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Panning for Gold in Customer Chats

Panning for Gold in Customer Chats

When your customers talk, do you listen closely enough? More CIOs are deploying text analytics technology to examine customer comments on Web sites, surveys and more

TEXT ANALYTICS | 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. Nashville-based Gaylord, which operates four resort hotels, 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.

As a growing number or enterprises adopt text analytics, the technology is likely to migrate into other business applications that brush up against users’ thoughts and opinions.

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 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 Web site, 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 lustre, 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.

For Internet travel giant Travelocity, that desire is keen, says Ginny Mahl, Travelocity’s VP of customer care and sales. And every day, customers send the company plenty of content to examine, Mahl says. From North America alone, Travelocity each month receives some 25,000 to 30,000 customer satisfaction survey responses, 35,000 to 50,000 e-mails and 400,000 calls, she says.

To help sort through this digital haystack for insight needles, Travelocity turned to Attensity’s text analytics tools. At press time, Travelocity was preparing to deploy a production version of the software. “We are using it primarily to read verbatim feedback from our customers to gain insight into likes and dislikes about Travelocity, and recommendations they have for improvements in our products and services,” Mahl says.

“In particular, the application will let us do a much deeper dive into the root causes/drivers of the satisfaction scores we receive.”

Mahl expects that the software will enable Travelocity to detect consumer sentiment trends that may impact customer satisfaction. Mahl offers an example: “Through a very simple query, we’re able to ‘read’ our customer comments and find out if the amenity offerings at a particular hotel have changed, allowing us to update our Web site content more rapidly,” she says. “This capability is one of those very simple things that can have a big impact on our customers’ experience.”

Text analytics also promises to help Travelocity bolster its partner relationships, Mahl says. “We [receive] supplier-specific feedback, which we can feed back to our partners so they also have a better understanding of our mutual customers’ opinions,” she says. “Sharing valuable customer information is in both of our best interests.”

Travelocity, which first learned about text analytics from vendors who approached the company, evaluated several products, Mahl says. Two factors drove Travelocity toward Attensity, she says. “Attensity’s solution lets us acquire an enterprise licence for the software, which we can scale much more economically as we grow our application of text analytics to additional data or new data sets,” Mahl says. “They were also able to provide a travel industry taxonomy to jump-start analysis.”

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