Author teaches Net marketing

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Jim Sterne pioneered the concept of marketing on the Internet with a seminar series on the subject in 1994. A year later, he published his first book, "World Wide Web Marketing," which is in its second edition. Now a full-time consultant and speaker, Sterne is also the author of "Customer Service on the Internet," "What Makes People Click" and "E-mail Marketing."

Q. How can marketers improve customer service on the Internet?

A. By recognizing that customer service has become a competitive edge. If marketers embrace customer service as one of their strongest selling points, they will understand the need for investment. Secondarily, there is a need for all departments within the company to share information. Marketers must understand the need to open their databases and allow sales and customer service to communicate easily. First and foremost because the customer will be better served that way, but also because the free flow of information will help the marketer better focus their promotional efforts.

Q. Is there a customer service method that is a clear winner yet?

A. All of them are winners. The point is to let the customer communicate with the company in as many ways as they wish. If some customers prefer faxing and others like e-mail, while still others will only use the phone, then you have to cater to them. In a world of limited resources, the best methods are those that make the customer feel cared for and in control. People like a fully realized Web site because they can get the information they want and still have control. They don't have to wait on hold. However, customers will always want a way to communicate directly with your people. You have to give them the ability to do that using whatever technologies they prefer.

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