Staying ahead with real-time operations

With shrinking wallets and depressed market sentiment, the customer pool that businesses are competing for is becoming smaller by the day. Companies are desperate and willing to undercut each other on price to survive, although everyone knows this is not a sustainable strategy. Coupled with tougher competition and new products becoming commodities in weeks instead of years, businesses can no longer stay ahead of the competition through a pure product differentiation strategy.
So what should the telecommunications industry. or for that matter any industry, faced with such a situation do? “Converting more with less” as well as “retaining and growing existing customer relationships” is where I’ll put my money.
Successfully executing these business imperatives can provide a unique platform for sustained competitive advantage, enabling businesses to respond to changes in market dynamics real time.
One of the lowest-hanging fruits to convert is customers calling in to check on a company’s product or service with a clear intent to purchase. This call is a significant marketing opportunity since the customer is engaged and explicitly states his or her needs. Inbound marketing is the term commonly used for strategies adopted by companies to enhance the customer/prospect experience for higher conversion rate. It can be described as delivering targeted or customized messages and offers within the context of a customer-initiated interaction.
Giving a generic, static offer that is not relevant to the current situation is wasting a valuable opportunity, and there aren’t many coming these days. However, providing the customer with a targeted message or offer that takes into account his or her current situation and needs has a higher likelihood of success — while creating a satisfied customer experience.
But that’s just one part of the puzzle. Having the ability to make such offers on the spot requires real-time analysis of the existing information available in the company’s database/backend.
As customer expectations continue to rise, the challenges associated with the typical approach to implementing real-time decisions are now at the forefront. Quickly changing customer needs, increasing diversification of media, increasing customer acquisition costs and competitive pressure to offer a better customer experience across all touch points have highlighted the inflexibility of many application architectures.
To discover the best proposition to acquire and retain customers and put your finger on the best next product and service proposition to increase a customer's value, you need to use the right business analytics tool.
There are two pillars that build a successful real-time decision strategy – intelligence and agility as well as integration and coordination.
Using collective knowledge of your customers can help you retain them or even increase their value. Historical data, such as contact history and demographic information, ensures that you have the right context as you determine how to interact. Real-time interactions with a customer provide an opportunity to gain current information that can be used immediately to create a positive customer experience. Both historical and real-time data can be further enhanced when you use analytics to develop deeper insight into a customer’s preferences, values and risks. Intelligent decisions based on all these factors result in higher levels of customer satisfaction.

Decide quickly, implement nimbly
Implementation agility is an important factor given the rapid changes in customer’s tastes and the market landscape. When your decision-making process requires days or weeks to implement even the smallest of changes, it undermines your competitiveness.
Lengthy turnaround times may be due to how long it takes for business users to get requirements to IT and the subsequent time for IT to hard code application changes. The implementation may become even more complex if models must be coded. Your team can reduce the effort required to make such changes by providing a services-oriented approach to real-time decision making.
A successful real-time decision strategy also requires integration and coordination with other systems. A right decision cannot be made without a 360-degree view of the customer. This requires not only integration with the customer-facing system, but with other enterprise systems as well.
In addition, any inbound communication must be coordinated with outbound communications to deliver a consistent interaction with each customer. Successfully addressing these issues not only provides the right customer interaction, but also helps reduce costs and risks regarding the strategy.
In a call center environment, for example, a good business analytics tool can deliver intelligence-based guidance for the representatives. When customers call in, they provide new information either explicitly or implicitly. The representative may then make a request to the call center application about what offer to provide to the customer based on the current situation.
At that point, the call center application will make a request to the software, which incorporates the newly captured information. The software will then make an intelligent decision about the offers and send that information back to the representative.
Real-time decision making is a critical component of many organizations’ strategies to enhance the customer experience. However, real-time implementations that require significant changes to customer-facing systems or use complex rule engines can reduce ROI and cause companies to shy away from real-time projects.
Bill Lee is the SAS Institute's managing director for Singapore and emerging markets.