Brian Hoover, co-founder, president, and CEO of TouchScape Corp., wanted to find an easier way for consumers to communicate directly with companies.

The solution that Hoover found is in Web-based communications. Whether it’s a customer-to-provider or a business-to-business communication, Hoover felt that most companies don’t provide the means to interact directly with customers via the Internet. That’s where TouchScape comes in. TouchScape, based in Phoenix, AZ, provides businesses with this type of Web capability, making customer relationship management (CRM) a much easier and accessible option.

In this interview with Hoover and TouchScape’s VP of Marketing, Sara Bresnahan, find out how a fully Web-based communication system can help your company conduct better business.

TR: What was the inspiration behind TouchScape?
Hoover: I used to work in my dad’s drugstore when I was a kid, and his motto was, the customer is always right. We spent a lot of time getting to know our customers. I don’t think that we’re trying to get away from that in going to the Web.

We’re trying to create an environment where businesses can have a close relationship with their customers. It may be over the phone, in person, or on the Web.

TR: What makes TouchScape unique?
Hoover: What we’re doing is using new technology to make customer support cheaper, faster, quicker, and hopefully better. You can drop prices significantly by providing customers with self-service.

TR: Why does CRM work on the Web?
Hoover: If you look at the demographics of the people who are going on the Internet today, there are a lot of people communicating through e-mail. Now there’s the opportunity to go to a company Web page, but most companies aren’t opening the door. For a company to put a Web page out there without some way to interact with consumers is kind of like publishing an 800 number but not having anybody to answer the phone. What we’re trying to do is personalize [Web-based] company communication with their customers.

TR: How does TouchScape help customer-to-company communication?
Hoover: By using our system, customers and companies can both see:

  • When a piece of correspondence was submitted
  • What commitments were made to respond
  • When a response actually took place
  • Who is handling the item

All of the interaction history is available for every piece of correspondence. When you go to TouchScape and submit a form, you know somebody got it. You have a history of it so both parties are really held accountable for that whole interaction.

There’s also kind of a liability issue. If you tell someone something and you can prove it, you protect yourself as a company.

TR: What market segment is TouchScape designed for?
Hoover: We’re looking for companies that really want to embrace their customers, ones that really want to encourage consumers to contact them. We use kind of a benchmark of anything above $3-$5 million in revenue. Those companies are probably going to be large enough to have this need.

We’ve done studies to look at what the most common traits of consumers are on the Internet today.

Our studies show, for example, that they are buying consumer products and peripherals. They’re buying consumer electronics, sporting goods, toys, and baby things. What that does is drive a lot of desire to interact with companies who offer those products. Those are companies that we’re targeting as well as those who are most likely to have that kind of a need.

We segment that down into the individuals that we’ll target in those companies, and they’re typically a VP of marketing, service, or sales. They don’t have to go through a capital budget approval process and IT approval process. They simply go to whoever owns the Web site and tell them to link to TouchScape, and they’ll be up and running very quickly.

TR: Can TouchScape be used for business-to-business (B2B) communication?
Hoover: Absolutely. A couple of our customers are using it specifically for that. One of the things we’ve done is to build an application enabler. If you modify the form slightly, it can be used for employee benefits. If you modify it in another way, it becomes a business-to-business tool.

TR: What is the timetable for installation?
Hoover: The technology implementation takes about an hour. We run from scripts and it’s deployed, but we also have customization tools. If customers want to modify the forms, they can do that. It doesn’t require a programmer. We’ve set the service up so that you can do features “a la carte.”

TR: Can TouchScape be integrated with an existing customer service department?
Hoover: If they’ve been running anything like a call center before, they should be up and running very quickly. If it’s relatively new, we provide an implementation guide. In all likelihood, by the time they’re a TouchScape customer they’ve already got a couple of people doing customer service.

Essentially what they’re doing is adapting the software to fit the model they already have.

Bresnahan: In the context of our overall differentiation, because we’re a pure product ASP, there are three things that we can do very differently for our customers:

  1. One is provide a very affordable implementation compared to traditional CRM applications.
  2. Two is the ease of implementation—as quickly as within a day.
  3. Three is while you’re servicing customers online, you’re also building a powerful database to segment and target customers online at a very affordable price.

TR:How will TouchScape be able to create a customer to company loyalty with this kind of interaction?
Hoover: Each consumer can see all his or her interactions over time. That whole accountability thing says that this company really does care about me, and just being listened to or being heard is a big part of any customer relationship. My dad taught me that in the drugstore. When people are hurting, the first place they go is the doctor. The second place they go is the pharmacy. The best pharmacists are the ones who are also good listeners.

One of the best things a company can do to build customer loyalty is just listen and let people know that they’re being heard.

Bresnahan: In terms of customer loyalty, I think there are three words: confidence, satisfaction, and empowerment.

  • Confidence because they quickly are responded to with an auto response that indicates that we’ve gotten the inquiry.
  • Satisfaction because, if they have inquired, they get a full answer and an intelligent answer back in a satisfactory length of time. They feel confident that the company’s taking care of them.
  • Empowerment because they feel empowered to get the information they need.

About TouchScape

TouchScape debuted in March 2000 and received its second round of funding in April 2000. While live instances of TouchScape are running, full market launch of the product is not due until sometime in May 2000. TouchScape is designed to fit into an existing solution mix and can be deployed through an Internet browser.

TR: How is TouchScape designed to be competitive in the Web-based CRM market?
It is a great market, and there are a lot of people who are going to see this need. We went out and did the marketing first and established what the need was and then worked backwards to figure out a business model to effectively address that need.

A couple of things we had to focus on were that:

  • It had to be affordable
  • It had to be secure and reliable
  • It had to be easy to implement

The technology was built from those requirements. We’ve done some really creative things in terms of technology.

Just to give you an example: Each customer has a private, secure database as opposed to a service that might have lots of subscribers in one. You may have a time where there is one customer that has a lot of activity. You don’t want that impacting the others.

We have great economies of scale. In our model, we can get 250 customers on a single server complex whereas the traditional monolithic client-server legacy system would probably max out at about three.

Our studies show the market that we’re going after doesn’t even know what CRM means. They’re just now being educated, so there’s a demand curve being created. The trick is to get to them quickly. That’s where we think we’ve got a significant edge; in getting to them, being able to reach them, and reaching them first.