First place

Sumerset Custom Houseboats (See " Web Awards 2000: General Excellence.")

Second place

Help Yourself

Company: Ives Development Inc.
Web address:
Why it won: Robust personal-account management treats each customer as an individual.
Company revenues: $7 million
Site-launch cost: $75,000
Judge's view: "This software company has developed innovative, cost-effective ways for getting upgrades to clients and performing complex customer service." --Evan Schwartz

Individual preference is the order of the day at, the Web site for Ives Development Inc., a software vendor in Beverly, Mass. Users of Ives's software-engineering tools can elect to serve themselves in a variety of ways. Customers can send E-mail queries or get free telephone support. They can also search the Ives KnowledgeBase or post a question to one of two discussion forums, where peers as well as tech-support staffers answer questions. Customers appreciate those options -- which many software-company sites offer today -- although Ives CEO Nigel Cheshire, 41, ruefully admits that most users tend to pick up the phone the minute they have a problem.

Human nature being what it is, Ives may never succeed in training its customers to fully help themselves with support issues. So the company has managed to slash costs in other ways. All Ives software is available for downloading on the site, which dramatically reduces CD production and distribution expenses. And customers get an automatic E-mail message when new releases of their products are available, which eliminates snail-mail costs.

Personal-account management is by far the best self-service feature on the site. Customers can manage their accounts online, seeing at a glance which products they have licenses for, how many licenses they've bought, and when the maintenance agreements on their licenses are due to expire. "In the near future, our customers will be able to link to a page within an E-mail message and renew all their agreements in one place," says Cheshire. Anything to make life easier for a beleaguered software developer. --Lauren Gibbons Paul

Third place

PostNet International Franchise Corp. (See " Web Awards 2000: Community.")

Conversation with Martha Rogers

Judge: Customer Service

There's nothing Martha Rogers hates more than being treated like everyone else. And that unfortunately is how most companies treat their customers -- like peas in a pod.

Ask Rogers for examples of companies that treat her differently from other customers, and she cites American Airlines, which "remembers" what she tells the airline every time she calls or logs on to its Web site. Consequently, American offers her individualized information -- not just what a flight to Reno costs this week. "They know my zip code and what school system I'm in, and as a result, they send a message that says, 'Welcome back, Martha, we'd like to offer your family a vacation package for spring break.' This is customer service on steroids," declares Rogers, who is a partner at the Peppers and Rogers Group.

How can a company that's a fraction of the size of American Airlines reach such a lofty standard? Rogers offers these pointers:

Identify your customers individually. "If I can't remember the problem you had six months ago, or I don't learn from this transaction a way that will help me consistently serve you better in the future, then it's an isolated incident," says Rogers. "That's better than nothing, but it's far from building a relationship. So the first thing I need to be able to do is identify you as you every time you come in, through any channel."

Determine the value of your customers and treat them accordingly. "This means I recognize that you are of greater value than Martha is, and therefore I'm going to make different offers to you or spend more resources on you."

Get your customers to interact with you. "If I can learn something from you, I can give you what's best for you and give your next-door neighbor what's best for your next-door neighbor."

Use that information to customize your site. "I'd like to see these sites go beyond 'Welcome back, Martha.' I'd like them to pull together an automated message that's relevant to me based on information I've given them, not based on everything that's true about my demographic group," says Rogers. --Elaine Appleton Grant

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