Delivering Customer Happiness Through Operational Business Intelligence

ECourier, a Web-based London-based courier service, made customer service its driving force. Operational business intelligence gave the company the tools to keep tabs on that service, as well as its customer satisfaction.

Visitors to the eCourier website are greeted with the words "How happy are you? Take the eCourier happy test today!" Those words and the playful purple website represent the company's customer satisfaction focus. And a key for the company in achieving that happiness is through its focus on operational business intelligence.

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Colin White, president of BI Research , says the adoption of operational business intelligence—technologies for keeping tabs on and managing the performance of an organization's daily operations—is one of the key trends in BI. "Operational BI represents the biggest growth opportunity (and thus business ROI and benefits) in BI development over the next few years. This is true for both large and medium-size companies," says White.

Business intelligence is moving out of the ivory tower of specialized analysts and is being brought to the front lines. In the case of eCourier, whose couriers carry 2,000 packages around London each day, operational business intelligence allows the company to keep real-time tabs on customer satisfaction. This is a crucial differentiator in London's competitive same-day courier market, where clients are far more likely to take their business elsewhere than they are to report a problem to their current courier, says the company's CTO and cofounder Jay Bregman. (Online directory London Online alone shows about 350 listings for courier services.)

Using IT to Modernize a Very Old Business Model

Before implementing operational business intelligence, eCourier sought to define IT as a crucial differentiator. Cofounders Tom Allason, eCourier's CEO, and Bregman ditched the idea of phone dispatchers and instead gave their couriers GPS-enabled handhelds, so couriers can be tracked and orders can be communicated electronically. They also focused on making online booking easy and rewarding; much was invested in user-friendly applications: Customers can track online exactly where their courier is, eliminating the package delivery guesswork. Today, 95 percent of deliveries are booked online, meaning that eCourier needs a much smaller staff for monitoring, tracking and placing orders, which in turn makes the company more scalable. Bregman says this is notable in a market where many courier companies use telephone dispatchers and guesswork about package whereabouts.

Booking and tracking automation—while innovative—did not complete the customer happiness puzzle. Without leading-edge business intelligence, account managers could miss the same issues that plagued other courier services—late deliveries, surly couriers or even an unnoticed ramp-up in deliveries.

How BI Can Be About Current Data, Not Historical Data

The company formerly used Crystal Reports (Business Objects' popular reporting and analysis tool) on a weekly basis, and these reports would indicate average bookings for clients over the previous couple weeks to determine patterns and see if any bookings were trailing. But Bregman says that poring through reports on eCourier's more than 2,000 clients was a "Herculean" task. Furthermore, even when problems were spotted, they could be more than a week old. By that time, the client in question might be using a competitor"s services.

To remedy the situation, eCourier augmented its business intelligence with SeeWhy, an operational, or event-driven, BI platform that provides real-time monitoring. The courier company still uses Crystal Reports, but Bregman says it"s more likely to use the service for analyzing higher-level information, for example, the growth and spend of each accounts.

eCourier's Jay Bregman

The SeeWhy software is designed to establish a "normal" client booking pattern from the first use, which is deepened with each subsequent booking. A sharp drop-off in bookings, an increase in bookings or a change in dormant account activity generates an alert that is sent to that client's account manager, who then uses the opportunity to problem-solve, or in the case of increased activity, upsell, for example, to overnight or international services. The platform allows tweaks for client booking patterns overall, so that, for example, alerts are not sent out during the busy Christmas season or during the expected decline afterward.

These capabilities have provided a big payoff, says Bregman, although he declined to give numbers. (Overall, since the company's opening in September 2004, its revenue has grown from $200,000 at the end its first year to its current yearly revenue of $16 million.) Alerts have provided the ability to keep and grow customers with right-time attention.

Bregman says he also believes the system saves his company the expense of having to hire people to monitor for "who's happy and whoâ¬"s not. We're able to do a lot more on our CRM team with a lot less."

Teaching a BI System About the Courier Business

To implement the system, the company had to integrate SeeWhy into a back-end system that managed the courier function (for example, order entry, sending the job to a courier). ECourier had to overcome the challenge of making SeeWhy work in its IT operation, which doesn't use service-oriented architecture (SeeWhy is optimized for SOA); for example, the company also needed to decide what information to mine and how to present it.

Bregman says there's a fair amount of tuning to get the metrics right. For example, the company had to tweak the system to recognize expected shifts in activity, so it doesn't send a slew of alerts once the after-Christmas drop in business occurs. Getting that perfect balance of when to send alerts and how best to optimize the system is an ongoing process, he says.

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BI Research's White says that eCourier "demonstrates how very targeted operational BI applications can benefit the business and demonstrates how companies are moving toward operational BI to drive daily business operations." ECourier seems to have done all the right things, he says, but points to the issue of service-oriented architecture. "Obviously the lack of an SOA did make integration tougher, and companies that move to an SOA environment will be able to support operational BI easier," he says.

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