SAS Takes Care of the Conversation

Businesses are clamoring for more intelligence about their customers. Need evidence? Analytics software and services provider SAS reports that sales from its Customer Intelligence product have jumped nearly 64 percent over this time last year. "This is a hot area," says John Bastone, global product marketing manager for SAS Customer Intelligence. "At a high level it's all about linking customer data to what's happening on your Web site." SAS announced its foray into social media with SAS Social Media Analytics in April of this year. This month, it is helping customers make Twitter work for their operations with the module called SAS Conversation Center.

"There are a lot of large sophisticated companies that continue to struggle with integrating data across their brands and getting a single view of the customer," Bastone says. Social media, although providing companies with insightful information about customers, is also barraging organizations with data sources they aren't skilled in handling. SAS Conversation Center deals solely with Twitter and data from tweets. The console helps companies reel in applicable tweets, and, based on sentiment and influence, route those to the best person in the organization for response.

John Lovett, senior partner with Web Analytics Demystified, remarks that the presence of a Conversation Center is the "ground zero in understanding what's happening in the realm of social media." He adds, "The ability to track consumers' converstions, the topics they are talking about, and the sites or the networks where the conversations are taking place — all of those elements can help an organization understand where the buzz is within social media."

Central to the Conversation Center is SAS' ability to measure how influential a tweeter is based on the volume of content she creates — or how often she is retweeted or included in a conversation with others. "The ability to recognize individuals and their influence within networks is an incredibly powerful thing," Lovett says.

With use of company-specific taxonomies, the organization can then ensure that tweets get routed to the proper lines of business. Lovett suggests  the solution, internally, allows companies to do three things:

  1. Resolve customer issues;
  2. Ensure consistency of messaging and adhere to internal policies; and
  3. Guarantee people aren't duplicating efforts.

According to Bastone, the reacting part of social media participation is where its customers have expressed the most need. After listening to social media conversations, Bastone says businesses at some point want to start engaging. SAS' use of sentiment analysis may ensure that when companies do engage, they have a sense of their customer's' frame of mind. The analytics engine determines the negativity or positivity of a tweet, helping the business prioritize what needs to be acted upon most quickly.

Lovett notes that although SAS has a "realm of experience" in terms of sentiment analysis and text mining, in most cases, analyzing the sentiment of text still requires a bit of human approval. Things such as sarcasm and slang are tough to pick up on with the written word, he says. "Organizations should recognize that sentiment analysis is not a definitive answer to a topic or a way to assess the marketplace," he says. "But generally, it's great for getting a directional feel."

The components within SAS Conversation Center are what take the solution from "‘Aha!' to action," says Jeff Gilleland, global customer intelligence strategist at SAS. "The critical link is getting organizations from understanding and then being able to act upon it and to be a part of the dialogue in almost real time. The post analysis is great, but it doesn't enable you to affect the future."

Lovett admits he's not surprised that SAS has seen so much success with its Customer Intelligence line of business. In fact, he says the market "is on fire" due to the sheer amount of data that organizations now have access to about their customers.

Previously, he notes, "customer intelligence" meant sifting through a customer database and analyzing direct marketing efforts. Now, organizations are faced with social media data that can help them view the customer in a more holistic fashion. "Really our CRM data sources only provide a sliver of information," Lovett says. "Now we have to look across the board at the channels that are right now disconnected and bring them together to understand a real customer.

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