Real-Time Analytics: Excellent Insight, or Speedier Mistakes?

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For years the chief use of real-time analytics (RTA) has been to provide recommendations for cross selling, usually in a call center or Web transaction. While useful for tactical decision-making, it is only now that companies are beginning to think seriously about the strategic potential of RTA to make more fundamental changes to the customer interaction process. The trouble with heavy reliance on RTA for business decisions is that the results of the analytics engine are difficult to test by conventional methods. Unlike a traditional marketing campaign, which may offer tens of thousands of customer tests and allow for a control group, when each customer interaction is by definition a unique minicampaign, there is no control group to test. In essence, the immediacy may simply make it easier to make more mistakes, faster. Gareth Herschel, a Gartner research director, says that the future of RTA is to evolve beyond product recommendations into the realm of making important business decisions based on probability and risk assessment. For example, insurers may choose to evaluate a customer and the scope of a new claim filing, and decide to immediately pay out if the scenario seems likely to be valid, rather than undertake a costly investigation. "If you segment out the low-risk claims and settle them on the spot, it's great customer service," he says. Of course, like the analytical model some spot-checking needs to be done to evaluate whether the risk analysis is making correct decisions, or recommending immediate payment on fraudulent claims. RTA also fuels interactive agents, which, despite taking some knocks in the dot-com era for failing to live up to expectations, are making another run, hoping that more powerful analytical capabilities will improve the breadth and depth of issues the automatons can manage. Gray Norton, senior product manager at chat agent developer Conversagent, says, "If customers are calling in to your call center and talking to a live support rep, that offers real-time insight into customers, but virtually all of the online support has been very poor until now. It's not easy to get at the true intentions of the customer in real time." The popular concept of executive dashboards also lends itself to the use of RTA, which feeds into business decisions being made on human time. "I think the true power of RT lies in back-office and executive applications," says Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at solution provider Citigate Hudson. "Managers [can] see how their sales staff is performing, how warehouse operations are proceeding, and how best to allocate resources based on RT data."
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