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Text Analytics: Your Customers Are Talking About You

Text Analytics: Your Customers Are Talking About You

When your company's customers talk, do you listen closely and quickly enough? More CIOs are deploying text analytics technology to examine customer comments on websites, surveys and the like.

If you're in the hotel business, customer satisfaction isn't just a key metric, it's one that can make or break the company. But until recently, addressing sources of customer dissatisfaction was taking too long for Gaylord Hotels. US-based Gaylord, which operates 4 resort hotels in the Nashville; Dallas; Orlando, Florida; and Washington areas, needed a quick, clear view of how customers and meeting planners viewed its properties and services, as well as alerts to budding problems.

"Our survey vendor would do manual categorization, essentially reading [customer] comments and getting back to us," says Tony Bodoh, Gaylord's operations analysis manager. In search of faster results, Gaylord turned to text analytics technology from Clarabridge, beginning with a pilot test in 2007 followed by a phased deployment in 2008.

Text analytics, often referred to as "voice of the customer technology," is designed to squeeze sentiment out of customer communications rather than simply retrieve isolated nuggets of information, as traditional text mining does.

"One of the key benefits the Clarabridge tool provides is essentially overnight categorization and clustering of all the comments," Bodoh says, "which was taking us several weeks to a month with the previous vendor."

Bodoh says the technology is already beginning to help the company pinpoint specific sources of guest dissatisfaction. "One property may use a different vendor for purchasing a particular product," Bodoh says. Viewing guest comments on topics such as bathroom cleanliness or restaurant service helps Gaylord managers spot weak performers, he says. "We are also using the software to understand best practices across our hotels, and how to bring those best practices from one hotel to another hotel, or from one department to another department," he adds.

Clarabridge, along with Attensity, Business Objects, SAS and several other vendors, offers software designed to help enterprises understand and learn from what customers are saying about products and services. Along with surveys, e-mail and phone calls, the technology can monitor blogs, text messages, online chats, phone calls (through speech-to-text conversion) and social network profiles.

While text analytics today is far from an out-of-the-box solution, CIOs say, the technology may give you insight into customer thinking that's hard to put a price on.

In Search of Trouble

If your company allows customers to talk about products and services on the company website, for example, text analytics tools can help you analyze what those comments and chats say, to improve business decisions and strategy.

"Just about anything that's in text or can be converted into text," can be analyzed, says Matthew Brown, principal analyst for information and knowledge management at Forrester Research. Businesses in diverse fields including transportation, hospitality, business and consumer products, retail, entertainment and even law are beginning to embrace text analytics, Brown notes.

Text analytics tools also enable an enterprise to scour the digital grapevine to pinpoint budding problems that could tarnish a brand's luster, says Fern Halper, a partner at Hurwitz & Associates, a consulting and research firm. "The software helps companies understand what customers are saying about their brands, so they can actually get a head start in finding problems before they occur and make course corrections in midstream," Halper says.

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