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Focus on business intelligence specifics key to improving customer satisfaction at Cisco

Cisco Systems was able to improve customer satisfaction by focusing its business intelligence initiative on specifics.

LAS VEGAS -- For David Hsiao, the key to a successful business intelligence (BI) initiative is to focus on specifics and avoid visions of grandeur.

"Ask why, why do we have BI?" Hsiao, director of corporate quality metrics and benchmarking at Cisco Systems, asked attendees at the TDWI World Conference in Las Vegas Monday morning. "Is it because we want to take over the world? No. It's because we're trying to solve real business problems."

For Hsiao, the real driver of BI at the networking giant was to improve the customer experience.

"Our ultimate goal is for our customers to see us as a valued partner, not just a vendor," he said. To achieve that, Cisco needed not just to track and analyze the cumulative customer experience but to focus on what Hsiao calls specific "bellwether customers."

Customer satisfaction levels from across the world plotted on a graph or a dashboard, while useful, can give a faulty impression of the actual customer experience, he said. Companies should use BI tools to also track influential customers in important global and product markets in order to identify specific areas of concern.

At Cisco, for example, focusing on bellwether customers helped the company realize that its overall customer base was begging to perceive Cisco more as a software company than a hardware one, a radical shift for the maker of networking routers and switches. Cisco was able to adjust its marketing and sales strategy accordingly, Hsiao said.

Breaking down barriers at Cisco -- both technological and business-related -- was also key to the company's BI success and to improving customer satisfaction. Hsiao said that companies need to go wherever the customer data is -- be it in sales and marketing or engineering and manufacturing departments -- to make the most of it.

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"If we want to predict customer experience, we have to be able to go anywhere in the company [to get the relevant data]," Hsiao said.

Cisco's senior manager of global supply chain management, Naznin Shroff, who led the initiative to break down siloed data sources throughout the company, said it was as much a technical issue as a relationship issue.

Shroff said a strong partnership between Cisco's BI steering committee -- made up mostly of business people -- and the IT department served as the foundation for the company's enterprise-wide BI deployment, which began back in 2001.

Cisco was able, for example, to shorten development and deployment times for dashboards that business users demanded, thanks to communication between business and IT. Cisco was also able to slowly tap into more and more data sources throughout the company.

Today, Cisco analyzes customer-related data from scores of sources throughout the company, including booking and shipment, service request, product returns and software defects data. The result is a better view of the customer and steadily improved customer satisfaction levels, Hsiao and Shroff agreed.

Perhaps the most important chasm to bridge, however, was the one between IT and Cisco end users. "You're not done with the [BI] project with deployment," Shroff said. "It ends with adoption."

To improve levels of user adoption, which ultimately leads to better customer service, Cisco's BI team constantly elicits user feedback and incorporates that feedback into feature set development.

For attendee Jamie Raymond, a data architect with the Virginia Farm Bureau, Cisco's story rang true, especially when it comes to maximizing user adoption. Listening to user feedback is key, he said.

"Change is the biggest part," Raymond said. "It's an ongoing process for us, [getting users to adopt BI technology]. People don't like change."

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