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Red Alert! All Hands Battle Stations!

Published
  • September 01 2005, 1:00am EDT

As business moves closer to a real-time climate, the need for front-line decision-makers to be instantly notified of issues and concerns becomes more critical. As information - especially customer interactions - is captured, the need for sales, marketing, service, and possibly finance and operations to react could be critical to saving an order, expanding a relationship or saving a customer.

Triggers and alerts are the newest requirement from the customer-facing organization. Customers clue us into their moods and intentions during each interaction. If those interactions can be evaluated, disseminated and acted upon, customer-related issues can be proactively mitigated before resulting in sales losses or churn. One way to break down triggers and alerts is as follows:

  • Analytic alerts
  • Sales alerts
  • Service alerts

Analytic Alerts

Analytic alerts represent the proactive creation of specific reports or analysis based on certain business conditions. The simplest form of analytic alerts is the color-coding of daily and weekly reports. Setting up conditions that highlight specific rows and columns of reports has been the core functionality of many report technologies for years.

Other organizations only create reports in specific situations. For instance, if the number of calls resolved per minute dips below a certain threshold, a specific report may be created and sent to call center operations management. In another example, if the distribution of certain customer behaviors or demographics changes, a report may be sent to the director of analytics advising that he or she may need to rescore segmentation models.

As performance management software becomes more widespread and the use of dashboards and scorecards is widely adopted, analytic alerts are taking on new incarnations. Some systems send e-mails with links that click through to dashboards showing a specific analysis (i.e., problem sales areas). Other systems continually refresh and bring themselves to the foreground or start flashing when certain business conditions occur.

Sales Alerts

Analytic alerts usually focus on the core corporate or business process metrics. These techniques are well suited in situations where the problem will typically emerge over a period of time and immediate action is not required. Sales alerts are positioned for problems that arise very quickly and need an immediate reaction by the sales force. In these cases, customer loyalty could be on the line.

First and foremost, sales alerts inform sales and account management to changes in specific account behavior. This type of shift is not an aggregated view of customer behavior, but a specific shift in a specific customer's spending or usage. These specific alerts do not necessarily need to be a trend. Though trends will help us define the thresholds, these alerts usually inform the sales force immediately to a change in a key customer metric.

Sales forces should not only be alerted to downward shifts, but also upward ticks. In these cases, the sales force has the opportunity to thank a customer, support the momentum so it may continue, or investigate to make sure they used the right promotions and discounting structures.

Though sales force automation (SFA) software typically provides functionality for these types of alerts, the SFA system does not typically have all of the information to evaluate specific behavioral shifts. Consequently, the business intelligence environment (reporting, dashboards, distribution servers, campaign management) is in a better position to distribute sales-related alerts. These types of alerts typically arrive in the form of e-mails, e-mails with attachments, text messages or application alerts (message area in an SFA application).

Service Alerts

Sales and service are inexorably linked in that many customers typically leave due to lousy service. However, many sales forces complain that they were not aware of the issues and consequently did not have a chance to resolve the situation.

Service alerts inform account teams (which could be a combination of sales, operations, service, marketing and many others) about irate customers or other important customer interactions. Customer service reps are in a great position to understand the current mood of a customer. By logging customer interactions, alert engines and possibly even text mining technology can help inform customer-facing organizations of customers experiencing difficulty navigating the service structure.

Sales forces could use these alerts to make proactive phone calls or get involved in helping to resolve an issue. Marketing could send special promotional materials. Operations can put orders from irate customers on the fast track. Service can prepare for the next inbound interaction or create a proactive follow up strategy to ensure issues are resolved.

Do You Need It?

"If  I only knew" is a phrase used consistently by management teams. In these days where data warehouse and data integration technology is maturing, the issue becomes right-time data dissemination. Customer-facing organizations need to be able to react to changes in the customer (not just meta-market trend shifts) in order to personally and quickly resolve issues.

Organizations should ask themselves the following questions to see if alerts can benefit them:

  • What would I do if I knew a customer was trending downward?
  • What would I do if I knew a customer was having a bad service experience?
  • What would I do if a customer starting using our product/service differently?

If you can think of innovative strategies for any of these questions, you may be a candidate for trigger and alert technology.

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