My colleague David Menninger recently wrote about the SAS Analyst Summit, concluding that “the SAS analytics juggernaut keeps on truckin’.” He observed, as I have done in the past, that SAS has a vast array of products that it regularly updates to keep up with market demand, ensuring it remains one of the premier vendors of data management and analytics systems. Dave’s perspectives provide in-depth insights into what these products do, while I focus on how they help with business outcomes around customer experience. I was therefore intrigued to hear at SAS’s European analyst event that its products support four types of user – data scientist, business analyst, intelligence analyst and IT analyst. The presenter used simple quotes to illustrate the differing priorities of these groups: For the data scientist, the one that caught my eye was “I need the latest algorithms to solve the latest problems”; for the business analyst I picked “I need to get my report done quickly and easily”; the information analyst is about “identifying patterns of interest that can prompt active decision-making”; and the IT analyst is about “issue resolution and redemption” (mainly operational analysis). In short each type of user needs different products and capabilities, hence the array of products. Nearest to my research practice is the business analyst, who wants easy access to reports and analysis to resolve business issues, and this is where the company’s Customer Intelligence product plays a part.

As I previously wrote this system has evolved into what SAS calls its Customer Decision Hub. It brings together a number of products so organizations can capture and synchronize all forms of customer data to “deliver the best customer experience.” The Decision Hub can gather customer data from a variety of sources and synchronize it for a customer. It provides rules to govern what happens to the data and how it is used, and reports, analysis and prompts so that employees can deliver information to users and customers in the most appropriate manner. It also includes an array of other capabilities such as information to drive marketing campaigns, data to support event-based interactions, customer journey maps and a 360-degree view of the customer. The latest version of the Decision Hub improves support and capabilities to better manage Web-based interactions, email, mobile and social media channels of interaction.

The next step in its development is SAS Customer Intelligence 360. It is an enhanced version that has a single HTML5 user interface, additional public and RESTful APIs so that data can be collected from third parties, a single data and decision hub for all things related to customer experience and support for both inbound and outbound interactions across all channels. It is available as a multitenant cloud-based service, but data can reside on the user’s premises. Customer Intelligence 360 includes four components. Master Audience Profile supports collection and synchronization of all sources of customer data, both internal and third-party, to build customer profiles. Workflow and Collaboration support creation and development of marketing content across multiple groups. Intelligent Orchestration manages engagement across channels to ensure that customers receive consistent information and to harmonize marketing programs. Unified Measurement and Optimization helps analyze the outcomes of engagement and marketing programs to optimize them in the future. Together these components enable organizations to build complete pictures of their customers, ensure that business groups coordinate how they engage with customers regardless of purpose or channel, and analyze the outcomes to improve them.

Some of these messages obscure what for mevr_Customer_Analytics_08_time_spent_in_customer_analytics is an important feature – the single customer data hub. Our benchmark research consistently shows that organizations have a diverse set of customer-related data source: business applications such as billing, CRM, and ERP; communications systems such as voice, email, text, Web and chat scripts and social media; and operational systems such as network control that provide event-based data such as calls made, films downloaded or energy used. Managing all this data creates issues for organizations. Indeed, nearly two-thirds of organizations participating in our research into next-generation customer analytics said that the data they need as input into customer-related analytics is not readily available. The research also finds that users spend more of their time preparing and reviewing data than they do analyzing the outputs, which undermines productivity and impedes getting actionable information to decision-makers.

SAS offers a combination of data management and analytics to overcome these issues. Buried inside the data management tools is another key capability – identity management. Our research into next-generation customer engagement shows that companies support an average of nearly seven communication channels, and each of these is likely supported by different systems. In such cases, each interaction record has its own unique customer identifier or combination of identifiers, which are difficult to standardize and use as one. To get close to producing a 360-degree view of a customer or a journey map of channels used, organizations need systems that link all these identifiers so the data can be associated with a single customer. The tools in SAS Customer Intelligence are among the few I have come across that do this; I recommend that companies looking for such analysis should carefully evaluate this product.

I support Dave’s view that the SAS juggernaut is rolling on, and systems such as Customer Intelligence can help companies improve customer engagement. However, as organizations evaluate such products, I caution them not to get bogged down in all the components but to look at the overall system and how it can ingest and manage all the organization’s data and any from third-party sources; scrutinize how easy it is to use for all the different potential users. It is also worth remembering that the early focus for Customer Intelligence was to support marketing, and many of its messages are still colored by such thinking. Everything I have seen and heard in recent briefings shows it is applicable across all customer-facing business groups, including the contact center, so I recommend organizations looking to improve enterprise-wide customer engagement evaluate how SAS can help.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director, Customer

Follow Me on Twitter and Connect with me on LinkedIn

In our benchmark research into the next-generation contact center in the cloud more than two-thirds (69%) of organizations said vr_NGCCC_01_customer_self_service_will_increasethey need to improve customer service, and market dynamics require them to do this is in new ways. Whereas today most (83%) compete on the services they offer, over the next two years 70 percent said they expect customer experience to be the top way they will compete, and nearly half (46%) said they expect to compete through self-service, digital channels. There is no doubt that consumers have changed the ways they prefer to communicate with each other and with companies. Mobile devices have become ubiquitous, and many consumers prefer to use chat-based technologies and mobile apps to engage. That is not to say that phone use is obsolete, as the research shows it and email are the most widely supported channels (each by 92% of companies), and while use of the corporate website (cited by 41%) is expected to show the greatest growth, more than one-fifth (22%) of participants said that the volume of inbound calls will show significant growth. Thus organizations must handle customer interactions across a variety of communication channels to maintain the business of all demographic groups.

With such a variety and number of channels – the research shows that the average number supported has grown by one to eight since our previous benchmark in late 2014 – this is no easy task. Indeed more than one-third (35%) of organizations said their customers don’t think they handle interactions to their satisfaction, and more than two out of three (69%) vr_NGCCC_06_factors_that_undermine_customer_satisfactionsaid they need to improve the way they handle interactions. The most common causes of this dissatisfaction are that customers have to repeat information (cited by 50%), responses are too slow (48%), customers cannot use their preferred channels of communication (43%) and responses are not consistent across touch points (41%). These findings support our assertion that customers expect engagement to be easy, personalized, in-context and consistent across all channels; that is, they expect omnichannel customer engagement, but many don’t feel they are getting it. In contrast the research finds that nearly half of companies said they provide omnichannel experiences; many companies don’t seem willing or able to face up to this shortcoming. Those desiring to provide omnichannel experiences face a number of challenges, chief among them being that their systems lack functionality (73%), communication channels are not integrated (68%), responses are not consistent across touch points (44%) and business systems cannot share data because they are not integrated (39%).

To overcome internal and customer-related issues, we assert that organizations need coordinated action across the enterprisevr_NGCCC_08_steps_to_improve_customer_service in each of four areas: people, process, information and systems. This research confirms that, as we have found in two previous projects, handling interactions happens across the organization as every business group except IT handles inbound interactions. Along with providing employees with systems that enable them to do a better job, organizations need to improve the training and coaching for everyone who handles interactions. However, we have also seen that many business groups have their own processes and systems to support doing things as they are accustomed, and there is little sharing across groups. Such isolated behavior can be a barrier to better customer service. Today’s customers use multiple channels to go through a journey of interacting with various departments including marketing, sales, operations and service, and often the contact center for information, issues and complaints. Companies therefore need to assess their service processes and not only improve specific ones – such as how to handle certain types of interaction – but also ensure that processes flow across business groups so that actions in one group don’t negatively impact performance in others.

The same situation pertains to metrics. Typically each business group has its own metrics to assess performance, and these often don’t relate to key customer goals. For example, the research shows that the most common metric to assess customer service remains customer satisfaction (cited by 68% of participants), but that is followed by average call-handing time (65%), a metric associated with contact center performance. The next two most popular metrics also relate to internal operations, and only the fifth (customer retention rates, 31%) and sixth (customer effort scores, 28%) are truly customer-related. For organizations to become more customer-centric, most need a balanced set of metrics that are shared across the whole organization.

The research shows that few organizations will be to address these people, process and metrics issues without adopting new technologies, and no one system is likely to meet all their needs. Most have to consider new communication systems, business applications, analytics and digital self-service systems; research participants rated analytics (58%) most likely to have an impact, followed by self-service (47%), business applications (45%) and communication systems (40%), but fewer than one-quarter (22%) said the Internet of Things will have a major impact. Since our previous research into the adoption of cloud-based systems, the new research shows as well as increased adoption of advanced analytics a trend toward adopting more cloud-based, self-service technologies such as chat, mobile apps, social forums, interactive virtual agents and voice-activated video.

There is little doubt that technology has had and will continue to have a major impact on how companies provide customer service and handle interactions, and I will continue to cover adoption of such systems. I recently wrote that many organizations need to radically change their contact center to keep up with customer expectations and move toward providing omnichannel experiences as quickly as possible. In my experience change of this magnitude is never easy, especially when it involves enterprise-wide shifts in people, processes, information and technology. However mobility, cloud computing and the Internet of Things are changing business models and customer expectations, and we recommend that companies commit to grasping the changes I have outlined; those that don’t do it risk innovative competitors disrupting their markets.


Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director, Customer

Follow Me on Twitter and Connect with me on LinkedIn

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