by John S.
Ive been searching for a good book about how business practices need to change in response to the Internet onslaught. Ive read several technology books, but they tend to neglect the necessary and immediate changes needed in many businesses. And, Ive read plenty of business books, but they tend to overlook the importance of various Internet technologies and opportunities. It is painfully obvious that there are few books available that successfully merge both the technological opportunities of the Internet and effective business practices. In fact, until recently, I would not in good conscience recommend any Internet oriented business books to my friends or colleagues. Fortunately, Customers.com was able to change my negative attitude.
Her book, written with the aid of Ronni T. Marshak, is a great introduction to the way business is being conducted now by several powerful and profitable companies. Patricia Seybold provides a vision of how business via the Internet is being be conducted now and how it will be conducted into the future. The core focus, as the title vaguely implies, is all about focusing on your customers. The key is usability (although she doesnt use this word). If sounds like old news to you, then I think youre absolutely right. However, and this is important, knowing your customers is not just about conducting market analyses. And it isnt only about reading your sales reports. The Internet has fundamentally changed the way that you can interact and serve your customers.
Now lets get to the details. Customers.com is a solid book because it takes an approach that many businesses dont like. The approach is to focus on the customer. Everywhere and always. This core idea, to create and recreate a business for the customer, is very hard to accept. It is much to easier to focus on the internal machinations of a company. When problems are addressed in many companies, they are internal problems, not the problems that customers care about. Customers dont care about your accounting system, they dont care about your commission structure, they dont care about what server software you use. Customers want their problems solved.
Customers.com is a roadmap to success. Patricia Seybold spends the first 80 pages of the book on the Five Steps to Success in Electronic Commerce:
With these concepts in your back pocket, more than 260 pages of the book are dedicated to profiling 16 highly effective companies. These are excellent and useful case studies of companies such as Dell, Amazon, Wells Fargo, Dow Jones, Boeing, Cisco Systems, and Hertz. Each case study offers a concise picture of useful several Internet-driven business practices, which are labeled as "critical success factors". Importantly, each case also was supplemented with information about the technology behind the scenes with specific references to software, hardware, and general networking technologies. These definitely could have been more detailed, but they nevertheless point you in the right direction.
There are some limitations with this book. I do highly recommend it to those people that need to get a global understanding of doing business using Internet technologies. And, for folks that need to get an understanding of customers real needs, this is a must buy. However, if you need nuts and bolts advice you arent going to get it. You wont be able to suddenly make great technology choices. Sorry, but youll still need to do your homework and youll still need to find out for yourself how various products solve your problems. This is a limitation, but it is very reasonable in my opinion.
The other limitation of the book is that it is very difficult to know what to do next. You read the book and then you scratch your head. There are many ideas and it is hard to get them to come together. At the end of the book there is some advice about tackling this challenge. But, a specific battle plan is not available. The accompanying web site, with the same name as the book, is rather useful and it does address this general concern. I do wish it was a bit less commercial though. However, this really isn't a fair criticism since the book is not meant to give you the details. That requires knowledge of your business, and your goals.
All in all, you cant go wrong with this book if you want to know how your company should be using the Internet. If you want a broad view of the usefulness of Internet technology and of user-centered business design, then this is your book.
Quick rating (1=horrible, 10=outstanding):
Setting the Stage
Part One: Five Steps to Success in Electronic Commerce
How to Create a Profitable Electronic Business Strategy
Part Two: Eight Critical Success Factors and Case Studies
How to Assimilate the Critical Success Factors and Case Studies
CSF 1: Target the Right Customers
CSF 2: Own the Customers Total Experience
CSF 3: Streamline Business Practices That Impact the Customer
CSF 4: Provide a 360-Degree View of the Customer Relationship
CSF 5: Let Customers Help Themselves
CSF 6: Help Customers Do Their Job
CSF 7: Deliver Personalized Service
CSF 8: Foster Community
Synthesis of Best Practices: Next Steps
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