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JetBlue Structures the Unstructured Customer

Angry customers vent. I know, because I did it last night after getting fed up with poor cable TV reception. Rather than call the provider's contact center as I had previously, I decided to use the online chat service...
Angry customers vent. I know, because I did it last night after getting fed up with poor cable TV reception. Rather than call the provider's contact center as I had previously, I decided to use the online chat service. Not wasting time, I started the conversation with some country hardball, letting the agent know that I was upset. "Oliver" replied with effervescent joy; he typed out a profuse apology for my inconvenience and let me know what a true pleasure it would be to serve me. Not satisfied that he got my point, I tossed off another angry comment, which prompted another delight-filled apology. He then offered his hope that I was having a wonderful evening.

A wonderful evening? Did it sound like I was having a wonderful evening? No matter what I said, his pleasure to serve me proved unbendable. It became impossible to stay angry. I felt foolish. And so it worked; the agent broke my anger and we were able to focus on solving the problem.How did he do it? I don't know whether this cable company used text analytics to guide agent Oliver or whether he simply possessed a superior understanding of human nature: but he succeeded by taking control of the conversation. Acknowledging but deflecting my anger, he guided our "unstructured" exchange toward a structured dialogue aimed at resolution.

The experience reminded me of a case-study presentation by Bryan Jeppsen, research analyst with JetBlue Airways, given at the IDC Business Intelligence and Analytics Forum (New York City, May 21), where I chaired a panel on BI.

"It was in this great town that we had an ice storm," Jeppsen said, reminding the audience of the calamitous weather delay of February 2007, which dealt the company a huge blow, not just in public relations but also revenue. "We had big troubles, and that's when text analysis really came on for us. Where we'd normally get 400 emails in a day, after the ice storm we got 15,000."

JetBlue could not possibly read them all, so they contracted with Attensity to use its software to analyze emails. Armed with new insights, JetBlue was able to create a customer bill of rights and sharpen its customer knowledge beyond simple Net Promoter loyalty scores.

Jeppsen said that in email interactions, JetBlue now asks for as much "structured" information as possible. "When you give us your ticket code, it enables us to look up everything about you and integrate it with other databases we have that tell us who the pilots and flight attendants were on that flight, and so on. When we combine these structured sources with the text analysis, we can get a pretty good grip on what the experience was based on what the customer tells us. If the customer complains about 'the flight attendant with black hair,' we can find out who it was and reward or penalize. Structured information is what gives meaning to unstructured information."

To understand the customer experience and manage service interactions satisfactorily, more and more companies will require the ability JetBlue has to analyze and correlate information across structured and unstructured sources. They might not know how it is produced, but customers will come to expect the kind of service that only this richness of knowledge can provide. However, the improved service will come only when the information can be made actionable: that is, to be used by agents to corral ornery customers into problem-solving interactions that lead rapidly to resolution.

Agent Oliver's relentlessly cheery manner (and the offer of a credit on my next bill) worked with me. As each interaction becomes part of the organization's customer information brain, agents are going to know me better than I know myself.Angry customers vent. I know, because I did it last night after getting fed up with poor cable TV reception. Rather than call the provider's contact center as I had previously, I decided to use the online chat service...