Keeping Customers: 2

Erik Jay
In part one, we began our look at keeping customers and client management. In this conclusion, we'll look at live chat services, outsourcing properties and more.

Live Chat Service
SugarDVD also uses its web presence to filter out the simple problems and reserve the phone reps for more pressing issues. "We have 24/7/365 live chat support," Vega says. "At any time, you can click the live chat icon on the site and get a representative who will chat live with you. We're the only adult retail online site that offers this," Vega says, in addition to a self-support panel that allows customers to update billing info and shipping addresses, upgrade or downgrade their accounts and perform many other account-related tasks without contacting a CSR.

Like other retail sites, as well as the web divisions of many adult film studios, SugarDVD has kept its customer service operation in-house. For studios and production companies that are not staffed properly to build and maintain a web presence, there are literally hundreds of webmaster resource firms that will put together a site for a wide range of prices (and quality), handling the programming, images, payment processing and so on. Curiously, there are very few firms that claim the expertise to handle customer service, specifically, whether à la carte or as part of a suite of services.

"I've never heard of outsourced customer service," says Jeff Mullen, an adult industry multi-tasker who produces content with various partners, but concocts marketing strategies and manages media relations under the aegis of All Media Play. "I mean, the main outsourcing is for replication and such, of course, but there's the marketing and the web packages, too." Mullen couldn't think of a single company specializing specifically in outsourced customer service.

The fact is, then, that companies seeking a new or enhanced web presence rely on more broadly defined strategic partnerships to make it all work. Jon Berg, director of Internet operations for Red Light District, tells how his firm handled the "parallel universe balancing act" when the decision was made to leverage the Internet in a manner consistent with the goals and ideals of the company.

"I can't speak for all companies, of course," Berg says, "but at Red Light, we sell our DVDs to distributors, who then sell to the public, so our interaction with end users is limited."

When the Internet strategy was being discussed, Berg says, the corporate brain trust knew that the sky was the limit because founder and owner David Joseph "properly manages, delegates and also gets us involved with the right deals, the right way."

A web division could have been created, programmers hired, digital assets re-purposed, server farms retained — but it still wouldn't have been the right way for Red Light, as it didn't have the direct customer experience to complete the package.

"For us," Berg says, "production came first, and after five years and becoming a top gonzo production company there were attempts at creating a robust online presence. But for Red Light, like other well-known production companies, after successfully building a name brand in DVDs, it would take a lot of time and money to create and service a huge online following."

For an in-house web division, companies would have to "staff up" accordingly — but when they have already spent their investment to get the DVD side of the business flourishing, some production firms are reluctant to do so.

Outsourcing Properties
At this point, Red Light decided to outsource the entire web division to a company with a proven track record of taking production companies to another, parallel level of success on the Internet.

"Red Light District teamed up with Webquest," Berg says, "a company known for helping bring brands such as Vivid, Hustler and Girls Gone Wild to a whole new side of the business that would have taken enormous amounts of time, resources and money."

Of the companies that do have their web divisions in-house, Berg says that "most of them started from day one with both online and physical sales departments and customer service, enabling them to keep up with the times — and to use their valuable service knowledge to keep customers satisfied." And buying, of course.

"The online channel," Allurent's McIver says, "allows retailers to interact with customers to an extent that is not possible in other channels. You can follow their behavior in ways that are difficult, if not impossible, to track in stores or with catalogs, and you can use the new technology to customize their shopping experiences accordingly."

Combining the detailed information provided by software tools with the sensitivity of a customer service representative makes such customization possible, and the relationships built on this foundation continue to feed newer, more refined information back into the system.

According to McIver, at this point the sustainable element comes in. "Laying a foundation that allows for nimble responses to customer feedback, merchandise performance and business trends," he says, "will become the new baseline for e-commerce."

Companies such as SugarDVD, All Media Play, Red Light District and others on the technological cutting edge are leading the way to that new baseline of ever-increasing quality even now — and taking a growing group of satisfied customers right along with them.

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