Customer intelligence: The centrepiece of BI

6th Sep 2009

What if you could make sense of your business information as quickly and easily as you find it? What about getting hold of detailed, relevant information about your customers - who they are, what, when, why, and how they buy? QlikView's Anthony Deighton explains how.

CRM systems are designed to capture and store customer data but they are limited in terms of the ability to analyse the data. CRM data does not provide detailed, specific trend information nor incorporate the data with broader business and financial information, which would bring the customer to the heart of management decision-making.

Currently, business intelligence (BI) software is most commonly used for management reporting and financial forecasting, but the software offers so much more potential when deployed across an organisation. BI software can be used to gain insights into any aspect of a business, from product trends to sales performance - uncovering insights into customer behaviour.

The reason business intelligence often starts in a reporting-centric way is that traditional BI solutions were not designed with the end user in mind, instead being focused on administrators and IT staff. Now, BI software is empowering non-IT staff, such as marketers and finance staff, to make greater use of the data that is available to them by making queries dynamic and actionable.

Is CI and BI the same thing?

Customer intelligence - gaining detailed customer information to build more effective customer relationships and improve decisions - is at the core of any customer relationship management or business intelligence initiative, and is just one important piece of the overall data puzzle within an organisation.

Whereas traditional CRM systems track the customers you have, customer intelligence also looks at inventory, supply chain and transaction data. This analysis of buying patterns can tell you which sales are most cost effective, which have missed the mark, and why. Business intelligence and analytics provide a much broader platform. The real value of BI comes from reading multiple data streams throughout the company and analysing the relations between them for more effective business processes that better serve the customer preferences, but also improve the bottom line.

Many companies are not yet even covering the basics of customer intelligence, like knowing which premium customers have lodged complaints about which products. When companies fail to gain a clear picture of who their customers are and what they want, then customers become dissatisfied and businesses waste time and money.

The real value of BI

Some organisations have already recognised the customer intelligence capabilities of BI solutions. Global humanitarian organisation Christian Aid, for example, has implemented software to achieve a clear view of its supporter database, not only for compliance but also for marketing decision-making, instilling trust in its supporters and informing prudent spending decisions. "Suddenly there is so much capability," said Philip Keith, marketing accountant for Christian Aid. "[Before], we couldn't tell how many new donors we were recruiting, by which methods and the drop-out rates for each. Now, we can see our entire donation history. We can do an immense amount of analysis on a wide range of demographical data points."

The interrelation of the data is what really drives strategy and effectiveness within an organisation. What we've found from the thousands of customers we work with in the space is that there are a few key success factors to gaining and using customer intelligence data:

Start small, then expand
Get an application up and running in weeks, and then show other departments how you can use the data to drive demand throughout the organisation. Currently only a small team of people at Christian Aid is using the software. The aim is to eventually roll out further licenses to the fund-raising units so they can have their own dashboards.

Show users how they can view their data
People respond to their own department's data, not to a report of information that holds no relevance for them. Philip Keith was convinced by the usefulness of his new business intelligence solution when his own data was inputted and manipulated and he was shown how to define and analyse data by region, even down to streets.

Make this data for daily use
When working with customer needs, there is no time to wait for a monthly report. A call centre representative, inventory manager or sales representative needs to find answers immediately. For Keith, exercises that would previously have taken several days to compile in between doing many other jobs can now be done very quickly. Christian Aid Week is a perfect example, he says: "I was able to create a trend analysis of donation cash flow over the past three years and chart it in about one hour. Previously we would have had to run a large number of reports month by month and week by week, and then compile them."

Anthony Deighton is senior vice-president product marketing at QlikView

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