Be BI smart and respond (but that includes proactive listening too)

The journey of this post starts here: “Business Intelligence Meets BPM: Using Data to Change Business Processes on the Fly” by Kim S. Nash (CIO.com, 17 June 2010). On one hand this is fascinating stuff — collecting data, analyzing it and distilling information that objectively drives business action. The business side of my brain goes, “Wow!” But then reality sets in and that, “Wow” turns to, “Wow, scary.” This freight takes two forms:

1) The private person in me shutters to think that Big Brother is not only watching but he’s storing, tracking, cross referencing and analyzing too. This is taking place at and unimaginable level of granularity.

2) The business side of my brain also appreciates the fact that Guests are people. They are not just data points on a graph or cells in a spreadsheet. Analysis is certainly essential but one would bet there are plenty of companies over-valuing this new found power. They are forgetting that they are in business to serve people, not just respond to ones and zeros. As a matter of fact, read this article first: “Superhighway to Hell” by Stephen Saunders (InformationWeek.com via InternetEvolution.com, 19 June 2010).

Back to the first article by Kim Nash. There are some bits to this article (pull out of the context of the whole article) that beg to be addressed AU style:

As Kilcoyne and Coyne learned, modern business intelligence and analytics tools can extract data from enterprise software, populate pre-built statistical models and quickly produce insights that used to take weeks. “In the past, doing predictive analytics needed a PhD in statistics to build a model and interpret results,” says Aberdeen’s White. But newer analytics tools “hide the underlying statistical nerd details,” he says. “Business people don’t have to worry about how the sausage gets made.”

One word: Derivatives. No one needed to understand those either, correct? Information is only as good as the understanding the business people have of the data that was used to compile it. A report without caveats and context is no report at all. If BI is about removing assumption then that thoroughness should be part of the end to end approach.

Key to game-changing decision making is the ability to detect and respond to market changes, taking into account historical knowledge. DirecTV uses analytics to save customers who want to cancel their television service. The company started the program two years ago when it sought to cut churn rates.

What’s interesting is that the examples sited are all reactive. There is some action and then analysis is used to define the appropriate way to respond. Maybe this should be supplemented with a proactive approach as well? That is, avoid upfront engaging customers who don’t meet the good customer profile. For example, for a fitness club, membership retention would be less of an issue if the right customers were attracted in the first place. Waiting to see who leaves seems archaic, no?

How hard agents press depends on how valuable the customer has been to DirecTV, Gustafson says. “There are some people we just do not want to lose.” About 60 percent of customers who want to depart are deemed worth trying to save, he says. The company uses tools from Teradata and SAS to analyze past behavior, evaluating data such as the average annual revenue the customer represents, her payment history and how many pay-per-view shows she buys.

This is a perfect example of forgetting that we’re dealing with real people here. Maybe I am a marginal customer. But if I have 500 Facebook friends and 1,000 Twitter follows then that should be a factor too. To simply place a value on an account (notice I did not say guest or customer) is at best dangerous if the evaluation is this superficial.

Every customer saved is one less customer the company has to try to win back weeks or months later—an expensive process, Gustafson says, that can involve mailings, e-mail and telephone calls as well as sending someone out to reinstall the service. “When the customer first calls, they have a certain mind-set: They want to cancel,” he says. “When we call back, they’re unprepared. It’s a little psychological advantage we have.”

Oh no he didn’t! Forgive me if this sounds insulting but only an idiot would go on record saying such a thing. But again, Mr. Gustafson’s statement is another example of forgetting that guests are real people, not rats to be manipulated.

Now, though, the My Coke Rewards program has helped the company develop more in-depth knowledge about loyal customers. The inside of every bottle cap is printed with a 12-digit code that customers can text or type into a website or desktop widget to accumulate points that can be exchanged for prizes and other awards. Those who opt in to e-mail marketing receive regular offers to gain more points, as well as other marketing pitches. Each is customized based on segments created from demographic information and behavior collected by the site. On average, 285,000 customers visit per day, entering an average of seven codes per second. Information embedded in the codes may include a region or location where the bottle was sold and whether it had special packaging, such as an Olympics logo, that Coca-Cola uses to tailor its pitches.

Read that again… It’s not a 12 digit number, it’s a code. In other words, you can’t drink a soda in peace without wondering when and how Coca-Cola is going to watch you. Scary, right?

After four years, My Coke Rewards is among the longest-running marketing programs in Coca-Cola’s history. And as the program has grown, the company has changed the way it runs in response to insight from analytics, Rollins says.

First, of all the programs Coke has ever had four years constitutes “among the longest-running”? MyGawd, has their marketing department been thinking or just rolling the dice and hoping to find something that sticks. Must be nice to have that type of budget. Furthermore, this reads as if they are responding to analysis, not guests. Not good.

Coca-Cola uses the FICO Precision Marketing Manager suite of statistical analysis tools to study data from its websites. Marketers look at which come-ons elicit the most and best responses, says Thomas Stubbs, Coca-Cola’s interactive marketing director in global IT. Coca-Cola also exchanges data with companies that supply prizes, including Nascar, Nike (NKE) and Sony. “As technology has evolved, we’re able to do more and have a relevant dialog with customers, not just push our ideas out there,” he says.

“A man might not want to admit that he’s a Diet Coke drinker. He will say in a survey that he prefers Coke. But we see he enters only Diet Coke PINs and market accordingly.”

Danger Will Robinson! While it’s true that Coca-Cola might want to know more about who consumes their products, Coke is treading on thin ice if they believe that their definition of the guest is better than the guest’s himself/herself. Do such details constitute useful information? Yes, of course. Might they also be making over-confident decision, and possibly insulting the guest? Yes, that’s very true too.

The idea is not just to save business but to create new business. Successful projects spark new ones. Analytics tools help companies create more money-generating interactions with customers and shave costs from internal operations. CIOs should connect analytics technologies with ideas about refining business processes, says Aberdeen’s White. “Meld them together and that’s very powerful.”

Bottom line… it’s about The Guests, not data and analysis. This shouldn’t be about “refining business process” but about improving The Guest Experience. Same ends? Maybe (but probably not). Different means? Yes, very different means. One puts The Guest first and one does not. If you could analyze the two approaches which would you bet to be the winner? Of the companies you deal with which try to improve The Guest Experience and which are more concerned about their processes and their bottom line?

And finally, to help get it all back into perspective: “It’s Not Your Relationship to Manage” by Lauren McKay (CRM Magazine via DestinationCRM.com, May 2010).

Home, home on the Wave

“Frequently Asked Questions About Google Wave” by LifeHacker.com (www.LifeHacker.com). Wave – some love it, some don’t, some don’t know what to think, and finally others have yet to try it. Regardless of which category you fall into this article and associated comments (which are always insightful) should help you decide where you are, or maybe where you should be on this H2O based subject.

Have you tried it? And … ?

They can hear you anywhere

Another buzz service that maybe you’re familiar with is Google Voice. In short, it’s a free phone number with it’s own outgoing message. No more using your personal number for business. Or maybe you just need a special (temporary) number for a special project. Skye, Yahoo! and others do provide free numbers but more often than not they don’t allow for your own personalize outgoing message.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.


Intriguing, eh? From here be sure to consume “How To: Totally Overhaul Your Phones With Google Voice” by John Herrman (Gizmodo.com, 12 December 2009). That should get you started. Much like Google Wave, Voice is in limited beta. It’s invite only for the moment. But the turn around is approximately two weeks — http://www.google.com/voice.

What’s hard to say, but certain to be interesting, is how Google eventually integrates Wave with Voice. For those who have thus far underestimated Wave, the ball is still bouncing so keep your eye on it.

Everybody in the pool

Depending on where you fall on the Geek IQ scale, you may or may not have heard about Google Wave (http://Wave.Google.com). The buzz around this beta release has been building over the last few weeks. Some love it. Some don’t. And most seem to be somewhere in between. While it’s too early to pass judgment my prediction is that trend will build towards love it.

Google’s pitch line is that Wave is what email would be if it were invented today. In a Made to Stick sense, that’s probably an accurate and easy to consume marketing pitch. But as user friendly as the email reference might be, Wave is not email. The analogy to the postman/woman doesn’t hold water very long. Wave is a multi-vectored communications and collaboration platform that excels in real time, and is still better than email even when it’s not. It’s a bit clunky right now in implementation but the theory behind it, simple as it might be, is stunning.

Ultimately, Wave is a collaboration tool, and collaboration depends on bodies. Where as email’s effectivenss degrades as more people get added to the To: list (i.e., the famous Reply Alls from hell), Wave increase in value as your network of collaborators grows. Unfortunately, currently Wave is a limited, invite only, beta. So unless your fellow collaborators also have Wave accounts then Wave, as it stands today, is obviously not going to be very effective.

However, as Google lets more people use Wave the more Wave’s value will increase. And thus the trend towards more people loving it. What do you think?



Google isn’t always the greatest – Part 2

A quick addendum to the previous post on Google and Yahoo.

First, here is the link to Yahoo’s Finance page: http://finance.yahoo.com/. And here’s Google’s: http://www.google.com/finance. As you dip your toes into Yahoo’s water you’ll notice similar aesthetics that often overshadows Google’s more utilitarian approach.

In addition, here’s a quickie from CNN Money: “Do you Yahoo? Probably” By David Goldman (CNNMoney.com, 23 August 2000). The article points out that Yahoo’s approach is less profitable than Google’s. What it fails to clarify is the time frame of this measurement. Is it the last two of three quarters? Or more? Or less? Even so, three or four quarters does not a long term trend make. It should also be noted that to some extent this is an apples and oranges comparison. These are both internet based companies but their paths in terms of focus and approach quickly diverge. There is little reason to believe they will produce similer results.

Btw, did you notice the similarity between Yahoo’s design and CNNMoney’s?

Google isn’t always the greatest

“Where Yahoo Leaves Google in the Dust” By Randall Stross (New York Times, 22 August 2009). While the Google hype machine would like you to believe otherwise, Google is not perfect. Yes, they are a damn good advertising machine but there are plenty examples of failed Google projects that were eventually sacked. If fact, that’s Google’s M.O. — if a project takes off they continue to refine it  but if it doesn’t they cut their losses and move on. They don’t waste resources on ideas that fail to gain traction in the market. For some there’s a possible lesson here. I digress.

When it comes to having a successful web site it is essential to embrace the value of a great UX (user expereince), or as we at AU like to say, the all inclusive Guest Experience.

Yahoo understands that information about money — a user’s own money — presents some tricky psychological issues. James Pitaro, vice president of Yahoo’s audience group, said, “In our research with users, we found that the more information that was displayed on the page, the greater the anxiety.”

Put another way, it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear. Say too much and you run that risk that nothing will be heard. No doubt you are passionate about your business.  That you want your guest to know everything about your brand and you want them to know know it all the second they meet you (i.e., visit your web site, see your ad, etc.). That’s just not practical. That’s not the way relationships work. There is a pace and rhythm to The Guest Experience and often TMI (too much information) is not part of The Guests’ expectations.

The other lesson here is that Goliath can be beat, but you have to choose your battles. You have to be willing to suspend your subjective passions for a moment. Stop, step back and be objective about what is going to maximize the Guest Experience that your brand offers. Ultimately, it is your guests who will beat Goliath, not you. Think about it…

Finally while we’re on the subject of Yahoo vs Google there is another place where Yahoo slays Google — email. Yahoo offer unlimited storage while Google is currently capped at 6 or 7 gigs. Fair enough, 6 gigs is still a lot of email but it’s not as much as unlimited. Regardless, Yahoo’s UX is much stronger (and almost a desktop experience). For example, you can drag and drop emails from one folder to another. You can even drag an email onto your Contacts folder and Yahoo will prompt you to add that person’s email address and other details to your contact lists. Simple, clean and easy.

One often overlooked bomus is that both Yahoo and Google allow you to check your other email accounts (commonly known as POP3 accounts) via their interface. So rather than have to use (for example) Verizon’s crap web mail you can use Yahoo (or Google) instead, much like you might have used Outlook to check multiple accounts. This is also handy when you’re transitioning from one email address to another. You can have your email come in via the old address and then send out via the new one, all via a single interface. Yahoo mail is also slickly integrated into MyYahoo!. MyYahoo! is great for setting up pages of RSS feeds but that’s another lesson for another day.

Btw, the Yahoo calendar is great too. You can even set up reminders to be sent to your cell phone via text message. Remembering important dates and appointments has never been easier.

The bottom line… If you have more than one email address or are looking to make your life – both online and off –  easier, AU proudly dismisses the Google hype and highly recommends Yahoo email and MyYahoo.  Check it out, it’s time well spent.

Big Brother is Googling

Google watch:

“Google Plans a PC Operating System” By Miguel Helft and Ashlee Vance (New York Times, 8 July 2009). What so many have been saying for so long. Time will tell if this will be good news for the rest of us.

“Great Wall of Facebook: The Social Network’s Plan to Dominate the Internet — and Keep Google Out” by Fred Vogelstein (Wired Magazine, July 2009). The classic battle between good and evil. But who’s good and who’s evil?

“Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability” by Steven Levy (Wired Magazine, 22 May 2009) Who would have thought that a tweak or two on an auction would becomes a billion dollar money machine?

Is Bing bingo?

“Microsoft Bing Livens Up Search” by Jim Rapoza (eWeek Mag, 15 June 2009). The adverts have been on TV for more than a couple weeks now. But the question remains, “Bing? Microsoft? Big deal. Why should I care?” Well, if anyone can answer that question it’s Jim Rapoza. His conclusion? So far, so good.

Googlezilla verses the Twitter Monster

It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon so let’s just keep it simple.

“The Tweet Smell of Success” by Noam Cohen and Brian Stelter (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

One has to assume that Twitter is looking not just at followers but also the followers of the followers, as well as the click rate of the links in the actual tweets. In other words, it’s not just about quantity but also trying to assess quality.

“Hey, Just a Minute (or Why Google Isn’t Twitter)” by Randall Stross (New York Times, Sunday 14 June 2009)

With that said, one has to wonder if Google isn’t missing the point. Immediate is important in ER but it’s rarely life or death in day to day business. McDonalds can serve faster but it’s still McDonalds. The latest answer doesn’t matter as much as the best answer.

Google says, “Surf’s up”

“Google Showcases New Communication and Collaboration Tool” by By Miguel Helft (New York Times, 28 May 2009). Yes, let’s all pray that this – and the other similar apps that are sure to follow – puts an end to email as a collaboration tool. Nine times out of ten even a wiki is a more helpful project organization tool than email. With a wiki everyone is forced to stay on the same page, literally.

The never ending story of the new evil empire

“Companies Object to Google Policy on Trademarks” By Miguel Helft (New York Times, 15 May 2009) Simply put, all hype and blind envy aside, Google is a publicly traded company and is oblicated to act in the best interest of ther shareholders. If Google can make a profit on a service in spite of a couple random lawsuit then they will continue to do that regardless of how evil it is. Ignore the slogans and the tag lines – once again, actions speak louder than words.

Love thy Big Brother?

“What Google knows about you” by Robert L. Mitchell (ComputerWorld, 11 May 2009)  One has to wonder if Google isn’t upset with Geiko for stealing their theme song. You know the one… “I always feel like somebody’s watching me…” If this article troubles you – and it should at least a bit – then also invest some time in this:

“6 ways to protect your privacy on Google” by Robert L. Mitchell (ComputerWorld, 11 May 2009)

So much for not doing evil, eh?

Google 101

“Google Wants You” by Chris Morrison (Fortune Small Businss, May 2009). As overviews of Google’s advertising options go,  this is a pretty good one. There are three majors gaps that deserve to be mentioned:

1) The estimated click fraud rate of Ad Sense / Ad Words ads is anywhere from 15% – 20%. That’s a fairly significant amount of waste and might be more than you’re willing to hand over to an already uber-rich company.

2) If you also want to sell ads yourself on your site, as well as use Ad Sense, then check out Google Ad Manager. Good stuff.And it’s free.

3) There are ways to increase (organic search) traffic without having to pay for keywords. However, what you save in money might cost you in time. That said, a blog (for example) is something that can keep people coming back and helps to develop and support your brand on an ongoing basis. Ad Words are more of a one shot approach.

Evil is what evil does

How about three quick updates on the new evil empire, Google.

“The Google OS Is Coming by Year’s End” by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (Computer Word, 9 March 2009). Looks like good news until you read:”

“No Infinite Beer” by Frank Hayes (Computer World, 16 March 2009). Will make you want to switch your email to the (superior) Yahoo!

“Google: The Next Evil Empire? by Preston Gralla” (Computer World, 16 March 2009).  Be prepared to be fooled again.

Evidently Google’s definition of evil is somewhat different than the rest of us.

Trading your privacy for Google freebies

Goggle this… Goggle that… Google. Google. Google. There is no doubt the new evil empire has a lot to offer. Here are two thorough articles to help you slash your way through the Goggle jungle. But be warned, you could end up traversing down a link to link to link blackhole.

“Learning about Google via Google” by Steve Arnold (KMWorld Magazine, February 2009, KMWorld.com)

“State of the Art: Geniuses at Play, on the Job” by David Pogue (New York Times, Thursday 26 February 2009)

Live by the search. Die by the search.

When it comes to successful web sites there’s no doubt that search is important. However, one needs to be careful not to build a business model that puts too many eggs in basket. Especially when you don’t have control over that basket. Especially when you don’t really know what’s inside the black box in basket. Especially when that basket is called Google.

While one might sympathize with the guy (Dan Savage) in this article where is his value add? What is he doing that’s so unique? Yes, it’s simple but his game is to play the spread in difference in price. Great! Ride that wave as long as you can. But did he not expect that somewhere along the line that the rules might change?

“Stuck In Google’s Doghouse” by Joe Nocera (NY Times, Sat 13 Sept 2008). True, stories like these aren’t exactly new news. That said, people continue to pursue approaches that rely on the strength of their search placement instead of focusing on the quality and value add of their product/service. Those are parameters you can control. Those are points of differentiation that you can market. But when the success of your marketing plan is just a gimmick that is subject to the tweak of an algorithm then having a smarterer guest-centric approach is probably in order.

The definition of organic search is going to change

Great one… “I’m So Totally, Digitally Close To You” by Clive Thompson (The New York Times Magazine, 7 Sept 2008)

About three-quarters of the way in you’ll find:

“Laura Fitton, a social-media consultant who has become a minor celebrity on Twitter — she has more than 5,300 followers — recently discovered to her horror that her accountant had made an error in
filing last year’s taxes. She went to Twitter, wrote a tiny note explaining her problem, and within 10 minutes her online audience had provided leads to lawyers and better accountants. Fritton joked to me
that she no longer buys anything worth more than $50 without quickly checking it with her Twitter network.”

More and more often there’s a story about someone using their network cloud – so the same can be applied to Facebook to some extent – to solve a problem that prior to hyper-connectedness used to be solved by traditional search (e.g., Google). Granted, this could be one of the reasons why Google wants to exert influence on the cell phone market. Given that their biz model is built on search it makes sense that they are more than a little concerned. True there are already sites where one can post a question, and wait / hope for an answer. However, cloudsourced answer(s) can come almost instantly; from birds of your feather; and are probably more accurate and/or suitable.

The real story here… At this point, who needs Google?

Is Google a Media Company?

From the New York Times, “Is Google a Media Company?” by Miguel Helft” (11 August 2008).

This is easy. Two quick things…

1 – First and foremost Google is a publicly traded company. It’s #1 job is to maximize shareholder value. It can say what it wants but that is going to drive it is its actions. Google understands that the playing field is in constant flux. It is constantly repositioning its efforts with a view that is beyond one quarter to the next.

2 – In the print edition this article was on the front page of the biz section. What continues to be more amazing than Google’s share price is their PR machine. They get so much free press that one has to wonder if they even have an ad budget. It’s Google this. And Google that. Yes, it’s a great and powerful company but sometimes the depth of the coverage seems out of proportion to the matter at hand.

Targeting Search Engine Rankings

“Targeting Search Engine Rankings” by Jonathon Love from Internet Retailer (www.InternetRetailer.com) not only aims to shine some light on the stepchild of search (i.e., organic search,not paid search) but it actually stumbles upon something very interesting that inspired a letter from AU to Jon and IR.

Good morning Jon

Interesting article. Thanks.

However, the other important story here seems to be… How ineffective search engines are at delivering the expected results (i.e., Wikipedia would looks to be the #1 “retailer” based on this study). At the very least a side bar article discussing this “shocking” find would have been nice. Also, to round out the topic some insight in how to adjusting marketing and other efforts to get to customers before they resort to what appears to be random searching.

Finally, how about some talk on the coming decline of search as the first step in the shopping process? As soc-nets grow it would seem only natural that we humans do what we used to do, ask our “friends” for recommendations. So unless the search engines can make major improvements, answers to questions such as “Where can I buy…” are going to best answered in the crowd-cloud. (Yeah,  crowd-cloud, I said it first!)

Yes, there have been attempts at this (e.g., Yahoo! Answers) but none, that I know of, within the context of a MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Who needs Google when one’s Twitter followers can return the right answer faster?

Regards,

Mark Simchock
Chief Alchemist
Alchemy United
Princeton NJ