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    Ask Once And Remember

    Have you ever tried to place an order with a salesperson or waiter and found yourself answering the same questions over and over again?

    This happened to me recently when a waiter kept asking me about different options for my meal. I kept wanting to say, "You just asked that!" but somehow remained patient enough to answer each question.

    That got me thinking about how this same thing happens on many Web sites - the visitor is asked the same information several times when it could have been stored in a customer profile for later use.

    There are many sites on the Web where this occurs, such as those with product locator searches, shopping carts, and other functions that are supposed to make Web sites more interactive.

    For example, after looking through the server logs for several sites, it became clear that visitors can take several tries to find the right combination of search words to locate the article or product they're looking for. Many sites require visitors to enter the whole search phrase each time they want to try a slightly different search.

    Why not display the search phrase so the shopper can just edit the search terms to encourage additional searching?

    Then there are the forms that ask for our Zip Code for store locators, event locators, and local news or weather. But how many of these sites remember our Zip Code in the shopping cart after we've answered that question once? Very few.

    Then there are sites that want to help us select the right size shirt, dress, or other personal item. Well, if it's personal, how about remembering it so visitors don't have to repeat themselves?

    Have you asked your audience how it makes them feel when a Web site doesn't store a response for later use? People tell me that it's frustrating when they have to repeat themselves at a Web site because they've experienced other sites that use profiling technology to remember their preferences.

    One of the premises of one-to-one Web marketing is that individuals coming to a Web site should be treated like individuals who visit you in person as much as possible. This means showing courtesies such as remembering the answers to the questions you ask them. For instance, if you ask shoppers in your store about their color preference or where their purchases are to be shipped, you don't want to ask the same question a few minutes later.

    For many years, I purchased all of my clothes from one salesperson, even when he changed stores, because he remembered every suit, tie, and pair of slacks I ever bought from him.

    I didn't want to buy clothes anywhere else because it would disrupt the plan he and I had worked out for enhancing my wardrobe. I wasn't the only one who was loyal to this excellent salesperson - I saw him recognizing many other customers, remembering what he had sold them over the years. He never had to ask what suits were in my wardrobe or which ties I wore - somehow he remembered them all.

    The value in remembering as much about your customers as you possibly can is that it increases customer appreciation and loyalty. Since the cost of retaining a loyal customer is much lower than the marketing expense of acquiring new customers, it just makes sense.

    So, how does this apply to Web marketing?

    Web sites with profile databases have the ability to remember a great deal of information about many more individuals than my excellent clothier. This means it's up to us as Web marketers to look at the questions we ask our visitors, spotting opportunities to remember important little details in customer profiles that can help build a better relationship.

    E-commerce sites are great about remembering which products are in the shopping cart, but few sites remember individual people when they return to a site, and far fewer allow customers to retrieve past purchases.

    Like the clothier who remembered every purchase I made, Web sites that ask for information only once and remember the answers can increase loyalty and maximize profitable sales.

    Cliff Allen is the co-author of the book One-to-One Web Marketing; 2nd Ed., published by John Wiley & Sons, and has consulted with companies on strategic marketing for 20 years.

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