In my last column, I talked about combining the operational and analytical sides of customer relationship management (CRM) to complete the customer-centric vision. This month's column continues the discussion by describing the use of online analytics for online operations.

One of the key promises of the Web is the granular tracking of customer behavior. The idea that we can assess the type of design that most appeals to Web visitors is a graphic designer's dream. Detailed clickstream information in the hands of experienced analysts can help designers understand if the site has been effective at leading customers and potential customers to the desired outcome - be it a purchase, a registration, a sweepstakes entry or an acceptance of an offer.

The issues with mining this information are:

  • Successful Web sites generate so much information that it can be difficult to digest.
  • Analysts who have experience with effectively mining clickstream data are few and far between.
  • Web site design optimization has not always led to business results.

Creative marketers and online organizations have figured out how to use detailed Web site behavior information for reasons beyond site effectiveness. Some examples include abandonment follow-up and program engagement.
Booking, purchasing and researching on the Web is quick and easy. We continue trying to make it simpler to perform all of these types of functions. After all, simplicity is the key benefit of the Web for many users. However, the simplicity that drives our customers is also our curse. With one click, users can leave our site without completing the desired interaction. They leave us hanging when it suddenly occurs to them that they forgot to book that flight or when a friend instant messages them to check out a new blog posting.

Nimble organizations are watching for these types of abandonment issues. In response, organizations plot several different types of rescues:

  • For extremely high-touch scenarios, organizations make an outbound telephone call or a salesperson follows up in the case of existing customers. We see this scenario most often in business-to-business situations or for high-value customers. Usually this tactic is very effective when the user had several choices to make and the outcome did not meet their liking. For instance, after filling out an insurance application form, the customer did not like the premium he or she was quoted. A customer service rep could walk the customer through the form to show how to decrease the premium.
  • E-mails are a great way to follow up after an abandonment. E-mails can ask the customer if he or she needs extra assistance or make an offer that may entice future business.

Engagement differs from site behavior because different people use the information with different goals and different outcomes. Whereas site behavior is looking to improve the customer's perception of the site and its ease of use, engagement understands the level to which the customer is involved with the brand, the channel and the product.
Many organizations are launching new loyalty programs (newspapers, insurance, telecommunications, etc.) and new information services that are supported by Internet technology. Engagement leverages site metrics to understand if these new services and products are being embraced by customers. This type of analytics allows organizations to quickly test new online concepts, invest vigorously as they are adopted or pull out quickly to cut losses.

Web analytics is taking on a new role in organizations. By leveraging site behavior to rescue lost opportunities, companies look like nimble, responsive, proactive organizations. Likewise, using detailed online behavior in order to understand the success of new products and services allows organizations to quickly evaluate and test new concepts.

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