Loyal Customers Drive Online Success

A loyal customer base is what separates the haves from the have-nots in
the competitive online marketplace.

Sites with the highest online loyalty are more likely to have increased
sales over their competitors as well as a significant Web promotion budget,
according to “The Direct Marketing Industry Online: Perspectives on 2001.”
The study was conducted by Millard Group and ActiveMedia Research and
sponsored by The Direct Marketing Association.

Email marketing, search engine ease and promotional incentives are among
the efforts that bring repeat business to a Web site, according to the
study.

Expedia.com, HotBot and Amazon.com — which were among the online
destinations lauded for their customer loyalty efforts — affirm that these
tips are true. All three companies were among the recipients of Customer
Loyalty Awards from Brand Keys, a New York City-based operation that surveys
online marketing sites and determines loyalty among users.

“Expedia outranked all other online travel sites by most closely
embodying the characteristics that consumers seek,” said Robert Passikoff,
CEO of Brand Keys. “The online travel portal bested Travelocity.com, Preview
Travel, Priceline.com, Excite and Fodors.com.”

The secret is to focus on the total customer experience, according to
Suzi LeVine, marketing director at Expedia.com.

“We make our biggest efforts in the communication arena,” she said. “We
have highly targeted emails that provide relevant information and round out
the customer’s online travel experience.

“For instance, a few days prior to departure, our customers begin
receiving emails that are specific to their travel plans. We send links to
weather reports, schedules of entertainment events, and locations where they
can purchase tickets to specific venues,” she said.

The online travel agent also offers a Fare Tracker service that tracks
ticket prices from different carriers to three destination cities. “This
way, we are able to provide our customers with the lowest fares and deliver
that information to their e-mail box every week. Fare Tracker also includes
news of airline fare sales and a selection of great travel deals.,” LeVine
said.

“It is imperative that we respond to our customers’ needs and provide
them with a site that is easy to use, provides more choice and goes beyond
selling tickets. When a customer uses are site, they get the underlying
message: ‘We want to be your travel agent,'” she concluded. “Further, we
have been at the forefront of implementing technology to guard our
customers’ privacy. They trust us and feel secure with us.”

Customer values that determine loyalty among search engine users are
logical organization and ease of use, the number and selection of sites
catalogues, the usability of search data and added-value features, such as
news channels and specialized search options, noted Passikoff.

In addition to HotBot, search engines in the Brand Keys competition
included Excite, Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Lycos, InfoSeek, AOL, Ask Jeeves,
iWon.com, msn.com, Google, Netscape and Northern Light.

By adapting to what the customer wants, HotBot is able to maintain its
leading position in the search engine category, noted Kirsten Rankin, public
relations specialist with Terra-Lycos, parent company of HotBot.

“The HotBot site is geared toward research and Internet-savvy users who
come to our search engine because it puts power into their hands,” she said.

“Users can change the parameters as to how things are searched,” she
added. “HotBot.com is a sophisticated search engine with more than 40 tools
to help users better articulate their searches and get relevant search
results quickly and easily,” she said.

“We recently added a personalized cache-search setting that lets users
pre-set what language and in which domains their searches are conducted,”
she said. “People like having those options.

The online travel agent also offers a Fare Tracker service that tracks
ticket prices from different carriers to three destination cities. “This
way, we are able to provide our customers with the lowest fares and deliver
that information to their e-mail box every week. Fare Tracker also includes
news of airline fare sales and a selection of great travel deals.,” LeVine
said.

“It is imperative that we respond to our customers’ needs and provide
them with a site that is easy to use, provides more choice and goes beyond
selling tickets. When a customer uses are site, they get the underlying
message: ‘We want to be your travel agent,'” she concluded. “Further, we
have been at the forefront of implementing technology to guard our
customers’ privacy. They trust us and feel secure with us.”

Customer values that determine loyalty among search engine users are
logical organization and ease of use, the number and selection of sites
catalogues, the usability of search data and added-value features, such as
news channels and specialized search options, noted Passikoff.

In addition to HotBot, search engines in the Brand Keys competition
included Excite, Yahoo!, Alta Vista, Lycos, InfoSeek, AOL, Ask Jeeves,
iWon.com, msn.com, Google, Netscape and Northern Light.

By adapting to what the customer wants, HotBot is able to maintain its
leading position in the search engine category, noted Kirsten Rankin, public
relations specialist with Terra-Lycos, parent company of HotBot.

“The HotBot site is geared toward research and Internet-savvy users who
come to our search engine because it puts power into their hands,” she said.

“Users can change the parameters as to how things are searched,” she
added. “HotBot.com is a sophisticated search engine with more than 40 tools
to help users better articulate their searches and get relevant search
results quickly and easily,” she said.

“We recently added a personalized cache-search setting that lets users
pre-set what language and in which domains their searches are conducted,”
she said. “People like having those options. They like to have control.”

Amazon.com was the winner in the online book and music category because
it provides users with an easy-to-use secure site, good prices, added value
and useful content, noted Passikoff.

“We aim to be the most customer-centric company in the world,” said Ling
Hong, spokesperson for Amazon.com.

“To accomplish this, we focus on three things,” she said. “We listen to
the customer, invent and innovate on the customer’s behalf and we then
personalize our offerings. The result is innovative site features, such as
customer reviews and recommendations and one-click payments.

“These cool site features, combined with a growing selection and low
prices, are key in helping our customers to find their favorite books and
CDs and add them to their collections.”

Charles Schwab & Co. was also a Brand Keys Award winner for online
customer loyalty.

Using data generated by a bi-annual survey, Brand Keys creates a report
that details the drivers that bond customers with a brand. “The Direct
Marketing Industry Online: Perspectives on 2001″ is designed to provide
direct marketers with factual data about the impact of online marketing on
the direct marketing industry.

They like to have control.”

Amazon.com was the winner in the online book and music category because
it provides users with an easy-to-use secure site, good prices, added value
and useful content, noted Passikoff.

“We aim to be the most customer-centric company in the world,” said Ling
Hong, spokesperson for Amazon.com.

“To accomplish this, we focus on three things,” she said. “We listen to
the customer, invent and innovate on the customer’s behalf and we then
personalize our offerings. The result is innovative site features, such as
customer reviews and recommendations and one-click payments.

“These cool site features, combined with a growing selection and low
prices, are key in helping our customers to find their favorite books and
CDs and add them to their collections.”

Charles Schwab & Co. was also a Brand Keys Award winner for online
customer loyalty.

Using data generated by a bi-annual survey, Brand Keys creates a report
that details the drivers that bond customers with a brand. “The Direct
Marketing Industry Online: Perspectives on 2001” is designed to provide
direct marketers with factual data about the impact of online marketing on
the direct marketing industry.

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