Business & Finance
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Lessons From FedEx, Schwab, eBay, And Others On The Customer-Driven Web Economy

It's about building new connections to customers--not just crafting a killer Web site.

Are you plugged in to your customers? The old days of companies tightly controlling a marketing message are gone, and there's probably more you should be doing to use the Internet to connect with consumers.

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The interactive forces of the Internet--including social networking sites, online discussion boards, and blogs--are arming consumers with tools that can quickly and exponentially spread the word to other would-be customers if a product stinks or a company blunders.

Focus on new connections to would-be customers, says Carter

Focus on new connections to would-be customers, says Carter
But it's not enough for a company to just monitor its image on the Web. Companies such as Charles Schwab and OnStar are creating Internet platforms to literally read the minds of consumers, seeking out insights that directly drive their new product strategies. EBay uses analytic tools to measure customers' Web behavior with greater precision than ever, using the findings to decide which features can be measured in more shopping and higher sales, and which just add to information overload.

Think having a killer interactive Web site is enough? FedEx knows its Internet business must be much more than It's looking for more ways to have its services available online right where a customer might want them--on an e-commerce site, inside an enterprise software app, in an Outlook e-mail box, or even in a Second Life virtual room.

"The model is changing," says FedEx CIO Rob Carter. "Services are showing up when they're needed."

There's plenty of peril in embracing this customer-driven Web economy. Companies that badger customers with online surveys or Web forum invites are sure to get tuned out, and many people won't even try to distinguish legit outreach e-mail from phishing spam.

Online forums can serve up valuable, candid customer insights, as Schwab has found, but they can also crater. Unica, a marketing management software company, spent months trying to build an audience around a blog for high-level marketing issues, only to decide its people's time would be spent at in-person events and other direct customer engagements. And everyone learned the lesson from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's making anonymous blog comments running down competitors--right?

Internet Evolution -- The Site for News, Analysis & Opinion About the Future of the Internet.
Fourth in a series of articles assessing the future of the Internet. For more, check out, with its ThinkerNet blog of more than 65 contributors, including Internet activist and blogger Cory Doctorow, wireless expert Alan Reiter, Greentech Media CEO Scott Clavenna, and Boeing CIO John Hinshaw, as well as videos, Webinars, news, and more.
Finding your audience online can be tricky, too. Even among online Americans, only about 44% use "social technologies" such as blogs and social networks, Forrester Research analyst Josh Bernoff estimates in a recent report. The people who join online forums tend toward strong opinions, so companies can't overreact to the extremes they're likely to see. But turning a deaf ear isn't wise, as the collective wisdom of the Web can certainly influence a would-be customer's opinion. Says Bernoff, "People are trusting what strangers have to say."

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