Business Intelligence & Learning: Improving Customer Service & Sales

» Posted by Jeanne Meister  » Posted on 12.03.07

Published September 2005

Learning executives with their ears to the ground hear the approaching sounds of new technologies that are pushing traditional training solutions much further down the learning “value stack” for critical workforces, such as call-center agents or the field sales force. Instead, learning and intelligence are getting backed into an overall, integrated solution that both cuts costs and delivers a superior customer experience.

Business intelligence capabilities today divert or eliminate inquiries that do not need to be handled by a live customer service representative. Customer analytics deliver support and granular learning for customer self-service solutions. Customer intelligence delivers insights about customers to agents and salespeople who can then identify sales opportunities and close deals.

Skilled customer service representatives and salespeople are still highly prized, of course. But now they have more sophisticated help:

Case-based reasoning goes real-time: Increasingly rich business intelligence applications use a case-based reasoning approach to perform an important task: Eliminate unnecessary and costly calls to agents. Advanced business intelligence and analytics capabilities support the kinds of root-cause analysis that can gather large volumes of data from multiple cases so that companies can identify what’s happening and then develop careful, cost-based plans for taking corrective action. They also can pinpoint, in real-time, any general problem and alert agents about it, so they can more quickly answer customer inquiries. They can even divert those redundant questions to an automated response.

Better customer self-service: Here, as learning organizations are increasingly charged with supporting the performance not just of workers, but also of customers and partners, they will increasingly be sought out to design interactions that do not simply result in increased alienation on the part of customers. Self-service these days—online or on the phone—is not very satisfying. That has to change.

The key is to use advanced business intelligence and customer analytics capabilities to take a customer-centric approach. Companies must tailor the self-service option to customer need and customer segment, and speed clients through the process with user-friendly interfaces and granular training experiences.

Real-time analytics: New tools available to service representatives have business intelligence capabilities and customer analytics baked right into them, so they help agents evaluate customer inquiries and resolve issues on the first call, rather than transferring customers multiple times or forcing them to call back because a problem was unresolved.

Retail bank ING Direct has combined customer intelligence with real-time analytics to maximize the effectiveness of its service agents and the sales force across channels and product lines. By infusing the agent desktop environment with customer insight, the company has improved its ability to deliver the most relevant products and messages to individual customers during inbound interactions. The company’s average offer-to-acceptance rate rose to 9.2 percent, far higher than the channel average of 7.4 percent. As a result of these and other benefits, the company began to recover the cost of its investment in three months, and saw a 400 percent ROI in the first year of use.

From information to insight: Over the next few years, the integration of business intelligence capabilities into learning, knowledge management and performance support capabilities is going to be a big deal. In a recent Sloan Management Review article, Glover Ferguson and his co-authors place these kinds of analytics-based solutions in the natural evolution “from information to insight.” As customer information becomes more readily available and integrated into the performance support tools used by the service and sales workforces, competitive advantage will go to organizations that can use these tools to respond in near-real-time, or to predict and meet customer needs.

One thing to remember: The human component is still vital to translate insight into more effective customer interactions. Because of their expertise in supporting that human component, learning professionals have a big role to play in delivering business benefits from today’s business intelligence solutions.

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