Kenneth Nwabueze

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Getting a Handle on Your Customers - The better you know your customers, the more you can sell them

Getting a Handle on Your Customers - The better you know your customers, the more you can sell them

Customer online behavior changes all the time. What customers do on your site tomorrow may be different from what they do today. What they searched for while at work may be completely different from what they do at home. Which behavior is the real customer? All of it!

Personalization engines make recommendations based on a visitor's first few clicks. Integrated into the WebSphere content management system is a clickstream analytics platform and a personalization engine. Intelligence generated from the analytics platform is fed into the personalization engine to create profiles for targeting and product recommendation. WebSphere also allows the creation of user-defined profiles with the profile manager and places these into the personalization engine.

Companies can use the analytics platform for basic Web reporting. The WebSphere analytics platform has all the attributes of a basic Web analytics product or service. It also faces the same issue of looking at data in silos. If a company has two distinct domains running on two different WebSphere servers, it runs the risk of not knowing what customers are doing across channels. The WebSphere Application Server can import data from a third-party solution, so an analytics platform can export its analysis into WebSphere.

Just like the analytics platform that comes with WebSphere, most one-size-fits-all products report primarily on page views and visits to the site. If your online revenue is not primarily based on banner advertising, then page views and visits have no value. Instead, you need to generate customized reports that look at your core business model. That means concentrating on your site's revenue-generating properties by defining and tracking key performance indexes that affect your bottom line.

In-depth analysis is not the forte of the WebSphere content management server, so you must find a way to complement its powerful capabilities with other available customer information. While it makes sense to integrate clickstream data with information such as census, demographic, DMA, geo-location, and other data to get a clearer picture of your online customers, that is not what WebSphere was designed to do. Most other Web analytics ASPs can only analyze what they can collect online, lacking the power of a true data-mining platform.

However, there is a third option for enhancing and optimizing the personalization information in WebSphere using your business intelligence platform. Outsourced data-mining companies can easily provide these analytics. One advantage of a full-complement data warehouse and data mining company is that it provides independent data sources. Given the strength of their ETL (extract, transfer, and load) tools, they take just about any data format and produce any type of desired analysis.

A good outsourced company should be designed from the ground up to be a true data warehouse platform. In addition to compiling reports, it will also provide access to detailed data, enabling the creation of custom profiles that are then imported into WebSphere. More important, the outsourced company must be data source independent and possess a flexible ETL tool that can extract and merge separate sources. The company must also allow the user to quickly customize its tools to fit your specific needs.

Is it feasible to extract outsourced data from WebSphere? The answer is a resounding yes! If you look at the concept of building a data warehouse, data sources are normally extracted (exported) from the production database and transferred (imported) into a central repository for data mining. Experts recommend that you avoid running processor- intensive applications such as data mining and analysis on a live production database. If the data must be exported to a data repository, then location (outsourced or in-house) becomes a decision based on cost analysis.

Outsourcing the extracted data to a separate system can be done at a fraction of the cost of building a data repository in-house. An outsource provider can determine the best method for extracting and transferring the data from a server. One way is to back up the database at a predetermined frequency and transfer it to repository location. An outsourced provider can use an SCP (Simplified Communication Protocol) to retrieve and securely transfer a copy of the data to their data center. This is not often the preferred method, since the original data source may contain many gigabytes of information. A better solution is an incremental extraction of data, in which only selected tables are exported from the database. This same mechanism can be used to import intelligent and custom profiles into the WebSphere personalization engine.

In a down economy in which customers are hard to come by and acquisition cost is going through the roof, every competitive advantage helps. But just as can grow their customer base faster than any of their store-based competitors, they can lose them just as quickly. Web customers remain loyal only when you provide the best service available. If they can't easily find the products or services they need, if your site is too slow, the process too tedious, or navigation too awkward, they will point their browsers elsewhere.

Your Web site can offer a wealth of information about your customers and business. Quickly harnessing that knowledge, understanding it, and making it work for you may be the greatest advantage you have over your competitors. If you build a good Web site, customers will come. And if you learn how to listen to, collect information on, analyze, and focus on customer needs, they will stay.

More Stories By Kenneth Nwabueze

E. Kenneth Nwabueze, founder and CEO of SageMetrics Corporation, has a demonstrated
reputation as a developer and entrepreneur of innovative technologies across various
high-tech industries. Prior to SageMetrics, he developed business-critical software systems for Buena Vista Pictures and Television. In 2001, President George W. Bush
appointed Kenneth to serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science
and Technology.

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