Analytic tool seeks hidden meaning of words

Every interaction you have with a customer, from phone calls to e-mails and faxes to Web surveys, may contain information that could alert you to new business opportunities or the potential loss of a customer. Harnessing such unstructured data -- not only what the customer said, but their intent -- and taking immediate action, can boost efficiency revenues, says Norman Williams, president and CEO of Island Data, Carlsbad, Calif. Island Data's software seeks to understand the hidden meaning of words within the context of specific customer interactions.

''Analyzing under-used customer feedback for real-time or future analysis,'' provides many benefits to an organization, said Williams. ''This data contains words and concepts that indicate sales opportunities and attrition risks. You can also monitor product trends and help marketing campaigns by interpreting the customers' own words.'' Island Data offers this real-time analysis of unstructured customer feedback through its new Insight RT offering.

Insight RT falls into the increasingly blurred area of business intelligence and customer relationship management (CRM). ''Somebody like Island Data can be part of the fabric that makes the connection between those two spaces easier to achieve,'' noted Alex Veytsel, senior research associate for data knowledge and analytics at the Aberdeen Group, Boston. ''There's a lot of talk in the industry about customer voice management as a CRM pursuit,'' said Veytsel. ''Instead of just looking at the information from a data perspective, like what did [the customer] buy, we can look at what the [customers] tell us when we afforded them the opportunity.''

For example, said Guy Jones, founder and vice president of product marketing at Island Data, a customer e-mailing to cancel a service subscription may indicate one or two problems driving their cancellation. Insight RT could analyze that communication and immediately alert someone from the retention team as well as from product management to address the issues and possibly retain the customer.

Conversely, in the case of Island Data's customer RealNetworks, Insight RT is helping to identify sales opportunities. An example is a user who downloads a free version of the software, and who then may e-mail RealNetworks with the message: ''How come I can only see two channels and all my friends can see 15?'' Here's a potential customer for the full-featured version.

''Those are subtle [messages] that don't even contain words like 'buying,''' said Island Data's Williams.

''We're trying to divine multiple categories and look for multiple opportunities in the message,'' explained Jones. ''The concept of analyzing a message for intent is different from analyzing it to retrieve information.''

Aberdeen's Veytsel calls Insight RT a hybrid of real-time analytics and taxonomy or categorization solutions. The statistical methodology behind Insight RT is chi square technology, which Island Data's Jones said makes the concept recognition engine less complex to ''train'' than categorization solutions that use neural network technology. ''In the past, these types of solutions required linguists and statisticians; Insight RT is friendly enough to be used by a marketing person,'' said the firm's Williams.

Insight RT is offered as a hosted solution. Pricing ranges from $120,000 to $170,000 for the first year, which includes setup and service fees. A licensed version will be available by year's end for $150,000.

About the Author

Colleen Frye is a freelance writer based in Bridgewater, Mass.


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