forwarded message from John Conover

From: John Conover <>
Subject: forwarded message from John Conover
Date: Sat, 1 Mar 1997 23:07:07 -0800

FYI, this is interesting. Probably true, too. Most of the web based
marketing organizations are under a lot of financial pressure, with
revenues that are about a third of their operating costs. Many
industry analyst have written off web based marketing and sales as a
failure-an expensive alternative to paper.

Astonishingly, email collateral customer support, (ie., post sales
customer support,) is flourishing, and has been one of the main
categories of Internet traffic for years. (About a third of the
USENET traffic is support, of one kind or another.)

Email collateral support is a large enough issue that there are
excellent problem tracking/resolution programs available, for example,
the GNU foundation's gnats programs, (sources free, of course,) is one
of my favorites, and an outstanding example of the true relevance of
IT. Here is the way it works. A customer has some kind of an issue
with a product purchased from a company, and emails the concerns to
the company. The email does not go to a person, but to a program, (the
gnats program,) which immediately responds, via email, to the person
with a docket number, puts the original email in a database,
timestamps a copy, and sends it to applications support, or whatever,
for resolution by a person, (usually, but not always, assigned by the
gnats program, in a round robin fashion.) And the meter is
running. (Send an email to, for an example.)
When an applications support person responds to the customer's email,
a copy of the response also goes to the database, and is filed by the
gnats program. (Note: about 95% of all issues can be handled by the
person using a full text information retrieval system, like the rel
program-only 5 questions out of a hundred, or so, need to be handled
by a "real" personal response.)  Management can interrogate the
database at any time to look into unresolved customer issues, and how
long they have been issues. Engineering can look at what went wrong in
the design of the product, marketing can look into what went wrong
with product definition, etc. Note that the problem tracking is ISO 9K
compatible, and no customer issues can "fall in a crack."

And the benefits? About a 10X improvement in response time to customer
issues, (typically minutes, as opposed to 10's of minutes on ignore by
customer phone support,) and a 5 to 10X cost reduction in collateral
support. An all win scenario.

BTW, the full text information retrieval system can be put on line,
and interrogated by the customer's via email, also. (Send an email to, with a subject line of "help", for an
example-johncon's procmail system will handle things for you.) If it
is accessed by one of the applications support folks, it returns the
email, ready to go, answering the customer's question, with return
addresses of the support person handling the customer issues, to the
support person, who edits things appropriately, and forwards it to the
customer so that it looks like it was written by someone who really
cares. Nice touch-a person is involved. But it is fast, and


BTW, there was a mod to the rel program, (I didn't do it, but think it
was one of the cleverest things I've seen in a long time.) The soundex
algorithm was added to its search mechanism, (soundex was invented in
the 1920's, and is an electronic implementation of phonetic
spelling-it is the algorithm used in spell checkers, so you are given
alternatives for misspelled words that sound like what you typed.)
That way, the full text information retrieval system works on
"Phonics," and is robust against spelling errors in customer email.
Very trick.

------- start of forwarded message (RFC 934 encapsulation) -------
Message-ID: <"tEjTW1.0.-x5.CGH6p"@netcom8>
From: John Conover <>
To: John Conover <>
Subject: E-mail Seen as Key to Internet Commerce
Date: Sat, 1 Mar 1997 5:43:22 PST

         PHILADELPHIA (Reuter) - Computer industry leaders say
reaching consumers through electronic mail, rather than luring
them to a World Wide Web site, will be a key to success in doing
business over the Internet.
         Speaking at a Wharton business school technology seminar
Friday, Internet firm executives said advances in e-mail
interactive capabilities and in targeting capabilities of
marketing databases will make e-mail a preferred method of
reaching customers.
         ``E-mail has the ability to become a point-of-sale become a purchase order,'' said Lee Stein,
president of First Virtual Holdings Inc. ``E-mail is the killer
app (application) for commerce on the Internet.''
         First Virtual, an electronic commerce company backed by
major financial firms, has developed a payments system for
Internet commerce, and has entered Internet marketing
relationships with firms such as watchmaker Casio and Bell
Atlantic Corp.
         Stein said new ``HTML e-mail'' software allows users to send
electronic mail with the graphics and interactive capabilities
of World Wide Web pages. This will allow a marketer to place in
an e-mail message an advertisement that also allows the user to
place an order for the product, using First Virtual's ``Virtual
PIN'' security identification code.
         Through the transaction system developed by First Virtual,
the sender of message could receive a commission for any order
placed by the recipient. ``Everyone in the world can
participate,'' he said.
         Such messages can be sent through targeted mailing lists
directly to consumer. They could also be included in e-mail sent
in the course of business from one company to another, or even
from one consumer to another.
         Stein said he believed coming software ``filters'' will let
users block indiscriminate electronic mail.
         But it will also let consumers say what kinds of mail they
will accept, which helps marketers. ``We figure 1998 becomes the
year of the (e-mail) filter,'' he said.
         He said the e-mail concept is a much more efficient way of
reaching customers than a World Wide Web site.
         Other Internet industry leaders, speaking in a panel
discussion, offered similar assessments of a shift in marketing
emphasis toward targeting consumers directly.
         Greg Shove, vice president for electronic commerce at
America On-Line Inc., said direct marketing, ``might be
horrfying...but it's what's working,'' as a business model for
Internet companies
         America On-Line's own product pitches, made to consumers as
they sign on, ``are phenomenally successful,'' he said. ``They
are a profit driver for the company.''
         The company's large subscriber base also makes it attractive
for other firms to sell through it, he said. ``We have basically
the information you need to develop one-to-one marketing.''
         A new America On-Line venture with Barnes & Noble books
illustrates ways in which commerce will evolve, he said.
         The venture places immediate competitive pressure on
existing Web bookseller Amazon. He said the two competitors will
need to add value, and therefore charging for, their services as
price competition increases.
         They can do this by first, helping consumers make decisions
by tracking their buying preferences, and second, helping
publishers reach consumers with specific preferences, he said.
          Lycos, producer of a ``search engine'' to find information
on the Web, is also looking at ways to tailor its product to
individual needs, said product development director Jeff Crown.
         Crown said Lycos was on the verge of ``a major product
relaunch,'' brought about by a large market study. He did not
disclose the results of the study, but said it was aimed at
''providing a very useful guide to the Internet...a navigational
         Advertising would continue to play an important role, he
said. ``The value of providing targeted content with a targeted
ad or a targeted offer is significant.''

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John Conover,,

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