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Building a Comprehensive and Real-Time View of Your Customer

  • October 01 2002, 1:00am EDT


We currently warehouse scores of static data about our customers. However, online, our customers' behavior changes in real time based on their user experiences, their current emotions, etc. Is there any way for us to gain more real-time dynamic customer insight through e-mail? If so, what are the key initiatives we need to conduct?


Relative to your first question, yes, there are ways in which you can gain a tremendous amount of customer insight from analyzing the e-mail your company receives from customers. Most companies are receiving hundreds of e-mails each day from their customers. Only a few companies are taking advantage of the enormous data extant in such e-mails. When customers write e-mails to your company, they are making a significant commitment to your brand. They are taking time out of their days to express attitudes, issues, requests and likes/dislikes that they want you to address. They want to be heard. Here lies a great opportunity to mine that e-mail and gain deep and dynamic insight about your customers' needs at that time. Keep in mind that these needs will change over time.

Today, many companies have a significant amount of static data (customer demographics) that was gathered through various data sources. E-mail, however, provides a vehicle to gather additional real-time dynamic data on a customer. Such data gathering can be appended to a customer's existing profile to provide additional dynamic data on a customer's changes in attitudes, issues, requests, likes and dislikes.

Relative to your second question concerning what needs to be done to get started, there are three basic steps.

First, it is important to realize that in 2002, organizations must have an e-mail address field (at least one) as a data field in the customer's profile. Believe it or not, even in 2000, many companies' IT departments were debating if the e-mail address should be a standard field in a customer database!

Second, one must decide what elements of the e-mail data should be saved. Do you save the entire e-mail? Do you save just the message body? Or, can you save some meta data expressing the content of the e-mail? I highly suggest the latter. In my research, I have found ways to extract key elements of the message body such as: attitude, issues, requests, product/service interest and customer type (i.e., hockey player, frequent flyer, CEO, etc.). Meta elements take much less memory and can be used to build a more organized profile of the customer.

Third, it is important to establish a data structure by which you can thread the e-mail data elements so you can reuse them later for dynamic search and profiling. This will enable you to combine traditional static demographic data along with historical e-mail data to build more dynamic targets of your customers' behavior.

If you do the above three steps and recognize the value of the customer insight contained in e-mail, you are well on your way to building a more comprehensive and real-time view of your customer.

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