dealers. The company, according to its president, Rob Macnaughton, is branching out to include dealers and manufacturers of motorcycles, planes, boats and heavy equipment and to the real estate industry.

Auto dealers who license the technology pay between $500 and $800 a month along with a set-up fee that is typically about $1,000, according to Macnaughton. The fee covers the cost of integrating Marketdrive's technology with the dealer's own customer relationship computer system.

EPage is a service of HomePage.Com, a Los Angeles start-up that was initially funded by Idealab. The company, according to President Mary Lou Fulton, "targets any product or service that consumers and businesses acquire where there is a need for information."

In addition to auto dealers, EPage is going after a wide range of product and service industries where there is a strong need for customer service and aftermarket communications. These can include insurance, accounting and even veterinarians.

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An insurance agency could use it to help clients track their policies and renewal dates, learn about benefits and how to file a claim.

An accountant could use it to remind clients about necessary filings or to provide them with information about their tax payments.

A veterinary clinic, according to Fulton, "could create a place for all the records associated with the care of a client's pet.

A single page could contain all the records of visits, medications and side effects along with opportunities to buy pet food and reminders about upcoming vaccinations.

The company has no plans to market its service to physicians who treat humans, but--security and privacy issues aside--it strikes me as a good idea.

I can think of a number of useful resources that real estate agents could use to distinguish themselves from their competition. I wouldn't mind having a home page for my house that covered all the major appliances, warranties, plumbing, insurance records and other vital information.

Fulton would not disclose the cost of EPage, but said that each solution is customized according to the client's needs and the complexity of setting up and maintaining the site. Pricing, said Fulton, depends in part on how complicated it is to integrate the site into the client's existing customer information systems.

Although services such as EPage and Market Drive offer customized solutions, there are certainly limited levels of service that you could offer without any special help. At the very least, you could encourage your customers to register at your Web site and sign up for an e-mail mailing list where you--with their permission--inform them of specials or information related to their purchases or services.

You could also detail Web pages for each of your products and services even if you don't have the resources to create a page specifically for each client.

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Technology reports by Lawrence J. Magid can be heard at 2:10 p.m. weekdays on the KNX (1070) Technology Hour. He can be reached at larry.magid@latimes.com. His Web site is at http://www.larrysworld.com.

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