In a market saturated with brands – often offering similar products and services – consumers now have greater choice and the customer’s voice has never been stronger. They are becoming more empowered and less loyal.

As customers become more demanding, companies are being driven to acquire, process and respond to data faster to meet consumer wants. As Harvard Business School explains in a March 2018 report entitled Real-Time Analytics: The Key to Unlocking Customer Insights and Driving Customer Experience: “Customers today have high expectations. They anticipate that companies will meet them where they are and when they want.”

Today’s customers expect companies to respond to them in a timely, targeted and tailored fashion; which brings real-time customer intelligence and analytics into play. Those companies that are investing in the ability to do this are the ones that are going to be on a stronger footing in the future. 

Bringing it together

To better understand the idea of real-time customer analytics it’s important to appreciate the concepts customer intelligence (CI) and real-time analytics.

One definition of CI comes from relationship marketing firm Optimove, which says: “CI is the collection and analysis of detailed customer data in order to understand the best ways to interact with each individual customer. In today’s digital-driven world, customers share information about themselves every time they interact with your business: their interests, their demographic details, their preferences, their needs, their wants.”

Elaborating on this, GIBS Senior Lecturer and Data Consultant, Kerry Chipp, explains: “CI has a massive history and has a lot of legacy systems around how the data is gathered. It also has many different types of formats, including primary data, secondary data, and behavioural data.” She adds: “CI cannot just be a single source of data. It has to be gathered across environments.” 

Added to this, in today’s digital world, smartphones, computers, credit card machines, even car tracking devices and smart televisions are making real-time data collection and convergence possible. “Real-time analytics is then taking this data, gathering and processing it, and making it a bit more scientific, allowing businesses to be more responsive to a mass number of people in a very personal way.”

However, says Chipp, combining the two is where it gets more complicated. “It’s how you bring these together. If you can take data gathered across different environments and sensibly apply them to an individual, then you can marry the two. Nobody, however, is doing this.”

Certainly, companies leading the drive in real-time consumer analytics are those that primarily operate in the digital sphere – advertising, retail, banking, insurance and telecommunications. Younger companies that were ‘born’ digital are also at an advantage when it comes to adopting real-time customer analytics.

Who’s doing real-time right in South Africa?

Although the idea of real-time customer analytics is the Holy Grail for customer-focused businesses, the ability to farm, process and use data in real-time is perhaps still a far-off dream. But companies are investing heavily into getting greater access to real-time customers’ behaviour to better understand their wants and needs and then in return deliver a product or service in line with this.

The best data is gathered across multiple environments. “In South Africa,” says Chipp, “Discovery is by far the best. Discovery is collecting customer data from across all of its platforms: medical aid, car insurance, banking and credit cards. This allows Discovery to obtain a more holistic picture of an individual’s life.”

Chipp explains that Discovery’s approach is extremely clever. “They were realistic. They launched Vitality Drive which is linked to their car insurance. They started small and asked: ‘how do we process this data, how do we respond in real-time and how do we marry this with our other products?’ They then grew the amount of information they collected and what they could do with it. Although they started small, they have big ambitions.” Chipp explains that, ultimately, Discovery wants to be able to predict that a customer needs cough mixture and then get it delivered to them before they even leave their home for the pharmacy.

Two other companies which Chipp cites as market leaders, although a distant second and third to frontrunners Discovery, are FNB and Woolworths. Woolworth’s MySchool Card and loyalty cards operate across different divisions in the organisation, and FNB’s eBucks operates across different industries and companies, giving them more holistic data on all of their customers. “As your loyalty programmes become multi-companied, the more complete your data will be because you are getting a picture of someone across different environments,” Chipp explains.

Smoke Customer Intelligence, a Johannesburg-based customer experience management technology company, has embraced this and is offering its clients a real-time customer experience management capability. “What differentiates us in the customer experience space is that most companies out there provide customer experience software, but their systems are not equipped with real-time feedback and escalations,” says Smoke CI’s Head of Sales CX, Gustav van Pletzen. He explains: “The minute there is an interaction with a contact centre, the moment a client is dissatisfied, it creates an escalation to someone within that organisation, and allows them to do immediate service recovery.”  This real-time service resolution provides a critical opportunity for businesses to strengthen the client relationship with their brand.

In other words, real-time customer feedback is allowing businesses to adjust their approach to individual customers as and when it is needed. Herein lies the appeal for business.

The business case for real-time customer analytics

According to Harvard, businesses perusing real-time customer analytics reported “more streamlined operations and efficiencies in sales and marketing, faster decision-making between marketing, sales, services and operations” as a result of utilising real-time customer analytics. In fact, four out of 10 respondents say real-time customer analytics can lead to increased innovation, as well as the introduction of new business models, products and services.

Harvard also found that nearly 60% of the 560 business leaders surveyed found the adoption of real-time customer analytics had resulted in a significant increase in customer retention. Half of them said they had seen a significant improvement in revenue growth and achieved a better understanding of their customers and the customer journey. Three-quarters of the companies also said they had increased their spend on implementing real-time analytics in their businesses.

Some of the stats Harvard respondents reported included:

·       20% increase in sales

·       25% reduction in attrition

·       35% increase in annual revenue 

Locally, Smoke CI believes customers have seen tangible benefits to tapping into real-time customer intelligence. Local business success has included: greater ease in getting customers to respond to surveys; improved internal processes and improved response rates to customers; better customer experience scores and greater overall customer satisfaction.

Real-time commitment

For companies to successfully adopt and use real-time customer analytics, there has to be a commitment from all cross-sections of the organisation. Guarin Coetzee, Lead: Customer Experience, Strategic Accounts for Smoke CI explains: “Businesses that tend to succeed in real-time customer analytics are those where not only individuals who are responsible for an area take accountability for the data but that it is driven as a collective, where all departments within a group take accountability for the outcome.”

Chipp believes that while customer analytics is highly siloed, there are pockets of excellence. “But transferring it horizontally is complex because of different silos, and transferring it vertically becomes difficult because the format must change – executives need it translated into strategy and customer insights don’t think like strategists.”

With the right will, organisations can ensure that they can create the right foundations to ensure a positive outcome for their investment. Firms need to firstly ensure they have access to good data collection. They then need to have algorithms that are able to generate good quality analytics. Once this information is at hand, companies can then ensure they have the proper processes in place to ensure those insights are used at the right time to satisfy the customer.

Van Pletzen explains just how this can work when applied correctly: “We have advanced analytics so when that customer engages with someone in the organisation, we do record analysis based on that feedback that comes in – based on that feedback with advanced analytics we can show per department, per division, per brand what is working in your business and what is not working in your business in real time.”

Real-time analytics are the future of customer Intelligence, and with the speed that technology is evolving businesses need to adopt a significant mindset shift, and organisations need to fundamentally change the way they work. It can no longer be business as usual.  

Steps to succeeding with real-time customer analytics

·       Companies need strategic alignment when it comes to implementing real-time customer analytics. They need to have clear strategies and goals for data collection.

·       Break down silos and have a top-down approach to driving the uptake of real-time customer analytics.

·       Empower front-line staff and then make them accountable. According to Smoke CI’s Gustav van Pletzen: “Organisations that get this right add ‘customer experience’ to the KPI of employees’ performance bonuses. From line staff to the CEO level.”

·       Harvard stresses that companies need to act on the data they are receiving, and give examples: “Respondents say they’re undertaking initiatives in this area to make more customer-focused decisions and take customer-centric actions at a greater scale across functions.”

·       To really benefit from data collected this data needs to be clean, and businesses to be aware of good data hygiene – in other words ensuring data has not been contaminated in the storage, management or collection phases.

Where to begin?

When it comes to implementing a real-time strategy, Harvard recommends the following ‘to do’ list:

·       Start at the top

·       Put the customer first

·       Develop and prioritise use cases

·       Map out the transformation

·       Consider usability from the start

·       Build for scale

·       Add data, capabilities and technologies over time.

The business school then lists the following tools as being the most important when it comes to real-time customer analytics in the next 24 months:

1.     CRM

2.     Predictive analytics

3.     Social media monitoring

4.     Content management system

5.     Marketing operations management

6.     Marketing automations

7.     Cloud computing

8.     Online surveys

9.     Location-based applications

10.  IOT/Connected devices

11.  Text analytics

12.  Interactive voice response

13.  Intelligent assistants/Chatbots

14.  Speech/Voice analytics

15.  Mixed reality

But, notes the report: “While it is important to figure out the strategy, at the end of the day, 95% of the work is in doing it.”

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