Solving the Challenge of Customer-Facing Analytics

August 22, 2013
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ImageIn times of market volatility, it is more important than ever to forge strong relationships with our customers. Once upon a time, it was a commonly-quoted statistic that around 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. I don’t know if that statistic still holds up, but I suspect it is largely true (the 80/20 rule works in many cases).

ImageIn times of market volatility, it is more important than ever to forge strong relationships with our customers. Once upon a time, it was a commonly-quoted statistic that around 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. I don’t know if that statistic still holds up, but I suspect it is largely true (the 80/20 rule works in many cases). The point is that we all need to work harder than ever to keep our customers happy in order to keep them.

Last year I conducted a survey on LinkedIn where I asked members of a Customer Service group to define what makes ‘Great Customer Service’ in a few words. Phrases that appeared often were “Listening”, “Treating them with empathy” and “Anticipating their needs”. However, some of the more enlightened phrases were ”Going the extra mile”, ”Exceeding their expectations” and “Making it easy for them to do business with you “.

We live in an age where the expectation for instant information is becoming more apparent. The rise of mobile devices is most certainly driving that expectation. We can instantly access our bank accounts, news, share prices, the weather, or online shopping sites – the list is endless. We want information on demand, at any time, wherever we are.

These factors are influencing a growing demand for customer-facing analytics. Put simply, your customers now expect to connect with your business in a way that allows them to see and understand how they are dealing with you.

Not only that, but they want to be able to do that from any device they happen to use, at any time of the day – or night. Some of the more switched-on customers (nearly all of them, these days) will also want to perform some basic analytical functions. The simplest functions being to search, sort and filter information e.g. by date, product type, delivery status. More complex functions might involve querying orders above a certain value and viewing the shipping costs as a percentage.

If you think your customers don’t want such a solution, think again. Gartner predicts that the demand for Customer Analytics solutions is booming, and is even hosting the world’s first symposium on the subject this year.

While delivering such information may appear daunting, there are three main advantages to providing a customer-facing analytics solution to your customers.

Reducing Your Costs

If your customers aren’t already using a portal to get the information they need, they are phoning one of your employees to get it – and that is costing you. Worse, if your customer is not getting the information he needs about his dealings with you, he may well make an uninformed decision and go to your competitor.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

By providing your customers with easy access to their information, you are making their lives easier. A customer who can get the information he needs when he wants it is going to be happy and is less likely to stray to your competitors. Many companies are finding their portals as being a great way to boost brand loyalty, and in current markets, that’s a good thing.

Market Differentiation

If you provide a service like this when your competitors don’t, you will immediately have an edge. You can certainly use a Customer-Facing Analytics solution as a unique selling proposition for your business – why would any prospective customer not want to deal with a company that was effectively available for information 24/7?

Opportunities for More Business – Cross-sell / Up-sell

Your customer portal can become an instant source of more business. By placing ads tailored to each specific customer or information about special offers or new products within your solution is a great way to boost sales. This benefit alone could ensure a faster ROI on your portal’s implementation. At the very least, you can use your portal as a means to educate your customers of new products, services or special offers that are available.

Gain Insight to your Customers Behaviour

Monitoring how your customers use your service can shed light on their behaviour. For example, a customer that stops using your portal after using it regularly could highlight a potential problem. If customers only buy cross-sell offers as a result of using your portal, perhaps your sales and marketing efforts need to be improved to make them aware of such offers via other touch-points.

Build Customer Loyalty

A customer who can get the information he needs when he wants it is going to be happy and is less likely to stray to your competitors. Many companies are finding their portals as being a great way to boost brand loyalty, and in current markets, that’s a good thing.

Thinking About Your Portal

Delivering a satisfactory solution to your customers is filled with challenges and things to consider in advance. So before you embark on your project, make sure you answer these simple questions first.

Who is this for and why?

Sounds obvious, but it would be a good idea to discuss such a solution with your customers first. Find out what would be important for them to see from within your new customer portal. As is always the case with any Business Intelligence project, it is likely that your customers may not understand their true requirements in advance of seeing the result, so don’t try to deliver everything in one go. Prepare to take an iterative approach; deliver in small, logical increments to ensure you don’t go building a white elephant. Remember – user adoption is the key performance indicator for a successful outcome.

What will the solution look like?

Your customer portal will obviously be web-based and should run in any browser, however, ignore mobility at your peril! The ubiquitous mobile device is most definitely a major driver for information on demand. That said, you might choose to distribute certain information in document form (e.g. monthly statements as PDFs). You might possibly choose to offer a dashboard, or capability to perform ad-hoc, drill-down analysis. Excel integration could be a useful feature. The functions you deliver will of course, be largely dictated by the feature of the BI platform you use, so choose something that can do all of the above. It should go without saying that it should be intuitive and easy to use. If you need to train your customers how to use it, it’s already too complicated.

How will we deal with performance and security?

You don’t want your customer bringing your transactional and/or in-house BI system to its knees with their analytical activities. Likewise, since this information is going to be exposed across the internet, you don’t want to put your vital business data somewhere that a determined hacker could potentially reach. For any customer-facing solution, a separate server platform is best. It won’t affect your transactional systems, and those systems are isolated from the internet. Load up your customers’ data once or twice a day and they can play with the data to their hearts content.

What kind of BI software licenses will we need?

Unlike your in-house Business Intelligence solution, you may not need as many user licenses as you might think, although, named-user licensing could be cost-prohibitive. Concurrent user licensing is best for this scenario. In such cases, a single concurrent-user license may actually serve around 50 customers. It’s a rule of thumb based on the fact that your customers aren’t going to be using your solution for hours each day, but rather for a few minutes once or twice a month (on average). If you have tens of thousands of customers, then you will probably need to think bigger – CPU licensing may work better in that case. Choose a platform that will allow you to start modestly but grow and scale according to your needs.

The Future and Beyond

Once you have your shiny new Customer Facing Analytics solution in place, then you can start to think about the next steps. Get to understand how and why your customers use your solution. Who uses it? What decisions do they make based upon it? Then seek out ways you can truly partner with your customers to make their lives even easier.

Consider developing interfaces that integrate your customers’ business processes with yours. For example, a flight/travel company providing services to corporate flyers. Imagine a scenario where one of their customers has just made an appointment with an interstate customer and needs to book a flight.

Then imagine this. Just as he makes the appointment in his calendar, a specially-developed plug-in checks where the appointment is taking place, and then automatically launches a page from the flight company’s website showing available flights that would get him there in time for that appointment.

That’s true business process integration in a scenario where everyone benefits.

Don’t just be a service provider, become an important business partner for your customers and lock them in for life.

Summary

Customers demand more from us in terms of information. Providing a customer portal that delivers such information is now a cost-effective reality. The upside is that it boosts customer loyalty, reduces your administration costs, and acts as a gateway for more future business with your customers.

Best still, it paves the way to possible further integration with your customers, locking them in and forging true business partnerships where everyone benefits.

In short, it really is a win-all-round scenario.

image: analytics for customers/shutterstock