Firms slow to adopt customer analytics tools

11th Jun 2009

Good customer data is an essential part of CRM but while there are some increasingly sophisticated customer-related and contact centre performance management products available, adoption rates are lagging behind. Richard Snow, vice president and research director at Ventana Research, gives an overview of the market.

The use of customer analytics is still in its infancy when it comes to customer-related and contact centre performance management, with the majority of companies continuing to use spreadsheets and one-off reports (typically from their infrastructure suppliers) to produce most of their reports and analysis. This is according to the results of a five-year study by Ventana Research, which monitored the use of reporting, business intelligence, analytics and performance management tools, and what products vendors are bringing to market. It soon became apparent that while there are some sophisticated tools out there, the use of products is lagging considerably behind what is available.

A small minority of firms have approached their IT departments to develop special reports using the company’s enterprise intelligence tool, while only the top 20% have recognised the benefits a specialist tool can deliver. The research identified several key reasons why this situation prevails: lack of awareness of available products, difficulty accessing certain types of data sources and a low appreciation of the business benefits deploying a specialist product can deliver.

"Firms went down the only 'cheap' and simple route open to them, which was to expend considerable manual effort by cutting and pasting data from multiple systems into spreadsheets and then using basic analysis tools to produce reports and graphs to meet their business need."

For many years, companies have relied on reports provided by their infrastructure suppliers (vendors such as ACD, IVR, CTI etc.) and/or their main application vendors (CRM, ERP vendors). Typically, these are bundled in with the main system, so come free. However, most provide straightforward reports in very basic formats that are not always easy to interpret or, at the very best, only provide information based on data from the originating system. We see this has lead to the proliferation of end-users using spreadsheets. Unable to get the view they required, they went down the only 'cheap' and simple route open to them, which was to expend considerable manual effort by cutting and pasting data from multiple systems into spreadsheets and then using basic analysis tools to produce reports and graphs to meet their business need.

While this approach satisfied the many users we surveyed, more senior managers and executives wanted to see aggregated information in more graphical styles, such as dashboards and scorecards. This led to many companies turning to their IT departments, who in turn used their enterprise reporting products such as Business Objects, Cognos and Hyperion to build a solution. These had the advantage that once programmed to access the required data and configured to show the results in formats more suited to high-level decision making, they didn’t require manual effort to run. However, mainly because of the difficulties accessing some of the highly specialised data sources e.g. call records from the ACD, these development projects were often extremely long and costly.

This, in turn, led to the emergence of a wave of products. Vendors such as AIM technology (now part of Aspect), Enkata, Inova Solutions and Merced Systems recognised that if they solved the issue of accessing multiple data sources and they pre-built reports and graphical analyses that were focused on business needs, then they could meet these needs more cost effectively. Another wave of vendors followed, which emerged over the last two years - such as Informian (now part of Genesys), HardMetrics, Latigent (now part of Cisco), Performix (part of NICE systems), Symmetrics and Voice Print International.

Each of these firms has a similar approach – make it easy to access multiple data sources and present the information in ever more graphical formats – but with a slightly different focus. For example, Enkata and Merced are focused more on business information, Informiam focuses on real-time operation performance information, and Symmetrics focuses on extracting the data from defined ACDs and applications but allows companies to use their own analyses tools to produce reports and analysis. The one thing they have in common is that they largely only use traditional, structured sources of data such as flat files and databases.

Advanced data sources

Even from these sources, it might be difficult to build software to extract data but at least they have a defined format. From a technical perspective, this led to the next wave of products that specialise in extracting unformatted and unstructured data, such as voice recordings, letters, forms and scripts from web-sessions and instant message sessions. This development has seen the emergence of vendors such as Attensity, Clarabridge and Overtone, which specialise in analysing different forms of text files, and vendors such as Aurix, Callminer, Nexidia and Utopy, which analyse speech recordings.

From a functional perspective, the market has also developed in different directions. The three big contact centre vendors: Aspect, NICE systems and Verint, all have and continue to add more advanced features and data sources to their reporting and analysis products. Vendors such as ResponseTek have extended core functionality (production and analysis of customer surveys) to included more data sources and broader-based customer-focused analysis, while vendors such as DataInfoCom and SPSS have extended functionality to include more “what if” and predictive analysis. Another key development in the new multi-channel communication environment has seen one vendor, Clickfox, create the ability to capture and correlate data from multiple channels and produce an analysis of how customers actually track through one channels, e.g. IVR or across channels, or from the website through IVR to an agent.

Finally, as we enter the age of social networking, vendors such as Overtone, (through service cloud) and SPSS are adding these sites as sources of customer information, which can also be included for analysis purposes.

"There has been considerable consolidation in the market as some of the niche vendors have been absorbed into bigger groups, giving them easier access to the market and extending the capabilities of the suite vendors."

So, in conclusion, customer and contact centre analytics has matured a great deal over the last few years. There has been considerable consolidation in the market as some of the niche vendors have been absorbed into bigger groups, giving them easier access to the market and extending the capabilities of the suite vendors. At the same time, more niche vendors have emerged with very innovative products that have addressed key issues such as accessing many more sources of data, presenting information in more understandable ways, and moving functionality from fairly simple reporting into real-time analytics and performance management.

The latter is key. We can see from the results of our research that adoption rates lag far behind what is available and this has made it a hard sell for most vendors. However, as we all know, the economic situation has changed and it has never been more important for companies to 'know' their customers; what they like and don’t like, what they are and are not buying, what from their perspective you as a company are doing right and wrong, how many times are they complaining, how many times self-service works or doesn’t work, the list goes on. But something more important is emerging, understanding what they might do next and what you can do it about it.

Performance management adds the alerts that drive actions based on key customer information and “what if” analysis lets companies understand the potential outcome of those actions. Meanwhile, predictive analytics gives companies an insight into what might happen if they don’t take actions and a comprehensive view of customer-related and contact centre performance lets companies make data-driven decisions. The products are now there to help. So what we now expect to see is an increase in adoption rates so that companies can prosper in this tough economy.


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