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Business Intelligence:
The Intelligent Customer

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
November 2000 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

The last ten to fifteen years have seen a decided focus on business intelligence - the ability of an organization to understand and use information relevant to its gainful operations. Now I think a shift is occurring that will cause an explosion of new tools aimed not at the business, but at the customer - enabling "customer intelligence," or the ability for a customer to understand and use information that can save them time and money.

The business intelligence tool market is now well established. From generic ad hoc analysis and reporting tools to tools designed for specific analytical functions, such as developing and tracking marketing campaigns, the business intelligence market has grown significantly. The goal of business intelligence is internal - to enable business leaders to make better decisions that will translate into increased profitability. The advance of the Internet, however, shifts focus from the business to the customer. Customers want choice, control and self- service. Customers want information and are annoyed if they can't find what they need. Businesses must now focus externally - on the customer - to provide value in the form of information that the customers want and need. Our organizations must now not only continue development of internal business intelligence expertise, but also take on the new challenge of enabling the intelligent customer.

This means using customer information and analysis to support customer relationship management for the organization and customer- managed relationships for consumers. While the company has increased customer profitability as its goal, the customers have increased efficiency and effectiveness as their goals. Tools that support customer self-awareness and promote customer choice and control will help them manage their own relationships, transacting business and purchasing products when they can save time and money. This is why there will be an explosion of tools.

We have just begun to see the advent of tools that aggregate customer information, regardless of source (internal or external to the organization), for the purpose of viewing that information in a consolidated, integrated fashion. Take, for example, the aggregation of customer loyalty program information (such as airline, hotel and car rental loyalty programs) or the aggregation of financial information (such as banking, brokerage and credit cards). Some trendsetting companies already offer aggregation services to consumers. Aggregation tools will increase exponentially in usage as customers derive value from seeing their information presented in one place, at one time.

The next wave of tools, however, will be focused on how customers relate to the aggregated data they see. They want to be able to report on the information and receive alerts on their cell phone or other wireless device when their flight is canceled or their bank balance falls below a certain amount, for example. They want tools to help them plan or forecast - "What if I use frequent flier miles to go to Bermuda?" or "How should I finance sending my child to college?" Just as business leaders like seeing charts and graphs of key business indicators, consumers like them as well. Customers want to see a quick, visual representation of what has happened to the market value of their investments over the last three months, for example. They want a customized view of their information, based on profile data they are willing to provide. All of these activities will be provided by the next wave of tools, which in some cases already exist and in other cases will need to be designed, developed and brought to market. Glory and profits will go to the business intelligence tool providers that can develop customer intelligence tools that matter and to the new, emerging tool providers who truly see things from the customer's perspective and provide them the ability to retrieve and analyze their data.

Of course, beyond relating to their data, customers want to be able to act on it - make purchases, payments, etc. - which will be the third wave of tools. This wave will add transactional capability directly to the ability to access and relate to information and will complete the full circle of customer intelligence enablement.

The company that focuses on creating the intelligent customer will reap benefits. It will realize that aggregating customer information and providing customers the ability to relate to it makes customers more loyal. This company will realize that giving customers not only more reasons to transact business with the company, but also more ways to do so ultimately contributes positively to the bottom line. It will discover the ultimate truth - that it is indeed good business to embrace both the intelligent business and the intelligent customer.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
CRM and Business Intelligence (BI).

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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