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This article was a forward-thinking perspective on how Internet technologies that were currently under development at Microsoft had the potential to affect relationships between organizations and their customers.

Customer Management on the Internet
Building a Community of Customers
April 1997


Recent reports show that 88% of large businesses have an Internet presence today -- and that percentage continues to increase. There are many factors driving this kind of business demand for Internet connections. The rapid growth of the Internet has created an enormous opportunity for every organization, large and small, to improve the ways in which they manage customer relationships. After all, customers are an organization’s most important asset.

The Internet can be used to improve marketing communications directly to customers.  Similarly, Intranets can be used to improve communications among sales and service teams.  In January 1996, Gartner Group stated that: "Enterprises must understand how they will use the Internet, and how they will adapt their advertising and marketing methods."

Some distinct objectives that corporations have in establishing and managing their Internet/Intranet systems are:


To increase customer satisfaction that you can generate by leveraging your existing investment in the development and presentation of data on your web site and targeting the delivery of that data to specific users.


To create benefits by increasing knowledge transfer and accelerate adoption of your products or services with the ability to hold interactive conferences, seminars and training sessions across the Internet.


To overcome barriers to purchase and profit from the enhanced customer satisfaction and knowledge of your products by – even leverage your Internet site to manage commercial transactions.

Sales and support systems that are not integrated needlessly complicate the customer relationship, weakening customer service and ultimately reducing total sales potential.  The future of customer management lies in integrating sales force automation, customer support, and call center systems into complete solutions that help you track and support customers from initial contact through post-sales support.

Internet-based technologies offer one way to provide such an integrated solution. The objective is to offer a higher level of customer service to both new and existing customers. Beyond simply offering static information through a browser, the Internet offers new ways to interact with customers using interactive technologies coupled with ‘active’ content. Microsoft® platforms and tools ease customization and quicken deployment of integrated customer management solutions resulting in reduced cost of ownership. Moreover, Internet technologies tightly integrated into every product make it easy to engage with new prospects and to support existing customers.



The Internet began with static content, at first limited to text only, and then added increasing amounts of visual or even multimedia content. Static web sites, which are still a majority of sites on the Internet today, deliver the same page to all users. Web sites today must have the ability to support the needs of many different types of customers with diverse interests and backgrounds.

Often, a single web site will offer information on multiple products or services. The greatest benefit for a customer visiting a web site is to be able to receive the right set of information that is most relevant to their particular needs and profile. Aside from reaping the customer retention benefits that this technology provides, the site can also deliver messages targeted to different types of users for maximum effectiveness.

The second stage in this evolution, which innovative developers are beginning to create, will be dynamic web sites. For example, Microsoft Internet Information Server version 3.0 makes it very easy to create these dynamic web sites through technology called Active Server Pages. Dynamic web sites make the web come alive by delivering active content that responds to user interaction and includes richer media types such as audio, animation, and video.

Many commercial web sites already have the ability to accept information from customers, store that information in a database, and then have a telemarketing department follow up directly with the customers that meet the right set of criteria. This kind of ‘virtual’ call center offers real benefits – customers are contacted who have expressed an direct interest in products or services described on the web site while the organization streamlines the prospecting and qualification period. The result is a shortened sales cycle.


The Next Step: Building A Community of Customers

Personalized web sites take this evolution one step further by delivering the right active content automatically to every individual user. The more that each user visits the web-site, and the more the user describes him or herself during every visit, the better the experience gets. This creates a feedback loop that continually increases customer satisfaction. Dynamic, personalized web sites are the first stage of a new frontier in the customer management markets.

The new solutions that are enabled with this technology improve line-of-business applications in market segments ranging from customer support and service through improved sales processes. The use of personalized information that a customer sees during a visit to such a web site streamlines the presentation of information that is relevant to the customer’s view. Coupled with the tools to arrange one-to-one or one-to-many conferences on-line, organizations can service almost all aspects of a customer relationship through such Internet services.

Internet solutions are built around a series of applications starting with the basic Internet web server application that manages and presents information to users. One such web server application, Microsoft’s Internet Information Server, is a complete server application designed to take full advantage of the server operating system capabilities offered by Microsoft Windows NT® Server.  A set of additional server applications that provide additional services can be layered on top of the Internet Information Server.

The Microsoft Commercial Internet System (MCIS) is a set of Internet server applications that provides a next generation commerce, collaboration, content management, and community services on the Internet. MCIS is a Microsoft BackOffice business solution encompassing a complete suite of commercial grade server applications designed to be used by commercial Internet Service Providers. MCIS includes three services that can be used to help build a community of customers across the Internet.


Content Replication provides companies needing to publish Web content with the most reliable, secure, and efficient way to move content across the Web. It replicates any type of content from one or more remote content servers to multiple destination content.


Conference Services enables dynamic and real-time conferencing across the web with support for the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) protocol and Microsoft Internet Chat protocol. The Conference Server will include two separate servers: the Microsoft Chat Server and the Microsoft Locator Server.


Personalization Services automatically deliver individualized web content to visitors enabling businesses to deliver more satisfying and engaging experiences. It also enables businesses to target the most compelling message to each customer segment rather than settling for broadcast, "least common denominator" solutions.

These server applications can also be implemented separately by any organization with an Internet web site who wants to improve their ability to manage customer relationships through their community of customers.


Improving Customer Management across the Internet

Within the business community, one of the primary uses of the Internet has been to provide improved flow of information and other services to both potential and existing customers.  Virtually every corporate web site delivers basic information on a corporation and its products.  The Internet is also increasingly being viewed as a facilitator of commercial transactions where products like the Microsoft Merchant Server can provide virtual storefronts on the Internet.

These capabilities are, however, reactive marketing strategies that require the web visitor to search for the information that they need before taking the next step. In order to improve and streamline the marketing process directly to customers, businesses need to be more proactive in understanding the needs of each individual customer and then tailor their experience to a web site to more easily facilitate a decision. The Internet provides a natural way to improve the ways that organizations interact with their customers by leveraging a set of business processes that are often referred to under the umbrella of customer management.

Figure 1
- Customer management applications span a wide range of business needs.

As shown in the picture at the left, the concept of customer management market encompasses applications that span a range of capabilities ranging from sales force automation and customer service all the way through customer support organizations, including helpdesks. Customer management applications are used by every kind of organization – from small businesses to large multi-national corporations.

In short, as an organization becomes larger, the internal processes associated with customer relationships become more complex. Such organizations will, consequently, benefit from the adoption of technology designed to streamline and simplify such business processes with the expected result of increasing customer satisfaction levels and accelerating additional purchases of products or services.

These customer management business applications are a natural fit for the kinds of capabilities that are generated by the Internet. Tools such as web-site personalization, conferencing, and content replication capabilities can add significant value. Taken separately or altogether, these Internet services can streamline the way in which customer receive information.

Today, for example, customer management applications are often implemented in call centers where scores of agents man banks of telephones waiting for customers to call in to ask questions on product support, to place an order for certain products or to satisfy other customer service needs. With the rapid adoption of the Internet, a web server that is designed around customer needs can be used as a vehicle to provide some portion of these same services by personalizing each web visit to meet a visitor’s unique set of information requirements. Plus, for services that require additional assistance, the Web visitor can be directed to either call a special number or, alternatively, schedule a callback at a more convenient time.

The following table lists several other examples of how these Internet server applications can be utilized for customer management applications.

Market Segment

Personalization Services

Content Replication

Conference Services

Customer Support and Helpdesks

·       Identify existing customers and quickly provide them with information or updates on products they already own.

·       Collect customer feedback through voting on potential product enhancements.

·       Automatically distribute product updates, knowledge base articles, or other information to their customers.

·       Facilitate online chats to enhance knowledge transfer on product usage.

·       Gather feedback on products and services between customers and product designers and support teams,

Sales Force Automation

·       Automatically identify existing customers. Knowing which products they already own, present them with data on related products to help them purchase more easily.

·       Effectively track new prospects. By using site registration data or tracking information from past web visits, guide them to related content on products.

·       Easily send product data, sales tips, or other information to web servers in downstream distribution channels.

·       Quickly build a marketing encyclopedia by replicating HTML web pages to sales rep’s laptop computers.

·       Conduct interactive seminars online with customers located across many different locations.

The Internet also can be used as a way to directly benefit from the improvement in customer relationships that can be enhanced using these servers. By using the web site as a means to complete business transactions, the entire buying process can be streamlined – sometimes this ability is referred to as “unassisted selling”. The Microsoft Merchant Server, another Microsoft BackOffice application, can manage the sales process.



The Internet offers organizations a new way to improve their business processes. The rapid adoption of Internet technologies by vendors and their customers has resulted in an opportunity to redefine the ways in which the customers can derive incremental value – and, accordingly, enhance their level of satisfaction with the products and services being offered. In turn, this should increase the likelihood that the customer’s next purchase will be with that vendor.

Internet services, including the technologies mentioned in this note, can form a viable foundation for enhanced customer management applications.  The ability to use these applications to build a dynamic, interactive corporate presence on the Internet will have long-lasting implications on the ways in which customer relationships are created and managed. Microsoft platforms and tools, such as these three server applications, ease customization and quicken deployment of integrated customer management solutions resulting in reduced cost of ownership. Internet technologies tightly integrated into every product make it easy to engage with new prospects and to support existing customers.



Note 1: 88% of Fortune 500 firms had a Web site in a survey conducted by IDC. (Reported in the Internet Fact Book, December 1996.) A reader survey conducted by Sales and Marketing Magazine, also reported in December 1996, confirmed that 88% of companies with more than 500 sales representatives had a Web site.  Although the numbers dropped when smaller companies were included, it showed that 65% of all companies have a Web site.

Note 2: The Microsoft Commercial Internet System consists of six server applications.  Beyond the three mentioned in this note, there is the Microsoft Membership Server, Microsoft News Server, and the Microsoft Internet Mail Server.  Altogether, these six applications were designed to meet the demanding needs of commercial Internet Service Providers.


Here is a list of best-selling books on customer relationship management that are available from

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