Are you in touch with reality?



By Mark Atterby

Organisations are making increasing use of the data they’re collecting to build a more comprehensive picture of their customers. The benefits of this are potentially substantial. But the challenges to achieving are just as significant. To overcome these challenges companies are turning to their BPO providers for help.

One management system to view them all

Customer Experience Management (CEM) revolves around one fundamental concept – the “single view of the customer”.  For most organisations, creating a single view of the customer is driven by a practical need to consistently interact with customers in order to identify which of them are of high or low value to the business, provide a better customer experience, or to support some kind of research or analytical work to improve performance.

According to Katie Gove, managing director for Trellis, outsourcing consultants and analysts, it’s something that too few organisations do or do well. She comments, “Customers may have wildly different experiences or flavours of a company depending on the environment. Whether they are at a sporting event and the company is sponsoring, to the experience of dealing with the company’s help or information line is often worlds apart.”

In January 2006, Gartner forecast that by 2010 less than 33% of global organisations would have an enterprise view of their customers. The challenges are great, particularly for large, long-standing organisations that have grown through mergers and acquisitions and have accumulated a plethora of customer management systems, databases and product IT platforms that may or may not be fully integrated and compatible. Part of the problem as Gove sees it is, “organisations don’t see customer interactions as opportunities to generate revenue.”

The biggest challenge to creating a single view of the customer, however, is of course the customer. At times they may be inconsistent or contradictory in their consumption patterns vis-a-vis their economic status or social standing and other demographics. This results in conflicting views of him/her in various departments of the company that compile customer data for their own purposes.

“The problem is”, as Katie Gove points out, “because a company’s processes and operations are decentralised and segregated, each department has its own small picture of the customer and their behaviour.”

Behavioural models

“Many companies try to make extensive use of behavioural models to draw a profile of the customer, drawing on both internal transaction-based information and customer interactions with company representatives, as well as on external demographic data”, says Gove.

From these, the company attempts to come up with a  single view of a customer  as  a data structure with one record that contains core customer information, such as the customer’s name or company name in business-to-business (B2B), as well as all related information, including demographics, firmographics, purchase orders, service records, interactions with the company and the like.

The company assigns to each customer a unique identifier usually called a customer ID or customer key and continues to work on the process of making the single customer view up to date and accurate to ensure the Customer Management Experience is as pleasing to the customer as it is profitable to the company.

Benefits of Customer Experience Management

Creating and having a single view of a customer enables the company to deliver greater value to the customer through quality personalised customer interactions across all channels and touch-points[i]. By ensuring accurate information about each customer, a company can respond to his/her individual needs in a timely and relevant manner.

The company can be more efficient and more effective by fine-tuning its marketing models and making the elements more customer-specific through these interactions, allowing it to respond quickly to emerging customer buying trends.

A single customer view of all sales, marketing, customer service and enterprise data will enable a company to know what’s working and what’s not and what it should do to improve performance. Achieving this, however, is easier said than done.

Customer information stored in numerous systems

The different data-gathering processes and analytic systems used to create a customer view operate at different levels. Consumer-focused companies, for example, generally use an “Address-Household-Individual” hierarchy while business (B2B)-focused firms prefer to use an “Organisation-Site-Contact” hierarchy.

Insurance and finance companies generally have the biggest issues around households, retail is more focused on the individual, while the primary concern of high-tech industries has to do with organisation and site.  The choice of a hierarchy to use for a customer is critical to the process of creating a single view.

The information required comes from several or different systems, each of which supports a subset of the overall business data bearing on the customer and usually assigns its own customer ID or key. Often the data collected to identify a customer is different from system to system. It is rare to find a single system’s customer ID that is of generic use across the systems. Quite unavoidably, there is a need to match customer records to determine which ones are similar enough to be deemed to represent the same customer.

Single view of customer from different sources.

There are many sources of data, both internal and external that a company can use to come up with a single view of the customer.

The internal sources are its in-house systems and databases.  ERP systems yield such data as sales and marketing reports, commissions paid or due, customer service or supply contracts and financial accounting data, particularly accounts payable to and receivable from customers.

CRM processes requests made by customers contain records of appointments as well as track and measure marketing and sales campaigns over multiple channels, including telephone, e-mail and social media. CRM can also keep track of transactions to identify and reward loyal customers over a certain period of time.

External sources of data may be in the form of tweets or comments made via a customer’s social media network.

The business, the customer and the process

Organisations need to aggregate and consolidate information from numerous sources into a single repository and apply advanced analytics to decipher the information and search for clues about the customers’ buying habits.

A single view of the customer not only has to be built but also maintained as an ongoing process. Mary Myles, from Experian marketing services, comments, “It must be integrated into the different business processes within the company to be effective. The cooperation between the different business process owners, as well as between business operations and IT is therefore necessary”.

“The solution requires the integration of customer information from across the company’s enterprise sector, business partners and data providers”, adds Myles. With this single repository, the company can acquire, distribute and manage enterprise-wide customer information and, by applying advanced analytics, gain valuable insights, such as customer trends and affinities, and identify new opportunities.

Most organisations are not adequately staffed to gather, collate and analyse all the data required to come up with a single customer view and prefer to work with a BPO provider to build a solution.

Turn to your BPO provider for help

This is the era of Big Data – the exponential increase, availability and use of both structured and unstructured information. Even as a company seeks out customer data from external sources, it already possesses huge quantities of its own internally generated data.

Katie Gove comments, “Some BPO providers excel in data mining and the management of big data analytics, where standardisation has led to improved solutions and the ability to access relevant information in a timely manner. Very few companies will have the capability or the resources to manage it themselves.”

The problem is not data storage, rather it is how to determine which data is relevant among the huge volumes of transaction-based data stored and how to derive value from it. Today’s data comes in huge volumes from multiple sources and in all kinds of formats: from traditional databases to the hierarchical  data stores of end users, e-mail, meter-collected data, text documents, audio, video, financial transactions and even stock exchange ticker data.

Linking, matching, cleansing and transforming data across systems can be an enormous undertaking. To keep data from quickly spiralling out of control, it is necessary to connect and correlate relationships, hierarchies and multiple linkages.

Most companies will find it more time- and cost- efficient to engage the services of a BPO provider to process big data for them, working hand in hand to do the analytics. With big data and big data analytics, it is possible to;

a)      Analyse data from social media to detect changes in market demand and new market trends. b)      Quickly identify high value customers. c)      Mine customer data for insights that help in winning and retaining customers and optimizing marketing campaigns. d)      Use data mining and clickstream analysis to detect fraudulent customer behaviour, among others.

The efficient processing of large quantities of data within tolerable time intervals requires exceptional technologies. The technologies relevant to CEM and the creation of the single customer view include the Internet, massively parallel-processing (MPP) databases, data-mining grids, search-based applications, distributed databases, distributed file systems, cluster analysis and cloud-based infrastructure (storage, application and computing resources). The BPO provider can have access to Big Data processing systems such as those of IBM, Oracle, ArcSight, Teradata, Autonomy and Vertica.

Effective data management can help an organisation integrate structured and unstructured data and determine how disparate data from a multitude of sources relate to a common definition to yield high quality information that is appropriate, useful and timely.

July 30, 2013

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