Larry would like to thank Inforte principal John Kariotis for his coverage and contribution to this month's column.
In January, my colleague participated in Frost and Sullivan's Excellence in Information and Communication Technology awards ceremony, which recognizes outstanding industry achievements around implementing a successful business plan and excelling in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
During the event, we spoke with an impressive panel of executives who offered insights and best practices concerning four critical business issues: global economy recovery, remaining successful during the economic downturn, the increase in government regulations and profitably investing in the future.
Many of the executives cited customer intelligence (CI) - whether directly or indirectly - as one of the key factors contributing to their companies' survival and/or positive performance during the slow economy. One executive commented, "Understanding the timely information we had at our disposal and being able to make it actionable helped contribute to the success of our company."
Global Economic Recovery
Many experts are optimistic that the U.S. marketplace will rebound and companies will begin to increase their investments in business technology. During the event, executives said they are closely watching to see if the experts' predictions ring true, particularly in the European and Asian markets. They are also asking themselves, based on the premise that the economy will recover, how they can manage their companies' next phase of growth profitability and responsibly.
CI was cited by executives as being a critical enabler of the next phase of growth. Many said they will implement CI applications to help predict customer demand, allowing them to optimize back-office operations and match investments in spending with predicted revenue. Other organizations are counting on CI to help them detect shifts in customer behavior, which could garner new revenue opportunities and/or identify additional competitive pressure. Regardless, organizations feel more confident that analytical systems can provide a clearer view of performance, alerting them to issues and enabling the organizations to solve them before they become problems.
Lessons Learned During the Economic Downturn
Driving off of the adage, "Whatever does not kill you only makes you stronger," executives at the conference were extremely pleased by the business process improvements that resulted from their respective CI strategies and solutions. The development of customer intelligence infrastructures, as well as the integration of CI tools such as business performance management (BPM) and business activity monitoring (BAM), helped them answer questions such as: Where are my costs? Where are my inefficiencies? What is working and what is not working?
During difficult economic times, these capabilities allowed companies to operate very nimbly by carefully managing investments and proactively detecting and solving issues with their inventory, cost structure and/or customer demand.
These same organizations are now focused on ways to continuously improve operations while meeting and/or exceeding customer expectations. They cited increased interest in BPM applications, including the use of dashboards and scorecards, that:
- Provide instant insight and clarity around key business functions such as sales, customer service, marketing and fulfillment
- Alert management to disconcerting trends
- Help companies focus limited resources on solving major problems
- Enable companies to forecast or quickly detect changes in their market's financial outlook
Companies that rely heavily on telemarketing, such as those in the newspaper and telecommunications industries, have been heavily impacted by a number of recently enacted government regulations. These regulations include The Telemarketing/National Do Not Call Registry, Sarbanes-Oxley, Homeland Security and the upcoming Do Not E-mail/Spam Registry.
For example, Spring, voted Telecom Vertical Services Company of the Year at the event, said its marketing efforts have been negatively affected by the complex Do Not Call regulations. Spring's call centers are based in Kansas, but many of its marketing databases are located elsewhere in the country. The company implemented controls to block outbound phone calls to those customers enrolled in the Do Not Call Registry; however, confusion arose on the "in-state" versus "out-of-state" rules because of the virtual, national nature of the organization. As a result, Spring's marketing efforts became complicated as they tried to interpret the regulations.
Concerto, a provider of customer interaction management solutions and the winner of Frost & Sullivan's Contact Center Company of the Year award, proactively modified its product suite to address new customer privacy functionality and help its customers comply with new telemarketing regulations.
This year, companies will continue to juggle the increasingly difficult task of complying with government regulations while trying to effectively market to consumers. Executives said the increase in government regulations has impacted their decisions in making future technology investments, and many are investing in CI tools such as marketing databases and campaign management technology. These applications enable companies to manage customer contact and privacy concerns while preserving their precious, valuable customer bases. Additionally, because it is difficult to cold call or e-mail customers or prospects without their permission, the ability to gain customer insight helps organizations better understand the true drivers of loyalty and retention.
As the economy improves, companies said they are getting "smarter" about their business investments. New loyalty programs, new marketing initiatives and new customer service plans are all being scrutinized, and executives are demanding these initiatives be tied back to hard metrics such as profit or retention.
CI will continue to gain popularity this year as more companies refuse to make a significant business investment without a tracking system to monitor its performance. By leveraging CI infrastructures, companies are beginning to test scenarios, perform what-if analyses and predict ROI outcomes before investing in new product lines, marketing campaigns and customer service strategies. Additionally, as initiatives roll out, they will be closely comparing the results to the predicted ROI.
This decision aid will guide management toward further investment or discontinued participation.
Analytic applications, reports and dashboards are also being created to track strategic objectives, adjust tactics and spot issues before they become problems. More companies will start to combine unstructured information such as marketing creative and e-mails with their standard reports, enabling them to gain extra insight into customer and sales activities. For example, a company may decide to integrate competitor advertisements into their sales reports, which could show a correlation between a decrease in revenue with massive competitor discounts.
The integration of analytic applications, reports and dashboards has become such a hot trend that Canto, a digital asset management (DAM) company, was awarded Frost & Sullivan's Entrepreneurial Company of the Year award. Canto's solutions enable organizations to integrate multimedia content into their standard applications, adding color to their analyses by not only displaying sales numbers, but competitive creative pricing, advertisements and/or marketing research.
Frost & Sullivan's event highlighted many of the issues currently on the minds of many executives: global economic recovery, remaining successful during the recession, the increase in government regulations and profitably investing in the future. Companies who have been adept at handling these issues all cite customer intelligence as one of the contributing factors to their past success. As the economy improves, these same executives said they will continue to invest in CI because it enables an increase in revenue and profitability, and provides the opportunity to gain competitive advantage.
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