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Report: 6 in 10 Companies Use Web to Develop Customer Relations

Web-savvy growth companies are using their sites for more than advertising and product information, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP's latest survey. Sixty-one percent of the companies surveyed are also using them to build customer relationships.

And 60% use them to invite comments and feedback, according to the company's "Trendsetter Barometer" report.

PricewaterhouseCoopers "Trendsetter Barometer" interviewed CEOs of 446 product and service companies identified in the media as the fastest growing U.S. businesses over the last five years. Half of the CEOs say their companies are recognized as high-tech firms.

"Companies that understand the concept of 'virtual communities' are positioning themselves to capture the hearts and minds of their customers," said Ellen M. Knapp, chief knowledge officer and chief information officer for PricewaterhouseCoopers. "These firms know that creating virtual communities will help them better understand and bond with the customer, essential to building market share in today's knowledge economy."

In addition to developing relationships with their customers and prospects, "Trendsetter" growth companies use their Web sites in a number of different ways. Most use them to advertise (94%), provide in-depth product or service information (85%) and obtain new sales leads (71%). Moreover, slightly more than half (51%) include their Web sites in employee recruitment efforts, and 50% use them to provide services to customers.

Only 32% of the companies with a Web presence use it for direct sales of products or services. "This low percentage is undoubtedly rooted in concerns about privacy and electronic commerce security," said Knapp. "Even among risk-taking growth companies, e-commerce security remains an issue they must grapple with."

To be successful with their Web sites, growth companies report that ongoing maintenance is essential. Currently, 25% update their site information daily or weekly and another 33% do so at least monthly. "The importance of keeping Web sites both current and engaging cannot be overstated," Knapp said. "Site visitors are looking for the absolutely latest information. If a site fails to supply a steady stream of relevant new content, visitors will simply navigate elsewhere for what they need."

Currently, 77% of America's fastest growing companies have at least one Web site, and another 14% expect to follow suit within the next 12 months. "A year from now, more than 90% of 'Trendsetter' companies will have established a presence on the Web," Knapp said.

One in four "Trendsetter" CEOs (24%) with a Web site rate it as a major or important contributor to their own business growth. Overall, almost half of "Trendsetter" CEOs (46%) view the Web as an extremely or very important business tool over the next 12 months: 19% say it will be "extremely important" and 27% call it "very important." Only 8% dismiss it as unimportant.

PricewaterhouseCoopers' "Trendsetter Barometer" is developed and compiled with assistance from the opinion and economic research firm Business Science International.

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