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An Online Picture’s Worth A Million Words From A Manual

Products are becoming more and more complex, making assembly, installation and operation for the average consumer more difficult than ever. And to the dismay of retailers and manufacturers alike, this complexity generates issues far beyond a customer-support headache: Greater difficulty in selling.

Today, manufacturers rely on call centers and, increasingly, text-based Web solutions to handle support issues. Support solutions are deemed critical, but most companies haven’t been successful in supporting increasingly complex products.

Customer-service representatives cannot effectively communicate inherently visual concepts over the telephone, and simple, one-dimensional diagrams and pictures cannot convey all the information consumers need about a complex product.

As a result, customer-support costs, in the form of increased call-center burden and soaring product returns, are rising, creating a profit drain for manufacturers and retailers. According to Forrester Research, traditional approaches to customer support fail 70 percent of the time, and customer interactions require at least two contacts 41 percent of the time. This leads to increased customer frustration, and company and brand erosion, as well as a higher rate of returns.

A recent Purdue University call-center study found that U.S. companies can expect to spend approximately $25 billion a year handling product returns. To be successful, retailers and manufacturers must provide more descriptive information about complex products before and after purchase. The new solution is “online rich media,” a combination of interactive Web-based audio, video, text and diagrams.

A growing number of consumers log on to manufacturer and retailer sites to compare products and make purchase decisions based most often on still-image visuals and a few bullet-points of information. Consumers, however, are used to watching television commercials and want the Internet to show them a product so they can make informed decisions.

In 1999, a Jupiter Online study showed that Web-based shoppers are five to 10 times more likely to click on rich-media content than noninteractive information. The Jupiter study also determined that consumers are 25 percent more likely to follow through with an online purchase after viewing rich-media content.

Online rich media goes beyond the current standard of Internet marketing by offering the consumer interactivity. Interactive Web-based product information makes buying easier and gives consumers more confidence.

Retailers and manufacturers can also save substantially by directing their customers toward the Internet. Forrester Research found that a customer’s call to the typical call center can run up to $33, and that even e-mail support can cost nearly $10 per response. But Forrester estimates that Web-based self-help can lower customer support costs to a mere $1.17 per incident.

Online rich media also offers a way to reduce the returns brought on by uninformed purchases. By using the Internet to provide rich media, consumers can see, step-by-step, the assembly and operational process. The results are lowered consumer confusion and frustration levels, leading to fewer product returns, a reduction in call-center costs and increased customer satisfaction.

How2TV, an on-line rich-media solutions provider for manufacturers, brick & mortar retailers and e-commerce sites, has found that consumers are enthusiastic about the benefits of online rich media. In usability tests, 75 percent of those questioned said they found online rich-media product-assembly instructions useful, while nearly half said they found it “extremely” useful.

But the positive response to online assembly and operation instructions does not end there. The usability tests show that nearly 100 percent of connected consumers prefer online support, opposed to waiting on hold trying to access a customer-support representative. Many of those questioned said they would even pay 10 percent above a product’s retail price for an online rich-media service.

According to Forrester, Web-based self-help is expected to grow at a rate of more than 400 percent a year. Thanks to steadily growing Internet use and its affordability, online customer support is the future of customer-relationship management (CRM).

Online support helps companies improve their CRM capabilities and lower support costs, while differentiating support services from the competition. Why force a consumer to read blocks of text or listen to a product description over the phone when you can show the answers to their questions more effectively with a rich-media e-CRM solution?

Companies offering online rich media, such as How2TV’s targeted solution Pacs, are providing the best possible online experience to their customers.

It’s time to recognize the power of the Internet as a CRM tool. Industry analysts estimate that Web-based shopping alone exceeded $12.5 billion last year. Protecting profits today requires much more than just selling a product.

In a highly competitive global economy, Web-based customer support is key. After all, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, interactive online rich media is worth a million.

Henio Arcangeli Jr. is president/CEO of How2TV and a former vice president of Yamaha’s consumer products division. He can be reached at [email protected] or