Analyzing Customer Data Getting Easier, Improving Service Still Hard

Ann All
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Disaster Readiness and the Contact Center

Factors to consider when evaluating a contact center outsourcing provider.

Two weeks ago, when I interviewed Richard Snow, Ventana Research's global VP and research director, Customer and Contact Center, about his new report on contact center analytics, I was struck by his statement that "people don't really know how to use" data analytics. He told me that many contact centers could cut their call volumes if they analyzed their customer data and shared a few anecdotes that illustrated his point. (And also, I might add, revealed a wonderfully dry sense of humor.)


When analysis of calls coming into a European cable company's call center showed some 70 percent of the calls involved billing issues, Snow tried to convince the company that its new call center only needed about 500 seats rather than the 3,000 it was planning on-provided the company made some much-needed improvements to its billing system.


A Forbes story describes how a company called 24/7 Customer, which runs call centers in more than a half-dozen countries, has developed software that it uses to analyze millions of online chats, e-mails and recorded calls to identify patterns and determine when customers become dissatisfied. The idea is to provide answers to common questions and solutions to common problems online, which should reduce call volumes as more customers use the website. (Of course companies must also make the information easy to find and use.)


Though folks often speak of the difficulty in sifting through large amounts of data, both structured and unstructured and contained in a wide variety of formats, company founder PV Kannan said in the Forbes story that this isn't his biggest hurdle. Predictive analytics is always tougher than traditional analysis focused on historical data. This is compounded by the fact that many companies remain focused on data designed to improve their operations, not data that will improve the customer experience. Said Kannan:

Context is easy-anticipating and fulfilling is what's really hard.

Right, same old story. The technology is the (relatively) easy part; changing the underlying business processes to leverage the technology is what is hard. Systems like those offered by 24/7 Customer should help. But IT must work closely with the business to ensure websites and other self-service channels actually meet customers' needs. This came out clearly in comments on my recent post Human or IVR: Not an Either/Or Question. Wrote Tripp Babbitt:

... What I said is the work should be REDESIGNED to eliminate failure demand (demand caused by a failure to do something or do something right for a customer) which represents typically 40-60 percent of all customer demands in most contact centers. IT people that fail to redesign the system to optimize effectiveness miss opportunities for improvement. They accept the failure demand and automate it. This helps no one. ... Technology folks need to understand that standardization of menu options on an IVR does not absorb the variety that customers bring to it. Study customer purpose and demands first before any technology is put into any service organization. My findings have been that you will have better relationships and happier customers.

24/7 Customer isn't the only company trying to turn contact center data into business insights that will help companies improve service and save money. Last week I wrote about a trio of new products from Cisco designed to make it easier to analyze customer data.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 17, 2010 10:09 AM Tripp Babbitt Tripp Babbitt  says:

I have to take issue with the approach 24/7 Customer takes by using software to analyze dissatisfaction.  This misses the point, for us to design systems we are badly in need of management and agents working together to eliminate failure demand.  This means they need to be listening to the calls and redesigning the system.  More IT to analyze dissatisfaction is spending money on waste. 

IT does things some things very well, others are best left to humans (like IVRs and redesigns). The redesign needs to be a human encounter with listening to customer demands and turning off failure.  I have found no amount of IT helpful in this process, as IT needs to categorize everything before there is knowledge. 

I would urge your readers to "get knowledge" on the "what and why" of current performance BEFORE any IT is placed in use to help.  Agents and managers can then have a conversation about what they just heard on  a phone call and discuss the demands.  The learning is my normative rather than debating what some IT system found.  It is like managing from reports, it loses context.

Nov 26, 2010 10:42 AM Kirsi O'Connor Kirsi O'Connor  says:

I think that the point is that if you want real results, you have to get to the root cause of customer dissatisfaction, not just throw more agents at it or create FAQs. The example on the billing system deficiencies was a good one. Now how do you get to that root cause? I wouldn't discount 24/7 Customer's software without having demoed or used it. Maybe it would provide some useful insights when combined with other methods of gathering data and analyzing it.


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