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Big Data Silos


By Josh Hemann

Whew…  A lot of folks at FICO are decompressing after an exhilarating week at FICO World, where among other things, we announced our new cloud computing environment.  This environment will enable a platform-as-a-service for our breakthrough offering in decision management

A few days before these announcements, I had the opportunity to speak on two panels at the SOCAP Symposium 2013 conference. (I wrote about SOCAP previously in the post Big Data in the Service of Customers.) At the Symposium, I got to be immersed for a few days with customer care experts from some of the most well-known retail and CPG companies. A lot of the context was from the perspective of these business’s call centers, being on the front line for monitoring the voice of the customer and the customer experience.  Of course, the term call center may be a bit anachronistic given that these centers now have to deal with email, Facebook and Twitter, but this is still the name used in the industry.

I came away from this conference having a richer appreciation for the role call centers play in the health of customer-focused businesses. This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, having worked in retail myself, but that embarrassment puts focus on how compartmentalized the view of the customer can be. Allow me to explain by sharing some of my own retail experience…

I worked on a marketing team, and the lens with which we viewed customers focused on transaction data: customers were defined by what they bought and to a lesser extent by where they bought. The marketing team was in a constant cat and mouse battle with the merchandise team, since we were incentivized by different metrics. We would work on a new campaign strategy to drive traffic and offer redemption rates. The merchandise team, fearing too many offer redemptions that were too rich, would adjust prices and inventory to protect their key metric, margin rates -- which would of course affect conversion of customer traffic into sales. So, suffice it to say that there was tension between these two teams at times.

At SOCAP, I learned about another group that was driven nuts by marketing: the call center. The call center often has to deal with marketing-campaigns-gone-wrong and misleading advertising, while at the same time interacting with the business’s most engaged and loyal customers. And these days, call centers can utilize more advanced analytics than marketing departments do, even considering the latter’s use of segmentation analyses and propensity models. For example, Natural Language Processing techniques are used for algorithmically characterizing voice and text data for sentiment, entities and topics; optimization methods are used for call and service routing; predictive models are used to preempt problems, such that the business anticipates customers’ needs rather than just reacting. Impressive stuff.

In my retail experience though, the call center was located in a different building from marketing. We hardly interacted, and we certainly did not share data or the mathematical characterizations of it. Speaking with others at SOCAP, my experience was commonplace: the call center, despite its position of having its finger on the pulse of the customers, was not integrated with the rest of the customer-focused parts of the business in ways you’d expect. In my role working with large retail and CPG companies today, I see this same anti-pattern over and over. Considerable time and money are spent overlaying customer transaction data with demographic information, but I have yet to see a marketing team overlay customer transaction data with voice-of-the-customer information from its own call center. And multiple internal teams fight turf wars over who “owns” the customer.

So, dear reader, help me out here. Do you have experience with call centers and other parts of a retail business working together closely and sharing data, just like the FBI and CIA do? I’d love to hear about your experience.

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