Charles Schwab & Co. has become an equity investor in and the first customer of Quris, a six-month-old provider of e-mail marketing software.
Schwab said it hopes Quris' software will help it improve e-mail communications with customers.
Quris, with headquarters in San Francisco and Denver, tracks customer responses to e-mails and adjusts messages based on the responses. It also offers the ability to send targeted marketing missives via instant messaging and wireless devices.
Two months ago Schwab began installing the software to customize its e-mail messages. Eventually it plans to deploy it for instant messaging and wireless communications.
"E-mail is a critical channel in our ability to catch a customer, but it is the most fragile channel we have," said Gideon Sasson, president of electronic brokerage at Schwab.
Personalized e-mail is the most effective way to establish a customer relationship, Mr. Sasson said, but the risk attending its use is high.
"Once a customer is sent an irrelevant or overstuffed e-mail, they will never read an e-mail from Schwab again," he said.
Financial services companies do not have a good history with e-mail. A recent survey by Celent Communications of Boston found that 56% of 150 financial institutions failed to respond to their customers' e-mails.
Many, overwhelmed by the volume, simply turned the function off.
Twenty-one percent of companies in the survey responded to e-mails but failed to give informative and adequate responses, Celent said.
Successful one-to-one marketing via e-mail requires "understanding that the customer relationship is the most important asset in an entire business," said John Funk, chief executive officer of Quris.
With the available communication options expanding to include personal computers, e-mail, wireless e-mail, and instant messaging, "it is important to allocate information to the appropriate channel," Mr. Funk said.
E-mail, as with every other medium, has rules dictating appropriate content and timing, he said.
For example, the airline industry should send wireless messages notifying customers about flight delays, but receiving the same information on a personal computer after the flight has landed would only frustrate a customer.
"The ability to deliver a message to a customer wherever they are is critical for people who are mobile," Mr. Sasson said, "but not the next day when they log on to the Web site."
Similarly, wireless devices are very useful for sending stock price alerts but not for investment advice, Mr. Funk said.
"The challenge is understanding the opportunity and acquiring the expertise to do it carefully, right, and fast," he said.