Holiday shoppers are expected to spend more than $19.5 billion online this season, an 85 percent increase over last year’s holiday revenue of $10.5 billion, according to Gartner. (TechRepublic is a subsidiary of Gartner.)

For online retailers and organizations with e-commerce Web sites, this explosive growth in sales and customers means now is a critical time for customer relationship management (CRM). This article offers advice to help IT managers jump-start CRM programs and make the most of customer interactions during the holiday season and throughout the new year.

Ready for customers?
Online customers are sometimes fickle but show a loyalty to Web sites that offer services and goods that meet their needs. According to Gartner, “North American consumer expectations this year leave little room for online shopping problems and frustrations.” One way to avoid customer problems is to plan ahead when developing an e-commerce initiative.

Talisma, a provider of software and outsourcing services for eCRM, or Web-based CRM solutions, offers these planning suggestions for e-tailers:

  • Be aware that if you have a Web site, customers will expect to make online purchases.
  • Set a realistic launch date for online ordering capability.
  • Make ordering procedures prominent on Web pages and in advertising and promotional material.
  • Be honest. If a product is not available online, let customers know in advance.

Once you have a CRM plan in place, it is important to make sure all departments support the plan. “CRM projects are failing because of poor planning,” said Gartner analyst Colleen Amuso, who added that more than half of CRM projects do not offer a substantial return on investment (ROI). “You need to have a plan that continuously measures and evaluates your CRM projects and how they work together,” Amuso said. “Web sites will jump-start CRM. They’ve become ways for our customers to interact with the organization.”

Being customer-friendly is key
Some customers are savvy online shoppers, but e-tailers should focus on attracting and retaining consumers who are new to online buying. One way to do that is to make sure you build a “customer-friendly” Web site.

Collecting online data and creating loyalty is impossible if customers cannot easily navigate a Web site or interact with customer service representatives (CSRs) via Web chat or over the telephone. According to Gartner, IT managers should remember that “Nearly 25 percent of online customers are extremely dissatisfied with their online experiences.”

Successful e-tailers offer easy access to information and clear ways to contact the organization. “Online shoppers must be able to find answers (e.g., about the return policy, sales tax in another state, or shipping costs) in no more than two clicks,” according to Gartner.

Talisma offers these suggestions to make a Web site customer focused:

  • Add “” to every page of a Web site so customers always have a way to contact your organization with questions.
  • Put a toll-free telephone number in prominent locations on the site.
  • Ask for an independent source to test existing customer service solutions.

Data is the fuel
CRM relies on customer data, and every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to collect more information. The e-tailer’s goal during this high volume holiday season is to collect as much data as possible. When the holiday rush is over, the next step is sorting through pieces of information in stored databases or paper files.

Talisma suggests these ways to clean and maintain databases:

  • Transfer any “paper data” into an electronic format. Electronic data is easier to assemble and manipulate.
  • Make sure information in a database is current and correct. Send customers their profiles so they can verify and update information.
  • Give CSRs incentives to collect extra customer information such as their favorite colors and the size or model of the product they purchase.

Visit Talisma’s Web site for more holiday tips.

The base for CRM
The steps outlined here are the beginning basics of CRM. Following these suggestions will help customers feel connected to your site, bettering the chances that they will return.

The information you collect through CRM can flow into marketing campaigns launched after the holiday buying season ends. The data can also serve as a guide to CSRs when assisting customers.

Either way, the data collected during the holiday season will be important to the success of an e-tailer.

Following a CRM plan?

Do you represent an e-tailer that is following the steps outlined here? Let us know how it’s working. Drop us a line.