Using Data to Get Into Your Customer’s Head

SAN FRANCISCO Marketing a new product category can prove tricky as marketers struggle to uncover in advance what people will want to know about a product or service that they have never seen. In lieu of a crystal ball, some marketers are turning to online metrics to get inside their customers’ minds and then they are making their findings an anchor of their marketing strategy.

For instance, iRobot, maker of the Roomba automated vacuum system, needed to grasp the questions and concerns of its target consumers, including elderly people and their families, who have never owned or experienced any type of robotic product before, according to RightNow Technologies, the CRM company iRobot hired to handle its customer data and direct marketing.

IRobot, which was founded by a group of MIT robotic scientists in 1990, is working with RightNow to keep a daily record of all consumer interactions to feed its marketing insights and product enhancements.

To stay in synch with individual customers, the company also tracks every interaction with each consumer, so past interactions can be used to improve subsequent interactions. That data is fed back into e-mail marketing campaigns that produce more consumer data and generate sales of the circular $300 vacuuming robots.

In all, hundreds of thousands of customer interactions across multiple channels are tracked and managed each month, and the data is used to constantly refine its communications. To prospective iRobot consumers, it can seem that the company is reading their minds.

There are two key components in the metrics program, according to RightNow:

–A self-service Web site is used to provide cost-effective, useful customer education and to generate data on prospects’ interests. The site uses material from its own equipment manuals and adds pictures and video clips. The material is constantly updated based on customer questions and direct feedback. To make it as easy as possible to navigate, the site uses pictures rather than names to identify products and provides a list of the 20 most common questions. As a result, iRobot automatically answers the questions of more than 97 percent of the roughly 500,000 customers who use its Web site every month, per RightNow research. (Cost for a Web self-help transaction is about one cent, while cost to a call center runs from $5 to $15 per call, said a RightNow representative.)

–All phone and e-mail interactions with customers are tracked. Customer service agents are aware of all service interactions with the customer. This allows agents to quickly zero in on customers’ issues and eliminate repetitive exchanges.

Service agents can also access the self-service Web knowledge base themselves, so that product information is consistent across all channels. The result has been a 30 percent reduction in incoming phone volume and 18 percent decrease in call abandonment rates, according to RightNow. Also, when a customer using iRobot’s online store stops to submit a question, the Web question form is automatically populated with the customer’s information from the online store, saving the shopper a few minutes and ensuring the accuracy of the information.

Such a metric-driven approach “enables us to get the most value out of every communication channel and every contact center agent,” said Maryellen Abreu, iRobot’s director of global technical support. “It provides a complete, well-automated environment for getting customers the information they need, when they need it, while providing us with rich insight we need to ensure that all of our business decisions are customer driven.”

Consumer information, which is updated daily from the company’s online store and contact database, is then used for direct marketing. About 1 million e-mails using 20 different messages are sent out each month by RightNow. Based on information about what products the consumers own or have expressed interest in, the messages offer targeted promotions for first-time purchases, up-selling and cross-selling.

In addition, the company sends out a survey to 4,000 different customers each month. Responses help iRobot gauge the impact of the improvements it makes and pinpoint emerging problems. Such seamless data integration “makes it easier for us to execute the kinds of mailings we need to drive incremental sales,” said Dean Rist, director of direct marketing at iRobot. Mailings range from the “simplest technical bulletin to more complex multi-stage campaigns,” he said.

Business owners and chief executives are pushing the multi-channel approach to collecting and using customer data, said Steve Daines, general manager of Asia-Pacific for RightNow. “Before, the business guys had to get down on their hands and knees to get on the IT department’s project list. But now the business side is empowered” as the data has become more useful to the customer experience.

In short, intelligent use of this data “allows a company to constantly clarify what is coming and prevent problems before they happen. It’s like giving your customer relationships a tune-up, not every six months but every 60 minutes,” Daines said.