Wotif doubtful about CRM

While customer relationship management (CRM) is almost a religion at some of Australia's blue-chip companies, one of the nation's most successful dot com enterpreneurs remains unconvinced about its effectiveness. Graeme Wood, the founder and owner of accommodation booking Web site Wotif.

While customer relationship management (CRM) is almost a religion at some of Australia's blue-chip companies, one of the nation's most successful dot com enterpreneurs remains unconvinced about its effectiveness.

Graeme Wood, the founder and owner of accommodation booking Web site Wotif.com, told the user conference of CRM vendor Teradata in Sydney this morning that, although he was trying to gain more insight into Wotif customer activity, he had no plans to buy into a CRM solution.

"The whole CRM thing, this might sound like heresy, but I'm not convinced. There's at least a million people in Australia [who] have used our Web site; we've got nothing but the bare transactions.

"We don't try and understand what sort of deodorant you're likely to use," he said.

Wotif's culture of keeping things simple -- epitomised by the fact the Wotif booking engine requires customers to enter as few details as possible to confirm a reservation -- mitigated against acquiring a complex CRM solution, Wood said.

"Anything that complicates our lives, and CRM I guess is one potential complication, we decide -- nup.

"So we're not quite ready for a Teradata solution yet," he said.

This did not mean that Wotif was not interested in the behaviour of its customers. "We do run surveys where we're increasingly asking more and more about customers generally and their likes and dislikes," Wood said.

"But we're treating that as sampling. We're not trying to target you. [For example] because you go to the Gold Coast every third week, we're not going to send you an e-mail to say 'here's a deal on the Gold Coast next week and we expect you're going to turn up there.

He said customers were generally more wary of providing their details to a Web-based business than they were an organisation like a bank with whom there was a tradition of trust.

"Here's the conundrum -- people want privacy, but they also want personal service.

"So, I want you to know enough about me to give me relevant service, but I don't want to tell you anything about me. Now that's a big challenge moving forward," he said.

"When I want to book a complicated travel itinerary around the world or whatever, I want to talk to somebody who I don't have to restate all the things I like and don't like," Wood said of the common customer viewpoint.

"But I don't want to store that on a Web site, thanks very much."

Wotif.com uses an online marketplace model that allows hotels to offer on its Web site late notice, discounted vacancies.

The hotels connect to the Wotif.com database over the Internet and manage pricing in real-time.

From humble beginnings in 2000, the business has grown to 120 staff and has expanded into Asia, and will soon issue an initial public offering (IPO).

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