Illuminating Online Purchases

Osram Sylvania wanted to know more.

A manufacturer and distributor of lighting products, Osram Sylvania entered the e-business arena in January 2000 after testing a preliminary version of its B2B extranet, mysylvania. It began gathering and analyzing customer data, but wasn't able to get the depth of information it felt it needed to determine how well its site was performing.

Osram Sylvania found, like many other companies, that understanding how well its e-business site performs is a tricky proposition. The site operator must examine data on whether customers are finding the products and services they need, determine what incentives convert queries into sales and differentiate between what makes doing business on the site a pleasure or a chore.

Tools exist to analyze factors such as the number of times users click on a site before buying. They can fuel hypotheses about customer behavior, but they don't tell what actually happened. This is because back-end information such as inventory levels, price lists and order status typically is updated dynamically through a database or an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Merely knowing which pages were viewed and which links were clicked does not recreate the customer experience.

Today, mysylvania is used by individuals working for distributors, retailers and large end users such as hotel chains. They order products, browse customized catalogs and check order and account status and product availability. In addition, vendors use mysylvania to check payment status. The latest version, implemented in October 2000, also offers an introduction to basic lighting technology.

In designing the site, Osram Sylvania solicited advice from the general lighting division's sales channel partners, about a dozen key commercial customers and consultants. But all its efforts to anticipate what elements would attract and please users couldn't make up for the inability to measure how successful the work was once the site went live.

Naturally, managers wanted to know who used the site, how many of them there were, what they saw and how long they stayed. "Nobody could answer those questions," says Alan Weiss, vice president of the e-business group in the general lighting division in Danvers, Mass.

To develop a way to understand the user experience better, Osram Sylvania has been working with TeaLeaf Technology Inc., a San Francisco-based company spun off in 1999 from business software giant SAP. Osram Sylvania uses SAP's ERP system and developed mysylvania on an SAP platform that included the mySAP customer relationship management (CRM) system. The company started working with TeaLeaf while it was still part of SAP, says Jeff Ruck, an e-business project manager at Osram Sylvania.

What They Do and Don't Do

The TeaCommerce Suite records experiences of individual users on a Web site by capturing every screen the user sees, every mouse click, every text string entered and every message the system returns. The software also aggregates data from many user sessions in reports that can identify trends or problems.

It records what users fail to do as well as the transactions they complete, according to Randi Barshack, vice president of marketing and business development at TeaLeaf. She claims that most other e-business applications don't capture information if a transaction isn't successfully completed.

Barshack notes that records of nontransactions can help a company to understand how customers respond to certain conditions. A site operator might discover, for example, that when they learn an item is immediately available, 20 percent of customers will buy it, but when they find it's on back order for six weeks, only 3 percent will complete the transaction. The assumption is that businesses that can gather and respond to such findings will be more able to satisfy customer needs.

Osram Sylvania used a beta version of TeaCommerce Suite while working on the newest version of mysylvania. Among other things, the suite helped the IT group to streamline the site's interface, according to Ruck. In one case, where the site offered two ways to perform a certain function, analysis revealed "that option A was used 90 percent of the time," Ruck says. "That led us to conclude we should eliminate option B to keep things simple."

Osram Sylvania is both running reports that come with TeaCommerce and developing its own. The first set of reports the IT group is providing to the e-business group answer basic questions such as how many people visited the site and what the average length of stay was, Weiss says. Pulling reports from TeaCommerce is part of the monthly review each sales channel conducts to see whether it is reaching its goals for Web site activity.

In a second set of reports, the company will combine data from TeaCommerce with information that users enter when they register at mysylvania. These will show by sales channel the visitor's job title, company and other variables, such as who is using the site for what activities. Such knowledge could help Osram Sylvania to fine-tune its marketing efforts.

Linking information from TeaCommerce with data obtained from its ERP system, Osram Sylvania could push the analysis even further. For example, the software might reveal that a certain customer segment is the most prolific user of mysylvania. "Then we [might] do an analysis and find that they represent only a small percentage of total sales and that segment has been shrinking over the past five years," Weiss says. "On the other hand, if I can find segments of my customer base that are growing and that represent more value-added opportunities, that's the area I'm going to focus my resources on."

Osram Sylvania has not yet used the TeaLeaf module that plays back individual Web sessions, Ruck says. In the future, though, it could prove useful for troubleshooting problems on the Web site.

As the company gains knowledge about its online customers, says Weiss, it can target its messages more precisely. "Then it's just a question of seeing that the right people see the right messages," he adds. That effort, combined with the work of the sales and customer support organizations, "is going to turn into a more positive experience for the customer, which in turn is going to help us sell more lighting products."

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