“We’re building a data-driven culture. We’re trying to get actionable data to our users and get to the point where every decision is based on data.”
— Anita McAllister, Assistant Vice President of Data and Analytics, Members 1st Federal Credit Union

Mar 23 2022
Data Analytics

How Advanced Analytics Helps Companies Deliver Better Customer Experiences

From local credit unions to multinational corporations, actionable data leads to happier clients.

At Members 1st Federal Credit Union, data affects every aspect of its business, including branch operations, sales, marketing and — most important — customer experience.

“We’re building a data-driven culture,” says Anita McAllister, the credit union’s assistant vice president of data and analytics. “We’re trying to get actionable data to our users and get to the point where every decision is based on data.”

For example, the Mechanicsburg, Pa.-based financial institution analyzes calls to its call center and live-chat requests on its mobile app and website so it can forecast staffing needs and make sure enough customer service agents are available when volumes are highest, says Chief Experience Officer Mike Wilson.

Data analytics is transforming the way companies operate, enabling them to spot trends, discover new growth opportunities, function more efficiently and improve customer service. To power their efforts, companies are investing in database platforms, such as data warehouses and data lakes that centralize information, and deploying advanced analytics and data visualization tools that help them turn the data gained into actionable insights.

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Businesses want a 360-degree view of their customers, but to be successful, they must start small and deploy analytics incrementally with specific business objectives and use cases in mind, says Brandon Purcell, principal analyst at Forrester.

“Start by bringing together a couple of different data sources. Then move on to the next use case and bring in more data sources,” he says. “Over time, they create this great foundation with various models on top of it.”

Using Data Analytics to Boost Customer Engagement

Members 1st, which has nearly 60 branches in central Pennsylvania, took that implementation approach when it launched its data analytics effort in 2018.

Its first project was to automate a process to build monthly reports that track each branch’s performance on metrics such as new-account growth and product sales. McAllister’s team took about four months to replace the time-consuming, manual reporting process with data visualization dashboards using Microsoft’s Power BI analytics tool.

The Power BI dashboards synthesize data from multiple sources, including the core banking system, customer resource management software and the customer lending system. Now, executives and branch managers can log in to the cloud-based dashboards on their computers or smartphones to get real-time branch performance data and drill down on specifics based on location, products and staff responsibilities.

“The dashboards get updated daily, so now they can view progress toward their goals without hours of manual effort,” McAllister says.

Members 1st now uses Power BI dashboards to improve the customer experience, from tracking call center volume to tailoring sales and marketing efforts to customers’ specific needs.

564 hours

The amount of staff time saved per month after Members 1st Federal Credit Union automated reports that used to be created manually

Source: Members 1st Federal Credit Union

The ability to optimize customer support staffing levels and adjust on the fly helps to reduce wait times and improve customer satisfaction, Wilson says.

“It’s looking at data, reacting to it in real time and making operational decisions accordingly,” says Michael Fazzolari, marketing research manager for Members 1st. “It makes us more efficient.”

More is coming. McAllister’s team of 11 people is building a more powerful, feature-rich data analytics platform on Microsoft Azure to include Azure Synapse and Databricks services.

The new platform will speed up data analysis, empower business units to build their own dashboards and allow the organization to take further advantage of machine learning and predictive analytics. For example, it has begun to explore predictive modeling that enables sales staff to reach out to customers with offers and promotions tailored to them.

Members 1st is currently migrating its data warehouse from an on-premises SQL Server platform to its newly ­implemented data warehouse on the Azure cloud.

The staff is also busy working on data governance to ensure data is accurate, protected and provides the entire organization “a single source of truth,” McAllister says.

“It’s bringing disparate data sources together around each of our members so we can better serve them,” she says. “Whatever journey or milestone they are going through, we can give them the best product or service.”

READ MORE: Find out how banks can use data analytics to create better customer profiles.

Providing a Competitive Edge by Supplying Data to Customers

Airlines Reporting Corp.’s core business is settling airline ticket transactions between more than 200 airlines and 10,000 U.S.-based travel agent locations.

But over the past 10 years, the Arlington, Va.-based company has also built a thriving data business, first by sharing raw data with its customers, then using Tableau Software’s data visualization tool to produce insights that enable its customers to make better business decisions.

“Our business users feel empowered because they don’t have to wait for a technical resource to do the reporting for them,” says Arun Gupta, ARC’s managing director of global data products. “They just click and start using it.”

30 minutes

The average time it takes ARC to process certain daily reports, down from three hours, after it deployed a powerful data analytics platform

Source: Airline Reporting Corp.

The ARC team provides insights on performance and competitive benchmarking. Airline executives, for example, can access Tableau’s interactive dashboards via ARC’s proprietary solution; there, they can “see the story” behind their transactional data and drill down on specifics.

“They can look at the market share, see how they’re performing against their peers, see where the industry is heading and determine what they should do next,” he says.

ARC previously relied on an on-premises data warehouse, but to improve performance and scalability, the company began moving to an Amazon Web Services data lake four years ago. Before, the company was l­imited by its technology and could only process data on a monthly or weekly basis. Now, it can update data daily.

“We can take full advantage of our cloud tech stack by providing the right level of speed and flexibility to our customers,” Gupta says.

Using AI to Deliver Faster Service

Based in St. Paul, Minn., Ecolab provides solutions and services that advance food safety, maintain clean and safe environments, and optimize water and energy use at nearly 3 million customer sites around the world.

Ecolab’s 25,000-member field s­ervices team relies on vast amounts of data, including product, service and repair information and global SAP and supply chain data, to provide support and make repairs at customer sites more quickly.

In the past, field services employees often had to call the company’s customer support center to find the right information, says Masaood Yunus, Ecolab’s IT director of M&A, innovation and enterprise architecture.

The company used the Microsoft Bot Framework in 2019 to build Ecolab Virtual Assistant (EVA), an application that allows staff to use text or voice on their smartphones or computers to r­apidly search and access service information so they can assist customers faster.


Reduction in call volume to Ecolab’s internal call center since the deployment of the Ecolab Virtual Assistant, or EVA

Source: Ecolab

To create EVA, the IT team used Microsoft Cognitive Services, which are sets of machine learning algorithms, to read through more than 10,000 disparate documents, connect pieces of data and create profiles of particular products or assemblies of equipment, Yunus says.

For example, field services associates can use EVA to search for a specific type of dishwasher, and it will provide parts and product information that match that dishwasher.

Ecolab uses EVA to support customers in restaurants, hotels, long-term care facilities and commercial buildings, among many other sites.

The virtual assistant reduces calls to the company’s call center and enables the field services team to more quickly address customer inquiries, Yunus says.

“EVA helps our field services associates walk in confidently to a prospective or current customer with a tool that can deliver the right information quickly,” he says.

Photography By Jamie Turner

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