The Peppers and Rogers Group is online at Marketing 1to1.
In the old days of the Internet--that would be 1995 and 1996--almost every new Web site attracted curious surfers. But that was before the number of sites on the Web exploded, and today it can take weeks (even months) just to get a popular search engine such as Yahoo! to record your existence. Getting your site to pop up at the top of a search is almost impossible.

Too many businesses, small and large, expect their Web site to be a source of new customers. But why does a random prospect deserve more attention than your loyal customers?

Instead, it's far easier to use the Internet to work with your current customers. You already interact in some way with your clientele through product deliveries, invoices, telephone calls, mailings, training, or product support. Adding a Web site to your roster of communication methods lets you reinforce your one-to-one service in a supercharged way.

Consider the example of Kids 'R' Kids, a rapidly growing daycare center based in Marietta, Ga.

The Kids 'R' Kids center, which cares for 130 children ages six weeks to twelve years old, uses the Web to let clients watch their children during the day.

Owner Elaine Kamienny installed 13 video cameras from ParentNet's KinderCam system throughout her center, and gave parents access to a special area on the Web to be able to see what their kids are doing at any given moment. Images are refreshed every five seconds, with plans for a real-time system soon.

Kamienny doesn't charge extra for this added service, instead citing it as "another example that we are a center of influence." She estimates that about 80% of parents access daycare images over the Web and she believes it helps them feel more connected to their kids.

Kids 'R' Kids recognized the real power of the Web, which is to develop deeper relationships with the customers it already has.

In fact, the Web provides the most cost-efficient method ever invented for interacting with customers. Even when you're sleeping, your Web site can be gathering information about the needs of individual customers and helping to satisfy those needs.

Every business can use the Web to focus on their existing customers. Here are a few ways:

  • Create a personal Web page for each valuable customer and log their purchases automatically on your site. Include all purchases, whether in-person, over the phone, or online. Then, invite customers to visit "their" sites and record their impressions of the products. An example: Wine Spectator Online, which includes a Personal Wine List feature. Services like this help customers keep track of their preferences over time, making it easier for a company to do a better job of suggesting other products a customer might enjoy.
  • Establish a "Tell Us What You Think" sneak preview section on your Web site to show off new products. Ask your customers for feedback and use it to better understand their needs and preferences. Marshall Industries, a $1 billion electronics wholesaler, has been doing this since 1994. Technology has advanced since then-- while costs have come down--to make similar solutions feasible for smaller companies.
  • Create a password-protected site that enables clients to see work in progress and log their comments online. Design studios and small ad agencies, in particular, can benefit from this because it's more efficient to put the work in a central location than to E-mail or snail mail it to several different people. Plus, this kind of system lets everyone see how others have reacted and whose comments are missing. An example: Rage Systems, a multimedia design company started three years ago, uses Lotus Domino software to allow round-the-clock collaboration between the firm's artists, technicians, programmers and clients.
Features like these will allow you to avoid having your site become a mundane spot on the Web. Face it: using the Web solely to post static pictures and copy--what some call "brochureware"--is like using television to broadcast a script of a TV show instead of the show itself.

Whichever ways your company chooses to use the Web, be sure you're using it to talk with customers, rather than at them.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers are authors of the best-selling The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time. An excerpt of their second book, Enterprise One to One, appeared in the January 1997 issue of Inc. Peppers, Rogers, and Bruce Kasanoff are all partners in the Peppers and Rogers Group, based in Stamford, Conn.

The company's Web site Marketing 1to1 offers detailed information about one-to-one marketing techniques.