My Article on CRM customization (translated to English), Banka magazine, September 2002

Organizations in mature phase of managing customer relationship are becoming able to implement real time dynamic (micro) segmentation in addition to the traditional segmentation based on “obvious” customer parameters. Personalization of the content, on the level of individual customer, is possible through matrure data collection and management. The article starts by an original introduction into the topic by an example of a restaurant with 150.000 tables…

Contact me… in an adaptive way

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 09/2002. Thank you!

Restaurant with 150.000 tables – no thanks

Technological maturity has made possible what we call today Customer Relationship Management (CRM). The need to establish a business strategy based on technologically supported CRM philosophy, emerged from 3 factors: (1) high penetration of products and services, (2) highly saturated competitive markets, and (3) a large customer base.

When managing relationships with a relatively small number of customers, we do not need support of advanced technological solutions. On the contrary, the most effective CRM is the one based on close, frequent contact, strengthened by mutual trust and understanding.

Many of us have a favorite coffee shop where the waiter serves us with the “usual” drink, or restaurants that are part of daily gastronomic routes, where they know that we do not want vinegar in the salad, or don’t stand cakes with cinnamon. But let’s imagine that a restaurant does not have 15, but 150,000 tables all occupied by “regular” guests. In this case there is a choice: the restaurant management could allocate one waiter for every 5 tables, or make use of technological benefits. In the first case we would achieve the desired effectiveness and personalized relationship with customers, but with the same cost and a lower level of service. Actually, to help a waiter remember returning guests and their habits, the latter would be forced to sit always in the same “district” between the 150,000 tables of the giant restaurant. It is clear that gastronomic experience in such a large restaurant would be far from ideal. Let’s then rather split our tables in some 100,000 restaurants and enjoy properly for a little higher price.

Let’s consider the other case and reach for technological solutions, the same ones that lie below any contemporary CRM solution. In this scenario, we would still have 150,000 tables, but the number of waiters would not be 30,000 any more, but much less, say 10,000, keeping similar level of service. Except for the efficiency achieved by a CRM system, the reduced number of waiters may be additionally achieved by the use of different workforce management or advanced enterprise resource planning systems, often seen in conjunction with modern CRM solutions. The best part of such solution would have been the choice for a guest to sit in any part of our imaginary endless restaurant, and be served by any CRM waiter in a similar, yet adapted (personalized) manner. This is the basic idea of CRM philosophy: collecting and storing information about customers and acting upon it seamlessly across the whole organization, with the aim to establish and maintain relations adjusted to the individual customer or a customer segment. Our CRM waiters would have been equipped by hardware and software solutions that would help them to identify the customer and gain insight into their habits and aspirations. Such IT infrastructure would have enabled them to simulate mature established relationships with their guests, similar to the situation of a restaurant with 15 tables and a returning guest. All that would have been made possible despite the fact that the CRM waiter and the guest have had never met before. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the enormous restaurant would have still been far from pleasant, but the scope of CRM is not perfection in mapping customer requirements, but rather a compromise between aspirations and wishes of individual customers, and objectives of CRM organizations.

The 150,000 tables in a restaurant is just an exaggerated picture of what’s going on during the past hundred years with dozens of industries from retail or manufacturing to tourism – the introduction of massive scale as a vehicle for maximizing revenues and reducing costs per unit of product or service. Such business model has led to the alienation of business organizations from its end users. Rapid growth of processing power on computer clients, improved database technologies and means of interaction with customers (Internet, call centers, laptops and PDAs) have enabled introduction of technologically supported customer relationship philosophy, the one that seeks to simulate intimacy of the increasingly lacking personal contact.

Dear George

Traditionally, marketing strategies have been relying on market segmentation and targeting specific market segments by different marketing initiatives.

The most primitive, the most easily applicable and the most widely used segmentation is based on revenue (who spent what with us) or, in a more advanced case, on financial potential of our customers (who has the money to buy our stuff). The theory of marketing segmentation is being developed for decades, so today we have advanced models that go beyond profitability or demographics, taking into account a number of parameters such as lifestyle, social affiliation, cultural determinants and the like.

CRM philosophy has set new standards for the segmentation. Its purpose is to recognize the most profitable or potentially profitable customers, adjust the value proposal to their profile, keep them as customers and create long-term (profitable) relations. The tendency is to use advanced technology to make interactions with customers as close as possible to their most positive expectations under a reasonable cost for the organization. The usual number of customer segments in an average organization is less than 10. It is easy to conclude that the communication strategy based on 10 groups from a large customer base is nothing less than a compromise. At the bottom line, such marketing strategies, especially those based on profitability segments, are reduced to the most profitable, or even just the wealthiest customers. Often the maximum achieved is differentiation model where those get a better service levels (better response, higher quality,…).

Organizations that where pioneers in using technology for accessing large customer base, have often emphasized their ability to show the names of visitors of their web sites and outbound e-mail messages as personalization. Most often, they where able only to simulate the classic “Dear George” message, which would be followed by content, usually not adapted to the message recipient. Despite the trend to call this ability personalization, use of term personification would have been much more suitable for this capability to address the message recipient by his or her name.

Personalization is a higher degree of content customization within marketing communication. It is dominant within advanced CRM oriented organizations today. Personalized message contains customized content, in addition to the simple addressing the one to which it was intended. There are more organizational and technological ways to solve “recognizing” specific user affiliations towards certain content or his/her eligibility for a particular marketing proposal. The most common, and also the easiest way to identify user preferences are different customer query forms put as part of a contract or a form that would allow access to a protected part of the company’s web site. The customer should be provided by opportunity to express his/her area of interest and communication preferences.

Such inquiries are known as permission-based marketing. The additional information collected allows classification of the customer into one of the segments defined within the organization. Additional data are gathered from the transactional history. From technological perspective, the more demanding part is later processing of customer information for the purpose of classification into segments defined within company’s marketing strategy, and further splitting within sub segments that mark propensity to buy certain products or services. For this purpose, different tools are used to search databases, analyze the stored data and predict future patterns of customer behavior. These tools and methods are database query, OLAP and data mining, known under common name of business intelligence (BI).

Advanced CRM organizations today, usually combine interest areas and preferred channels chosen by the customer with the segmentation parameters from available relevant customer data. Targeted marketing campaigns are conducted by additional selection of potential members from one or more segments by using advanced BI processing.

Dynamic micro-segmentation

The goal of a CRM strategy would be to adapt the business to the customer in an efficient and effective manner. Ultimately, this means that customer’s experience would be marked by an unexpected match of approach, communication, offer and service, still preserving the organization’s business objectives. How to achieve such combination? Organizations that have developed their businesses to the level of personalization filter large customer bases through different BI processes, using combinations of the mentioned parameters, to mark those most suitable for a specific offer or message. Such process is based on visible customer attributes (e.g. demographics) and historical behavior, disregarding the current behavior.

BI tools serve to recognize the potential behavior (e.g. purchase decision) of a targeted customer group, marked by some common features, based on the behavior of a test group or an existing (returning) customer group. Limits of personalization, such as too large segments and research on a case by case basis will be eliminated in the next stage of CRM evolution – the dynamic micro-segmentation. The prerequisite to the dynamic micro-segmentation is large amount of data about a particular customer combined with patterns gathered from a wide customer base. The quality and nature of the customer data is such that it is impossible to collect it through the traditional market research. The only way is to systematically gather information about user behavior during their interactions with the company. It is obvious that this phase of development of relationships with customers is intended only to “mature” CRM companies, i.e. to those that have a long lasting history of processing and storing of customer data.

Remark: to this view from “2002 perspective”, we could add today (2010) that “mature” CRM companies are those that are able to leverage data collection through different means of Web 2.0. as well.

George’s satisfaction

So, what is it all about? The simplest example of a dynamic micro-segmentation will be described on a case of a client of a bank calling its customer care call center. By calling the bank’s toll-free number, the client is greeted by the latest generation of IVR system, with the automated announcement: “Dear Mr. George (Oh, no. Dear George again! 😉 ), we noticed that you where searching for information on housing loans on our web site. Do you want us route you to our credit department or you would like to choose an other service? “. If the user chooses to be routed to the credit department, not only will the system do so, but the clerk receiving the call will be automatically noticed on his screen about George’s solvency and previous credit obligations. And that’s not all. The screen will show the best possible offer for Mr. George: loan repayment period in accordance with his income, and previous habits. This is just an imaginary example, similar to the many that customers of mature CRM organizations are already starting to experience. These organizations are equipped with modern technologies that enable such data processing and managing customer interactions.

Of course, implementing and managing such processes it’s not that simple. Considerable efforts of the organization are needed on the field of data integration from various sources and automation of background processes with systems that participate in customer interactions. A CRM organization in a mature stage will assure the same level of personalization through other channels as well, such as call centers or traditional “brick and mortar” offices.

Some analysts, one of them is Eric Schmitt of Forrester Research, believe that in the future the winning strategy of the majority of CRM organizations will rely on segmentation based on the traditional 10 segments instead of the infinite number of dynamic micro-segments. Schmitt believes that the advanced personalization, which may be based on a very large set of rules, is too complex for most ordinary mortals. Indeed you will not be able to achieve a level of dynamic personalization by a simple business decision. The maturity of business processes, data collection methods and information resources are required. Management understanding and tradition in collection and processing of customer data have no less importance. So why wait? Start today with the systematic collection of information about your customers and their behavior. Get ready for tomorrow’s real time market segmentation.

“Tasting” the McCafe’ business model

McDonalds announcement to introduce McCafe’ line of business brought many controversies during past year or so. One of the comments from a journalist was about hard-to-immagine truck diver who jumped in McDonalds for a fast and cheap hamburger lunch, asking a fancy cup of latte macchiato. Is this a problem? I went to the Zagreb McCafe and “had a taste” in person of the newly introduced McDonalds business model. Read about it in the furhter text and let me know what do you think.

A coffee shop in the hamburger kingdom

A year ago I read a lot about controversies about McDonalds’ decision to introduce coffee shops within their existing restaurants. At the time one of the many skeptics wrote that he couldn’t imagine a truck driver entering a McDonalds restaurant, taking a cheap lunch and ordering a fancy cup of coffee. There where many opinions that McDonald’s intrusion into Starbuck’s playground will turn into failure. There where many believing the opposite though.

Mc’Donalds decided for two approaches to introducing coffee line in its existing business:

1. In US the coffee line of business is integrated into the existing front counters

2. Separate counter and cafe’ – style furnishing within existing restaurants, started in Australia in 1993. This model started to extend to Europe in 2009.

In Zagreb the first McCafe’ was introduced in autumn 2009. I was really curious about what will be the success. These days I had the opportunity to “taste” the business model, through customer goggles. Here is my experience and annotations.

Me and my laptop walked through the McCafe’ door due to a reason different than usual choice of a cafe’. After the temporary suspension of the anti-smoking law in Croatia, McCafe’ remained one of the very rare places in Zagreb where one can enjoy a coffee without having to take the role of a secondary smoker.

Nice cakes, but where is the WiFi?

From customer perspective it was a decent experience (as I didn’t poor the coffee on my keyboard this time, my laptop will not be asked about his opinion :-)). The McCafe’ (at Zagreb at least) is smoothly integrated into the standard fast food area. As my idea was “work-and-coffee“, too many children running around after 3 PM where disturbing eventual phone calls. As some customers claimed to the Business Week’s reporter (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_40/b4149070703260.htm?chan=globalbiz_europe+index+page_management+%2Bamp%3B+learning) in her article about McCafe’ penetration in Europe, the smell of French frites and hamburgers does spoil the coffee shop atmosphere. Indeed. During my stay at McCafe’ I really missed a WiFi link and a coffee sized less than a mid cup. What about a “small macchiato”?

When trying to have a look from the back door, my estimation is that the business model is placed on healthy basis. Here is why.

My only concern is that the McCafe’ bar seems often too empty, but the rest of business case seems to be built around productivity and up sell.

First, it is pretty hard to resist some of excellent, yet pretty expensive cakes, when you jump in for a cup of coffee.

Additional argument on up selling that keeps the business running, are many parents that approach the McCafe’ counter after having ordered food for their children at the fast food counters.

Productivity + up-sell is the name of the game

From productivity perspective, McCafe’ shares existing resources (such as cleaning personnel) with the rest of the restaurant and employs fewer personnel than an average coffee shop. Actually only one lady is taking care of the whole McCafe’ experience, including coffee making, cakes decorations, billing and the inevitable “enjoy” phrase.

Comparing with a traditional coffee shop that engages a “running waiter”, in McCafe’ the productivity is additionally enhanced by the fact that customers serve them selves at the bar and clean their desks afterwards by bringing their trays back to the McCafe’ counter. It is worth mentioning that the price of a small cup of coffee is among the highest in Zagreb area (10Kn = 1,3€, cca 2$). More expensive coffee can be found at a few very fancy places and 4+ star hotels.

Cakes to go

In terms of cross selling and reusing existing resources, McCafe’ has thought about the possibility to sell cakes “to go”, extending their presence to home parties and celebrations. McDonald’s has extended its business model to coffee line of business, without actually having to innovate, or spend too much. They got all of it already – food “to go”, restaurant management, location, experience management, standards,…

The Business Week’s article cited above, brought an estimation of Jeffrey Young, managing director of London management consultancy Allegra Strategies that the investment for a new stand alone Starbucks in Europe is at least tripple the amount of that for a McCafe’ within the existing McDonald’s facitilites. I’d add that it is the same ratio, if not higher, when talking about the daily business expences (personnel, energy and the like).

All in all it seems that there was no place for skeptics when talking about McDonalds introduction of McCafe’. The new line of business is all about up sell and reusing the existing resources. This was a simple business idea, and simply hard to miss. And here is a simple thought for the end: If these are results of a marriage between hamburgers and cappuccinos, think about the consequences of the merge between mobile (T-Mobile) and land line (T-Com) telecom operators.

My article on IVR systems – PART 2 (translated to English), Banka magazine, May 2002

This second part of the article published in Banka magazine in May 2002 talks about the recent technologies and trend in Interactive Voice Response (IVR) industry. While the first part of the article is pretty universal from time perspective, this one has to be read taking in mind that it was written in 2002. Today the major change is about today’s handy nature of mobile broadband and all the services and applications that exist on modern mobile devices. Enjoy reading how the future looked like in 2002.

IVR – technology for a great compromise – PART 2

Part 1 of this article was posted immediately before the Part 2. I recommend to read it first.

If you will use this text for publishing or academic purposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 05/2002. Thank you!

The Future of IVR

Except the growth of the number and size of call centers and the need to reduce their labor costs, the IVR market growth forecasts rely on new technologies that enable easier and more natural interaction comparing to the one based on tone dialing and pre-recorded speech sequences.

Here we primarily emphasize Natural Language Speech Recognition (NLSR), Voice Recognition (VR) and Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies. Growing trends are as well driven by the new approach to using IVR technology, so called voice portals.

When it comes to advanced IVR technology, the future has already begun. Many solutions already exist. Due to the complex technology, there are a few suppliers of functional NLSR, TTS and VR software products in the world. To support these technologies, the leading providers of IVR systems usually integrate technological solutions by niche software vendors such as Nuance and SpeechWorks.

NLSR technology supports giving instructions to IVR by voice, using natural language. In the case of well-designed system, an order will be given in spoken like: “I want to make 550$ transfer from my savings to my current account”. The machine will perform the operation without employee interference. NLSR makes possible what was hard to imagine, and in some cases, it is inevitable replacement to the traditional service management based on tone dialing.

TTS technology enables translation of any digitally stored text to speech. In this way it is possible to dynamically leave a message to a caller. For example, a bank client contacts the call center to check the status of his account or other routine interaction. After identification of the client, the IVR automatically communicates a personalized message that was entered into the system in form of text by a bank employee in the loan approval department: “Dear sir (Jones) we are still waiting for your mortgage estimation to close your credit claim. Please contact mrs. Patty on 123456. Thank you.”.

VR technology is based on voice recognition algorithms that rely on original features of each individual’s voice. VR is one among many increasingly popular biometric identification methods, based on specific characteristics that are unique for each of us, such as fingerprint, eye pattern, and even the DNA structure.

All this technologically demanding solutions are based on complex mathematical algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies, such as neural networks. Important role in its success have the ever more affordable processor power and storage capacity.

The companies providing these technologies have operated at loss for years, funded by capital from different sources. We are witnessing a market capitalization of the few that survived. New technologies are constantly making management of IVR services easier, transforming in this way the IVR platform from a system of compromises to a system of customer desires.

Voice Portals

Voice portals are single access points that allow a caller to retrieve different types of information or manage personal communications services, by voice using the telephone service. Voice portals integrate Natural Language Speech Recognition (NLSR), Voice Recognition (VR) and Text-to-Speech (TTS) technologies with the communication infrastructure and application expertise. Simply put, voice portals are IVR systems with extended functionality resulting in increased ease of use and a better flow of information, thanks to the use of new technologies.

The concept of voice portals is very similar to the concept of web portals, so the supported types of services are very similar to those on the Internet. Most of these services will be focused on content, communication, voice commerce (as opposed to online store) and remote access to business resources.

The advantage of voice comparing to web portals, is in the handy nature of telephone communication. Consequently, the information that the user “pulls” by a phone will be the one that is urgent, updated and time sensitive.

As in the case of web portals, business organization behind the voice portal is a labor-intensive and complex. Therefore, their maintenance is left to specialized organizations that provide such services on the market. In line with this need, recently a new category of service providers appeared – Voice Application Service Providers.

Today (2002) we can identify a large number of application cases using the advanced IVR technology in various industries such as booking systems in tourism and passenger transport, access to financial data and performing transactions in banking, retail and catalog sales, accessing information of the government administration, CRM applications at mobile service providers…

As already mentioned, the Croatian market of “traditional” IVR systems is well developed. We will still have a lot to wait for new technologies like NLSR or TTS due to high cost of development of new languages patterns. But this is the fate of all small “non English speaking” markets.

END

My article on IVR systems – PART 1 (translated to English), Banka magazine, May 2002

This is the English translation of an article published in Banka magazine in 2002. The article is about Interactive Voice Response devices (IVR). IVR systems find their “best fit” within call center environments where they represent the “finest compromise” of a CRM strategy. This is the first part of the article, addressing pretty universal topics of CRM, IVR and call centers, and therefore still actual, despite its origin from 2002.

IVR – technology for a great compromise – PART 1

If you will use this text for publishing or academic pursposes, be so kind to cite the author and source: Alen Gojceta, Banka, 05/2002. Thank you!

CRM – the concept of technologycal compromises

One of the basic postulates of any CRM (Customer Relationship Management) strategy is to make customer’s interaction with the organization easy and accessible. Taking an ideal situation from the financial industry as an example, it would mean that each of us had his or her personal banking clerk on full disposition. In accordance with our wishes, let’s call him Super personal banker. He would appear at our office or apartment shortly after we called him. In a pleasant atmosphere, he would carry out the necessary transactions, advise on investing our money, and help us select the optimal insurance policy or recommend the best plan to close our loan. Of course, in this ideal case, the client would not need to pay considerable financial amount for such a great service.

It is obvious that the ideal case for a bank is not the same as the ideal case for its clients. That’s why the CRM strategy is usually characterized by multiple win-win challenges, where such wins-wins are necessarily converted into (winning) compromises-compromises.

Managing customer relationships is basically oriented to managing such compromises. By balancing between the cost of advanced customer service and provided total added value to the client, healthy development of a successful CRM strategy is assured.

IVR – the simplest service making the greatest savings, 24×7

The existence of a call center as supporting tool for an advanced CRM strategy also represents a compromise of its own. Whatever our position on cost is, a call center is a pretty expensive tool for any service provider, looking on a short or long term. The reason is simple – the price of labor makes up to 70% of the total call center cost. Exactly for this reason, there are machines that substitute different functions in the Call Center. These machines are called Interactive Voice Response (IVR) devices.

When talking about telephone communication, IVR devices represent one of the most common compromises of advanced customer relationship management. IVR is, in its principle, a computer that performs certain activities automatically upon caller’s requests, given by phone.

IVR functions can be divided into two basic groups.

First, filtering phone calls based on who the caller is and what is the purpose of the call, and finally attaching such attributes to the call. Based on those, calls are further processed within the call center routing algorithms. Processing herein means operations such as identification of caller’s segment, call routing to a particular agent or group of agents, triggering certain applications to enable agents solving caller’s requests. All of it based on the attributes that IVR has attached to the call.

Second, automatically solving telephone inquiries, usually via dial tone or voice recognition. IVR can read the data, both dynamically from a database, or just play predefined recordings from static voice boxes. Responses to inquiries can be using voice, by fax, or via e-mail. Usually the answers are numbers synthesized by a computer, from pre-recorded sequences. There are several providers that offer IVR solutions with messages in Croatian language. Known examples of IVR solutions in Croatia are widely adopted various forms of automated telephone banking in different banks, popular Infozap and devices for activation of prepaid services for GSM operators.

IVR applications are mostly being easily made and changed by special tools. There are cases when those can not be changed. Such machines are usually intended for specific areas of application as complete solutions.

IVR role in call center environment

In the Computers and business insert of the last issue of Banka magazine (03/2002), there was a Gartner’s estimation that IVR systems within call centers will be one of rare segments of the IT market that will record higher growth rates than average. This is not unusual. In the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region there is an average of 5 new call centers a day. Different analysts predict growth of the number of call center agents in Western Europe between 400 and 500% for the period 1999 – 2004. Although IVR systems can function as standalone solutions, their real value is shown when implemented within call center ecosystems.

The growth of the total number of employees in call centers and growing number of transactions and CRM processes that rely on telephone communication causes growth of the related work force cost. IVR solutions are among the most effective vehicles to reduce this cost. Of course, such solutions are driven by compromises introduced earlier in this text. IVR lets service providers to provision simple information to its users in an inexpensive and efficient manner, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. Customers have the ability to access frequently requested services and information, in a relatively simple manner, with guaranteed quality and availability. The compromise is reflected here in the lack of human contact and unpopular scrolling through predefined dial tone menus.

There are two factors where IVRs significantly reduce labor costs in Call centers: reduction of the needed number of agents due to the calls managed by the IVR, and reduced turnover of agents who are released from boring, repetitive and uncreative activities.

Statistics say that, usage of an IVR system reduces the average call length for 18%, which cause reduction in related labor costs. In today’s call centers around 12% of calls are resolved within IVR systems without any interaction with “live” agents. In some industries, such as financial services, entertainment and tourism, this share ranges even between 16 and 18%. Moreover 35% of total calls, before being routed to agents, are received to the IVR system.

Health Risk Management – an example of a successful IVR implementation

This case study has been extracted from a Lucent white paper. The source document is available today (January 2010) at: www.goldsys.com/…/21-Gold%20Systems%20Health%20Risk%20Case%20Study.pdf

Health Risk Management Inc. (HRM) is a company from Minneapolis, United States, which since 1977 provides health care services and health risk management. As a part of the U.S. health care system, the HRM takes care of the medical insurance coverage for health treatment expenses. They assess health risk and serve as an intermediary between health institutions and health insured.

Like other companies in the industry, HRM already owned an IVR system which provided restricted functions to callers, such as checking the status of their requests. In order to reduce traffic and offloading call center representatives, HRM decided to introduce two IVR applications: the eligibility of patients for medical services and health insurance benefits. In addition, the existing application, that checked statuses of requests for refund of medical services, was enhanced.

While the old application was limited only to communicating the status of a request, the new one has added information about reasons of delays. In addition, the insured was able to get the information about the amount of health services covered by the insurer and the remaining of the amount to be paid. As part of advanced customer relationship, support for Spanish language was introduced. Some HRM customers had up 15% of the Spanish-speaking insured. The new application eased their access to information through their native language.

Calls to check eligibility of a policy holder for a particular health service where performed by physicians and medical institutions. IVR application used to return the information about the status of an insured, services covered by health policy and its expiration.

When integrating applications for medical benefits, the major challenge was how to communicate complex, accurate and understandable information from a wide selection of options in a reasonably short time. HRM was able to overcome this obstacle by achieving the most important compromise of IVR systems – releasing people of simple tasks, thus making a machine provision easy and fast automatic self-service, enforcing customer satisfaction.

HRM’s success was complete. IVR system was very well accepted. It used to completely resolve 58% of 50,000 calls dialed during the first three months. More importantly, the surveys among users showed no objections to such self service “information supplying system”.

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2… My next post will be the last two paragraphs of this article: “The future of IVR” and “Voice portals”. My plan is to post it on January 11 2010.