I spend a lot of time on the Web looking for new information on customer relationship management (CRM). I was deep into a search one day when I came across the Web site for Talisma, an Internet-CRM (eCRM) company. Cruising the site, I caught something moving and changing out of the corner of my eye. Thinking the box in the top left-hand corner was an advertisement, I ignored it. Then I realized that it wasn’t an advertisement at all; in fact, it was someone or something trying to initiate a chat session with me, asking me if I had any questions about Talisma or if I needed help navigating through the site.

The someone or something turned out to be Philip, my “online guide.” At first I had my doubts about Philip, assuming he was an automated service dolling out cached answers. But then I realized Phillip was a real person, initiating a real-time conversation with me.

I asked Philip how the chat technology worked and about its possible advantages to the CRM industry. He told me about Talisma, a six-year-old eCRM company that places emphasis on keeping Internet-based services as personal as possible.

Personal service from an impersonal source
Talisma focuses its eCRM solutions on providing its clients’ customers with the personal attention that is often lacking in Internet-based business-to-consumer communication. While many CRM and eCRM vendors claim to offer one-on-one customer service, Talisma is using Talisma Chat, the proper name of the chat product that originally caught my eye on the Talisma site, to make good on their personal service claims.

“Chat is a bunch of technology, but there is a person behind it,” said Mike McClure, Talisma’s vice president of product marketing.

Talisma Chat can also collect a history of customer interaction. A representative can look back over a customer’s file to see what they needed help with in the past or what they purchased. The chat session is recorded word for word. “The first step towards building an ongoing relationship is storing what I know about you as a customer and using it to personalize things to you,” McClure said.

Customer service—Online!

All of Talisma’s core products are developed in-house with one question in mind: “How do you economically support a Web site 24/7, increase the efficiencies, and integrate all your electronic touch points at once,” said Jerry Johnson, Talisma’s personal relations representative.

Talisma’s four solution areas:

  1. Electronic interaction products
  2. Outsourcing
  3. Online hosting
  4. Professional services

Talisma Chat works in two ways: proactive and reactive. A proactive session is one started by the organization that licenses the chat technology. A representative like Philip can monitor who is on which Web page and how long they are on that page. If the representative feels a visitor may need help, they can ask by starting a session. An organization is able to customize the solution to decide which pages of the Web site visitors may need help on and can initiate a session when those pages are opened.

A reactive session begins when a visitor “rings the doorbell.” Doorbells are icons visitors can use to initiate a session. A click on an icon will alert the representatives monitoring the Web site that a visitor desires to start a session. The organization decides which pages have doorbells and which customers may need more doorbells.

“We may not want to serve up a doorbell to everyone. The ideal example is when my mom visits the site, we kind of ignore her, but when Bill Gates visits the site, he’s got doorbells all over the place,” said McClure.

Providing top-notch customer service at a responsible price
Talisma outsources the Talisma Chat service to both larger and smaller organizations, offering a slimmed down version of their solutions for smaller companies. Due to its online nature, this service is able to keep the cost of communicating with customers down.

“The highest cost thing you can do is a personal meeting; next is voice interaction. What’s efficient about Chat is that I can solve problems in Chat and keep you from calling us or from us having to send out a representative to you,” said McClure. Interacting with site visitors through chat sessions is the middle ground in terms of cost and the level of personal service—resting somewhere between voice interaction and e-mail. It is also cost efficient because of the ratio of representatives per visitors. For example, Philip was probably having conversations with four or five other people while he was interacting with me.

Complete control over the service
IT managers and CIOs have control over how Talisma Chat functions for the organization. They can track all the pages on their site that they feel should be monitored.

“All tracked pages are treated with a few lines of extra HTML code. A user coming into the Web site actually downloads the capability to be tracked by the chat technology when they visit the treated page,” said McClure.

McClure explained that chat representatives operate behind a tracking server, which mimics SQL Server, that is connected to a Microsoft- or HTML-based client. For the Microsoft-based client, a screen resembling Microsoft Outlook keeps track of the current chat sessions and where visitors are on the site.

There is also a program that keeps a list of canned automatic answers on hand for representatives. More personalized answers occur after the representative learns more about each visitor’s needs.

Talisma Snapshot

Talisma has a full line of personalized eCRM solutions that were created to supply organizations with a way to offer personal service over the Web. Talisma was created in 1994, and 75 percent of the company operates out of India. Talisma’s customers include Bally’s Total Fitness, Lowes/Eagle Hardware, Microsoft, and NetGrocer.com.

By featuring both proactive and reactive sessions, organizations can customize the chat accordingly. Managers can decide which pages to treat and which pages need doorbells. Managers can also create a wide array of reports based on visitor and customer use. “You can sort and prioritize based on customer criteria: How many times have they been to the site; what have they bought; where do they go,” said McClure.

Keeping in touch with customers

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