August 19th, 2008 by Jessica Tsai

As a resident of New York City and with my family just a hop, skip, and a jump away in New Jersey, I find myself on the train…a lot. Still, I had never ridden on Amtrak until two weeks ago when I was sent to Washington, D.C. to cover the 2008 eTail East Conference…and then a week later to Boston for the 2008 Affiliate Summit East. (Personally, I’ve always found Amtrak to be a bit too pricey for my own wallet.)

But perhaps you do get what you pay for…and sometimes even more. It was 7:30 PM when I boarded the train in Newark for the 4 hour trip to Boston. When we were nearing New York Penn Station, the woman sitting in front of me — whose ticket was for only as far as Penn Station — asked the ticket collector if she could stay on the Amtrak and pay the difference to get to her final destination in Connecticut, instead of making the trek over to Grand Central for the Metro North. “Having a hard day?” he asked her with a smile on his face. She must have nodded because he said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you. We’ll get you home.” He smiled again and continued down the aisle.

A couple stops later, he returned to collect another round of tickets and the woman stopped him. “I’m a poet,” she said – which I thought sounded mildly pretentious, but I digress. Apparently, she was returning from a writers’ conference. After that brief exchange, he walked away with an anthology she had given him. Not many customers ever get to return the favor, this one did, and I’m pretty sure that her gratitude won’t end there.

While I’m sure giving free rides, or even free legs of rides, isn’t in the Amtrak customer care code of conduct, sometimes it’s warranted — and based on what Sebastian Pawlowski, principal marketing officer of e-commerce at Amtrak, said in his presentation at the destinationCRM Conference today, what the ticket collector did was something even executives would approve of. “Improving the customer experience,” Pawlowski said, “has to be everything. It has to be why you do what you do.”

With just under 20 people — e-commerce and IT combined — in what will be 9 months, including September, and a budget of under $1 million, Pawlowski explained how companies can build a CRM system for its e-commerce business, as long as you’re willing to “roll up your sleeves and innovate.”

Here are some key takeaways, which can also be found in the dCRM Marketing Track Roundup:

  • CRM is different for every company – mold it to your company and your customers;
  • It’s not about marketing, but about customer service.
  • Make use of your Web content to serve personalized content in real time.
  • “You don’t need a missile to kill an ant.” Know what you need and build what you need — There’s nothing out of the box that will fulfill all of your needs, he said. (On average, companies only use 40 percent of the features in an out-of-the-box solution, said Lee Scott, principal at Unleashing Leaders and fellow speaker.)
  • Engage in cross-channel, cross-departmental participation.
  • If you’re going to implement a CRM project – expect failure upfront, and get back up!

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