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RealTime IT News

2001: An Ebusiness Odyssey?

While some regard the upcoming holiday as the true beginning of the new millennium, Chinese folklore refers to 2001 as the year of the "Snake Sleeping in Winter."

"In this particular snake year, there is an association with potential hardship and difficulties to overcome," reports Chinatown Online. "Your network of support may be a significant asset during these difficult times."

Dire words or sage advice? If you are running an online business, listen carefully. So far, this era has been tumultuous (at best). With a landslide of virtual doors shutting, stock prices slumping and unemployment lines increasing, many e-operators are making the New Year a time to reflect on how to sustain their businesses in a difficult climate.

Dot-com resolutions being made for this coming year include re-evaluating business models, streamlining Web site designs and getting busy with some good, old-fashioned customer service.

"Simply put, 2001 is the year of the customer," said Nick Cohen, CEO of collegerecruiting.com, a Web site where college recruiters and high school students are matched based on academics, arts and athletics. "This is not a time to focus on crazy growth or outspending the competition. It is a time to build relations.

"Our goal is profitability. We will obtain that by focusing on our customers," he said. "We are providing our clients -- both the universities and the students -- with a quality experience through micromanagement. The business that listens to its customers and has a high level of customer satisfaction is the business that succeeds."

Ditto, said David Gold, CEO of Prosavvy.com, which assists companies in selecting professional and consulting service providers. "Among our New Year's resolutions is to improve trust management, customer relations management and customer education."

The strategy entails focusing on existing relationships. "This is key," said Gold. "We have implemented software that makes it easier for our salespeople to stay in touch with their clients and help them to understand how our e-procurement tools work."

Communication also comes in the form of a weekly "tip" sheet that is emailed to clients. "Instead of sending generic emails, we are now sending electronic newsletters that are much more personalized via membership profile account managers.

"Overall, the steps we have put in place are designed to reassure and reaffirm that we are a successful business that is going to be around," Gold said. "Historically, when the economy goes soft, it is the customer service positions that are the first to go. I think that is a mistake. We want our clients to know that someone is always available to talk to them."

Providing superior service is the only way to drive down customer acquisition costs over time, points out Deslie Webb, CEO of eGulliver.com, a recently launched travel company. "This is something we have watched other Internet companies struggle with and get burned by in 2000," she said.

"In 2001 our goal is to provide our customers with a superior travel planning experience such that they will be inclined to tell everyone about us and will return to eGulliver for their next vacation," she said.

"Customer service is best established by building a database and interacting with the audience through permission-based marketing," noted Brian Hoover, CEO of Touchscape, an ASP that helps clients to improve customer service and online communications.

"Our point is that 2000 was a great year to build and learn. Now, in 2001, you need to create an interactive environment and clearly communication your value proposition. That key lies in micromanagement and mass customization," he said. "You have to have customer personalization and you need to have a site that is more than a static brochure. It is imperative to track customers and be responsive to their needs."

Managing the