Web Services

What are web services?

Web services are a type of API (Application Program Interface) that allow disparate systems to share information with each other.  Integrating a web service allows you to extend the capabilities of your website to make it a more feature rich experience for your users.  Web services can be used to streamline workflow and make your employees more efficient.  If your employees exhibit any of the following behavior, your company would probably benefit from web services:

  • Login to multiple systems to perform their job
  • Print things from one system so they or someone else can enter the same information into another system.
  • Copy and paste information from one application to another.

Web Service Examples

The last couple of years have seen an explosion in the number of published web services.  Most business people are unaware that they exist.  If they do, they might not understand how web services can improve their businesses.  Here are two generic examples that happen to be among our favorites.  If they get your imagination flowing, contact us for a free consultation.

Email Marketing

One powerful tool in the Internet Marketing toolbox is email marketing.  You can use email marketing to target specific audiences, know who opened your email and what content they interacted with.  Due to legislation, employing an email marketing strategy can be perilous.  Fortunately companies like Constant Contact and Mail Chimp specialize in this field.  If you want to learn more about email marketing, visit these companies’ websites.

If you subscribe to an email marketing service, you have to pollenate your campaigns by entering or uploading lists of prospects or customers.  The list will probably come from your CRM system, or the customers or orders table in another system you use.  For the sake of this example, we’ll assume it’s your CRM system.  Now you have two disparate systems to use to manage your customers; your CRM and your email marketing account.

One challenge you’ll have is keeping the list of contacts in both systems the same.  Each time a contact is added in one, you’ll want to add it to the other.  If you are using your CRM effectively, you’ll also want to generate emails or kickoff email campaigns based on events.  For example, you might want to identify customers that’ll have a birthday this month so that you can send them a coupon in recognition of their big day.  After you pull the birthday list from your CRM, you’ll have to login to your email marketing account to do what’s necessary to generate the emails.  Afterwards you’ll have to log into email marketing account to see statistics on how successful your birthday coupon campaign was. But it would be more useful if that information was available in your CRM, where the other intelligence about your customers stored.

Web services can be used to tie your CRM and the email marketing service together.  Web services can synchronize your subscriber lists automatically.  A good web developer can also use web services to automate the generation of event driven campaigns.  For example, if your business sells tires and provides car maintenance services like oil changes, then you should know how many miles a customer’s tires are rated for and how many miles the customer drives each month.  A good web developer can have your system automatically identify which of your customers should be replacing their tires each month, and use web services to send each of them an email with your special offer.  Later, web services can be used to update your CRM with information on which customers took advantage of the offer, which didn’t but still purchased tires from you and which probably purchased tires elsewhere.

While birthdays and tires are pretty basic examples, you can use them to brainstorm about what opportunities for email marketing and web services might exists for your business.  If you want some help, contact us and we’ll be glad to spend some time exploring ideas with you.

Shipping

It’s common for companies that ship products to have shipping systems that aren’t connected to any other system.  The shipping system is usually a website published by FedEx, UPS, a freight carrier, or a third party logistics company like Worldwide Express.  The person responsible for shipping will key information into one or more of these websites to obtain quotes and print shipping labels or bills of lading.

Manually entering the shipping information is time consuming, particularly if you’re using more than one website.  Manual entry is also the method most prone to mistakes.  Not only can these mistakes result in costly additional charges, but you may also lose the sale, or even the customer.  The motivation to improve this process can become urgent quickly.

One way to improve the process is to eliminate the need to manually key in the shipping information by pulling it electronically from the order system.  It’s very common for the order details, including the shipping information, to already exist in a table located in the company’s primary system.  It’s a step in the right direction, but it still involves two disparate systems and you’re still captive to the user experience the vendor has chosen to provide.

A better solution is to pull the shipping function into the company’s primary system.  A good web developer can help you do this with web services.  Using web services, the web developer can make order fulfillment, from order entry to getting the product out the door, one seamless process.  With as few as two clicks of a mouse and without ever touching the keyboard, you can retrieve shipping quotes for an order and choose a carrier.  The shipping label or bill of lading can print automatically.  Everything can be accomplished without ever leaving your primary system.

The benefits of using web services in this manner extend past the obvious efficiency gains in the shipping department.  Security is improved, data collection is enabled, company branded notifications can be sent to the customer and accounting can be notified of the quoted amount; just to name a few.

If your company would benefit from this kind of web service integration, or using web services to integrate other key business functions, contact us.  Taking a giant step forward in operational efficiency may not be as difficult as you think.