Guitar manufacturer Fender hosts a community for guitar players on its corporate Web site. The Fender Lounge Forum is an electronic bulletin board featuring advice from fellow Fender guitar owners, purchasing tips and social networking. Fender's guidelines explain the forums aren't a place to get customer service, and that complaints or kudos should be directed to the appropriate customer service agents at the Web site's support section. For example, you can use the Fender Forum for:
- Learning about new upgrades, improvements or other news on a particular product
- Social networking and making new friends with similar interests
- Customizing a guitar or guitar accessory to suit a particular need
Company forums, like many other retail features, usually require you to create a user name and password to access the system. At Fender.com you're permitted to read forum entries without signing up, but unregistered users who click the "reply" button are directed to the login screen and asked to create an account.
Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Internet security company PGP Corporation offers an optional customer survey to get customer opinions on their experiences with PGP. The online form asks which products the customer used, which company representative worked on the account and other questions relevant to the PGP experience. Once the user submits the information, a screen appears thanking the user.
Companies also offer customer surveys on toll-free, 800-number customer service lines. Bank of America randomly selects customer service line callers for surveys. A recorded message tells callers they have been selected, and if the customer chooses to participate, they may take a quick phone survey by pressing buttons on the telephone keypad to answer pre-recorded questions.
What's in Store?
Industry trends include more customer service programs based on your participation, instead of unwanted messages or intrusive Internet advertising. The future of the industry can be summed up in the phrase opt-in. The Dec. 11, 2003, edition of the Washington Times reported that 37 percent of Internet users planned to curb their online spending during the holiday season to avoid unwanted spam e-mails. Retailers know it's a very crowded marketplace, with more than $250 billion at stake in a single year. Offering discounts, special sales and competitive prices is only part of the customer service picture; making those discounts and prices available in a user-friendly way is also a big part of customer service.
Industry trends for these opt-in services include hiring third-party companies to create informational products, tips and installation advice that can be accessed by download, cell phone, text-messaging services and other handheld mobile technology like PDAs. Some retailers dedicate sections of their Web site to product specifications and buying guides. The use of video and podcasting for this material is also growing. As this technology gets more sophisticated, easier to e-mail and embed into Web sites it will become a more widespread -- but voluntary -- part of the retail experience.
For more information about customer relations programs and related topics, check out the links on the next page.