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How to use business intelligence to improve the customer experience

Posted January 25, 2018
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Companies have more data at their disposal than ever before. This wide range of information can give brands untold insights into customers, prospects and target markets — if they know how to interpret and apply it correctly.

The challenge is that there is often so much data that companies don’t know where to begin, which is where business intelligence (BI) and analytics can make a big difference.

Business intelligence is an umbrella term, defined by Gartner as “applications, infrastructure and tools, and best practices that enable access to and analysis of information to improve and optimize decisions and performance.” Those practices can include data mining, benchmarking, predictive and prescriptive analytics, and other technologies and functions that help companies make the most of the data they’re collecting.

According to BI experts, data visualization, community-enabled service and artificial intelligence (AI) integration are some of the key trends that brands can leverage to improve the customer experience. AI in particular is making a big dent in retail. A 2017 study from BRP Consulting reports that 45 percent of retail brands plan to improve the customer experience by using AI as part of their business intelligence strategy in the next three years.

Business intelligence is helping in a variety of other industries as well. From travel and hospitality, to fintech, to gaming, and more, BI is positively impacting operational efficiencies and giving companies a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Visualizing with big data

As the old saying goes, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words,’ and the same can be said for understanding data. Visualization tools help organize extremely large, fast-moving data sets in real-time to understand the current state of the customer experience. “[Data imaging] tools are very helpful in drawing attention to critical points in the customer journey and experience, and pulling out some actionable insights,” advises Scott McCallister, vice president of consulting at CX University.

Beyond creating visual representations of the raw data, these tools can help to distinguish customer personas and cohorts — along with their pain points and preferences — to optimize the experience for each customer segment. As McCallister notes, “If you really believe in customer experience, you really need to visualize who your best customers are, so you can figure out how to handle them differently.”

Successful implementation, however, depends on having high-quality data in the first place. “What people don’t often realize is that the quality of data — not the presentation — is often the biggest challenge when it comes to BI,” adds McCallister. He specifically cautions about the use of anonymous customer surveys. In order for any BI tool to be effective, the system needs to know what customer traits are associated with specific feedback in order to gain perspective.

Enabling self-service

Jerry Leisure, head of customer experience mobile-gaming company, Kabam, says the gaming industry has a well-developed player community that altruistically wants to help fellow gamers. Traditionally, this kind of crowd-sourced self-support has lived in player forums unaffiliated with the game maker itself.

Today, however, BI can help companies better understand certain traits about these customers — for instance, what other sites players like to visit online, how they interact with the rest of the community, whether they cite accurate information in gaming forums, and more. This data can then be used by companies to tap into customer sentiment, behavior, loyalty and other hard-to-measure aspects of the gaming community.

Companies can also use BI to collaborate with influential customers. “We [can] provide helpful information to content creators on YouTube, for example, who then share that information with other players,” says Leisure.

To do this for self-service in general, the key is to have clearly defined customer segments and personas developed using BI, as well as a roadmap of the customer journey for each cohort. Brands will then be able to determine which networks or communities are best positioned to share the different types of information. “It’s really empowering to give a voice to some of your most passionate customers,” Leisure adds.

Leveraging artificial intelligence

One of the hottest topics in customer service today is the current use, and possible future applications of, artificial intelligence (AI). Today, AI is already helping to improve the traveler experience at various touchpoints, explains Erica Ellington, director of projects and support for Southwest Airlines. “As the data is collected, our AI begins to track and determine the most critical points in the customer experience that we need to focus on,” says Ellington. “Business intelligence enables us to leverage both structured and unstructured data to help us make more informed decisions to improve the customer experience.”

McCallister of CX University adds that in order for AI and BI to effectively discover customer insights together, more data needs to become structured (i.e., well-organized, uniform information). To transform data from unstructured to structured requires capturing, tagging and classifying as much data as possible. “[Structured data] is the material that will allow any AI system to work its magic and provide deep insights into where the customer experience can be optimized,” says McCallister.

In the end, the success of any BI strategy depends heavily on the people using the tools. From the CEO, to the frontline customer service agents in the contact center, BI requires buy-in from employees spanning your entire organization. Hiring candidates with the right skill sets and providing training on how to consult, interpret and apply BI insights are two of the best ways to maximize results. “Once you build the right team who can interact with the technology tools — in addition to having a customers first mindset — you’ve set the stage to significantly improve your customers’ experience,” says McCallister.

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