Category Archives: Customer Services
Maybe the word “death” is a bit strong, so let’s say “demise” instead. Recently I read an article in the Harvard Business Review around how Big Data and Data Scientists will rule the world of the 21st century corporation and how they have to operate for maximum value. The thing I found rather disturbing was that it takes a PhD – probably a few of them – in a variety of math areas to give executives the necessary insight to make better decisions ranging from what product to develop next to who to sell it to and where.
Don’t get me wrong – this is mixed news for any enterprise software firm helping businesses locate, acquire, contextually link, understand and distribute high-quality data. The existence of such a high-value role validates product development but it also limits adoption. It is also great news that data has finally gathered the attention it deserves. But I am starting to ask myself why it always takes individuals with a “one-in-a-million” skill set to add value. What happened to the democratization of software? Why is the design starting point for enterprise software not always similar to B2C applications, like an iPhone app, i.e. simpler is better? Why is it always such a gradual “Cold War” evolution instead of a near-instant French Revolution?
Why do development environments for Big Data not accommodate limited or existing skills but always accommodate the most complex scenarios? Well, the answer could be that the first customers will be very large, very complex organizations with super complex problems, which they were unable to solve so far. If analytical apps have become a self-service proposition for business users, data integration should be as well. So why does access to a lot of fast moving and diverse data require scarce PIG or Cassandra developers to get the data into an analyzable shape and a PhD to query and interpret patterns?
I realize new technologies start with a foundation and as they spread supply will attempt to catch up to create an equilibrium. However, this is about a problem, which has existed for decades in many industries, such as the oil & gas, telecommunication, public and retail sector. Whenever I talk to architects and business leaders in these industries, they chuckle at “Big Data” and tell me “yes, we got that – and by the way, we have been dealing with this reality for a long time”. By now I would have expected that the skill (cost) side of turning data into a meaningful insight would have been driven down more significantly.
Informatica has made a tremendous push in this regard with its “Map Once, Deploy Anywhere” paradigm. I cannot wait to see what’s next – and I just saw something recently that got me very excited. Why you ask? Because at some point I would like to have at least a business-super user pummel terabytes of transaction and interaction data into an environment (Hadoop cluster, in memory DB…) and massage it so that his self-created dashboard gets him/her where (s)he needs to go. This should include concepts like; “where is the data I need for this insight?’, “what is missing and how do I get to that piece in the best way?”, “how do I want it to look to share it?” All that is required should be a semi-experienced knowledge of Excel and PowerPoint to get your hands on advanced Big Data analytics. Don’t you think? Do you believe that this role will disappear as quickly as it has surfaced?
Murphy’s First Law of Bad Data – If You Make A Small Change Without Involving Your Client – You Will Waste Heaps Of Money
I have not used my personal encounter with bad data management for over a year but a couple of weeks ago I was compelled to revive it. Why you ask? Well, a complete stranger started to receive one of my friend’s text messages – including mine – and it took days for him to detect it and a week later nobody at this North American wireless operator had been able to fix it. This coincided with a meeting I had with a European telco’s enterprise architecture team. There was no better way to illustrate to them how a customer reacts and the risk to their operations, when communication breaks down due to just one tiny thing changing – say, his address (or in the SMS case, some random SIM mapping – another type of address).
In my case, I moved about 250 miles within the United States a couple of years ago and this seemingly common experience triggered a plethora of communication screw ups across every merchant a residential household engages with frequently, e.g. your bank, your insurer, your wireless carrier, your average retail clothing store, etc.
For more than two full years after my move to a new state, the following things continued to pop up on a monthly basis due to my incorrect customer data:
- In case of my old satellite TV provider they got to me (correct person) but with a misspelled last name at my correct, new address.
- My bank put me in a bit of a pickle as they sent “important tax documentation”, which I did not want to open as my new tenants’ names (in the house I just vacated) was on the letter but with my new home’s address.
- My mortgage lender sends me a refinancing offer to my new address (right person & right address) but with my wife’s as well as my name completely butchered.
- My wife’s airline, where she enjoys the highest level of frequent flyer status, continually mails her offers duplicating her last name as her first name.
- A high-end furniture retailer sends two 100-page glossy catalogs probably costing $80 each to our address – one for me, one for her.
- A national health insurer sends “sensitive health information” (disclosed on envelope) to my new residence’s address but for the prior owner.
- My legacy operator turns on the wrong premium channels on half my set-top boxes.
- The same operator sends me a SMS the next day thanking me for switching to electronic billing as part of my move, which I did not sign up for, followed by payment notices (as I did not get my invoice in the mail). When I called this error out for the next three months by calling their contact center and indicating how much revenue I generate for them across all services, they counter with “sorry, we don’t have access to the wireless account data”, “you will see it change on the next bill cycle” and “you show as paper billing in our system today”.
Ignoring the potential for data privacy law suits, you start wondering how long you have to be a customer and how much money you need to spend with a merchant (and they need to waste) for them to take changes to your data more seriously. And this are not even merchants to whom I am brand new – these guys have known me and taken my money for years!
One thing I nearly forgot…these mailings all happened at least once a month on average, sometimes twice over 2 years. If I do some pigeon math here, I would have estimated the postage and production cost alone to run in the hundreds of dollars.
However, the most egregious trespass though belonged to my home owner’s insurance carrier (HOI), who was also my mortgage broker. They had a double whammy in store for me. First, I received a cancellation notice from the HOI for my old residence indicating they had cancelled my policy as the last payment was not received and that any claims will be denied as a consequence. Then, my new residence’s HOI advised they added my old home’s HOI to my account.
After wondering what I could have possibly done to trigger this, I called all four parties (not three as the mortgage firm did not share data with the insurance broker side – surprise, surprise) to find out what had happened.
It turns out that I had to explain and prove to all of them how one party’s data change during my move erroneously exposed me to liability. It felt like the old days, when seedy telco sales people needed only your name and phone number and associate it with some sort of promotion (back of a raffle card to win a new car), you never took part in, to switch your long distance carrier and present you with a $400 bill the coming month. Yes, that also happened to me…many years ago. Here again, the consumer had to do all the legwork when someone (not an automatic process!) switched some entry without any oversight or review triggering hours of wasted effort on their and my side.
We can argue all day long if these screw ups are due to bad processes or bad data, but in all reality, even processes are triggered from some sort of underlying event, which is something as mundane as a database field’s flag being updated when your last purchase puts you in a new marketing segment.
Now imagine you get married and you wife changes her name. With all these company internal (CRM, Billing, ERP), free public (property tax), commercial (credit bureaus, mailing lists) and social media data sources out there, you would think such everyday changes could get picked up quicker and automatically. If not automatically, then should there not be some sort of trigger to kick off a “governance” process; something along the lines of “email/call the customer if attribute X has changed” or “please log into your account and update your information – we heard you moved”. If American Express was able to detect ten years ago that someone purchased $500 worth of product with your credit card at a gas station or some lingerie website, known for fraudulent activity, why not your bank or insurer, who know even more about you? And yes, that happened to me as well.
Tell me about one of your “data-driven” horror scenarios?
I recently had a lengthy conversation with a business executive of a European telco. His biggest concern was to not only understand the motivations and related characteristics of consumers but to accomplish this insight much faster than before. Given available resources and current priorities this is something unattainable for many operators.
Unlike a few years ago – remember the time before iPad – his organization today is awash with data points from millions of devices, hundreds of device types and many applications.
One way for him to understand consumer motivation; and therefore intentions, is to get a better view of a user’s network and all related interactions and transactions. This includes his family household, friends and business network (also a type of household). The purpose of householding is to capture social and commercial relationships in a grouping of individuals (or businesses or both mixed together) in order to identify patterns (context), which can be exploited to better serve a customer a new individual product or bundle upsell, to push relevant apps, audio and video content.
Let’s add another layer of complexity by understanding not only who a subscriber is, who he knows and how often he interacts with these contacts and the services he has access to via one or more devices but also where he physically is at the moment he interacts. You may also combine this with customer service and (summarized) network performance data to understand who is high-value, high-overhead and/or high in customer experience. Most importantly, you will also be able to assess who will do what next and why.
Some of you may be thinking “Oh gosh, the next NSA program in the making”. Well, it may sound like it but the reality is that this data is out there today, available and interpretable if cleaned up, structured and linked and served in real time. Not only do data quality, ETL, analytical and master data systems provide the data backbone for this reality but process-based systems dealing with the systematic real-time engagement of consumers are the tool to make it actionable. If you add some sort of privacy rules using database or application-level masking technologies, most of us would feel more comfortable about this proposition.
This may feel like a massive project but as many things in IT life; it depends on how you scope it. I am a big fan of incremental mastering of increasingly more attributes of certain customer segments, business units, geographies, where lessons learnt can be replicated over and over to scale. Moreover, I am a big fan of figuring out what you are trying to achieve before even attempting to tackle it.
The beauty behind a “small” data backbone – more about “small data” in a future post – is that if a certain concept does not pan out in terms of effort or result, you have just wasted a small pile of cash instead of the $2 million for a complete throw-away. For example: if you initially decided that the central lynch pin in your household hub & spoke is the person, who owns the most contracts with you rather than the person who pays the bills every month or who has the largest average monthly bill, moving to an alternative perspective does not impact all services, all departments and all clients. Nevertheless, the role of each user in the network must be defined over time to achieve context, i.e. who is a contract signee, who is a payer, who is a user, who is an influencer, who is an employer, etc.
Why is this important to a business? It is because without the knowledge of who consumes, who pays for and who influences the purchase/change of a service/product, how can one create the right offers and target them to the right individual.
However, in order to make this initial call about household definition and scope or look at the options available and sensible, you have to look at social and cultural conventions, what you are trying to accomplish commercially and your current data set’s ability to achieve anything without a massive enrichment program. A couple of years ago, at a Middle Eastern operator, it was very clear that the local patriarchal society dictated that the center of this hub and spoke model was the oldest, non-retired male in the household, as all contracts down to children of cousins would typically run under his name. The goal was to capture extended family relationships more accurately and completely in order to create and sell new family-type bundles for greater market penetration and maximize usage given new bandwidth capacity.
As a parallel track aside from further rollout to other departments, customer segments and geos, you may also want to start thinking like another European operator I engaged a couple of years ago. They were trying to outsource some data validation and enrichment to their subscribers, which allowed for a more accurate and timely capture of changes, often life-style changes (moves, marriages, new job). The operator could then offer new bundles and roaming upsells. As a side effect, it also created a sense of empowerment and engagement in the client base.
I see bits and pieces of some of this being used when I switch on my home communication systems running broadband signal through my X-Box or set-top box into my TV using Netflix and Hulu and gaming. Moreover, a US cable operator actively promotes a “moving” package to help make sure you do not miss a single minute of entertainment when relocating.
Every time now I switch on my TV, I get content suggested to me. If telecommunication services would now be a bit more competitive in the US (an odd thing to say in every respect) and prices would come down to European levels, I would actually take advantage of the offer. And then there is the log-on pop up asking me to subscribe (or throubleshoot) a channel I have already subscribed to. Wonder who or what automated process switched that flag.
Ultimately, there cannot be a good customer experience without understanding customer intentions. I would love to hear stories from other practitioners on what they have seen in such respect
As I continue to counsel insurers about master data, they all agree immediately that it is something they need to get their hands around fast. If you ask participants in a workshop at any carrier; no matter if life, p&c, health or excess, they all raise their hands when I ask, “Do you have broadband bundle at home for internet, voice and TV as well as wireless voice and data?”, followed by “Would you want your company to be the insurance version of this?”
Now let me be clear; while communication service providers offer very sophisticated bundles, they are also still grappling with a comprehensive view of a client across all services (data, voice, text, residential, business, international, TV, mobile, etc.) each of their touch points (website, call center, local store). They are also miles away of including any sort of meaningful network data (jitter, dropped calls, failed call setups, etc.)
Similarly, my insurance investigations typically touch most of the frontline consumer (business and personal) contact points including agencies, marketing (incl. CEM & VOC) and the service center. On all these we typically see a significant lack of productivity given that policy, billing, payments and claims systems are service line specific, while supporting functions from developing leads and underwriting to claims adjucation often handle more than one type of claim.
This lack of performance is worsened even more by the fact that campaigns have sub-optimal campaign response and conversion rates. As touchpoint-enabling CRM applications also suffer from a lack of complete or consistent contact preference information, interactions may violate local privacy regulations. In addition, service centers may capture leads only to log them into a black box AS400 policy system to disappear.
Here again we often hear that the fix could just happen by scrubbing data before it goes into the data warehouse. However, the data typically does not sync back to the source systems so any interaction with a client via chat, phone or face-to-face will not have real time, accurate information to execute a flawless transaction.
On the insurance IT side we also see enormous overhead; from scrubbing every database from source via staging to the analytical reporting environment every month or quarter to one-off clean up projects for the next acquired book-of-business. For a mid-sized, regional carrier (ca. $6B net premiums written) we find an average of $13.1 million in annual benefits from a central customer hub. This figure results in a ROI of between 600-900% depending on requirement complexity, distribution model, IT infrastructure and service lines. This number includes some baseline revenue improvements, productivity gains and cost avoidance as well as reduction.
On the health insurance side, my clients have complained about regional data sources contributing incomplete (often driven by local process & law) and incorrect data (name, address, etc.) to untrusted reports from membership, claims and sales data warehouses. This makes budgeting of such items like medical advice lines staffed by nurses, sales compensation planning and even identifying high-risk members (now driven by the Affordable Care Act) a true mission impossible, which makes the life of the pricing teams challenging.
Over in the life insurers category, whole and universal life plans now encounter a situation where high value clients first faced lower than expected yields due to the low interest rate environment on top of front-loaded fees as well as the front loading of the cost of the term component. Now, as bonds are forecast to decrease in value in the near future, publicly traded carriers will likely be forced to sell bonds before maturity to make good on term life commitments and whole life minimum yield commitments to keep policies in force.
This means that insurers need a full profile of clients as they experience life changes like a move, loss of job, a promotion or birth. Such changes require the proper mitigation strategy, which can be employed to protect a baseline of coverage in order to maintain or improve the premium. This can range from splitting term from whole life to using managed investment portfolio yields to temporarily pad premium shortfalls.
Overall, without a true, timely and complete picture of a client and his/her personal and professional relationships over time and what strategies were presented, considered appealing and ultimately put in force, how will margins improve? Surely, social media data can help here but it should be a second step after mastering what is available in-house already. What are some of your experiences how carriers have tried to collect and use core customer data?
Recommendations and illustrations contained in this post are estimates only and are based entirely upon information provided by the prospective customer and on our observations. While we believe our recommendations and estimates to be sound, the degree of success achieved by the prospective customer is dependent upon a variety of factors, many of which are not under Informatica’s control and nothing in this post shall be relied upon as representative of the degree of success that may, in fact, be realized and no warrantee or representation of success, either express or implied, is made.
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