Evolving Internet helps Clarabridge improve customer-feedback business

When Sid Banerjee ­began thinking up his latest venture in 2005, customers were more likely to pick up the phone to complain about a bad experience than to air grievances online.

But that’s changed. Web sites such as Yelp, Twitter and Facebook have transformed the nature of customer service, Banerjee says. And that’s meant big changes for his company, Clara­bridge, too.

(Richard Borge for Capital Business)

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The Reston-based firm, which culls Web sites, customer service phone calls and social-media sites to help companies make sense of customer feedback, has made sweeping updates to keep up in recent years. Last month the company rebranded itself as a pragmatic customer service firm instead of a wonky analytics company.

“Companies are every day drowning in more and more data,” Banerjee said.“We can parse that data to find a problem when it’s affecting maybe hundreds or thousands of people — versus millions of people.”

The evolving realities of the Internet, social media and information technology have meant that Banerjee and his team are constantly adjusting the company’s algorithms to offer more relevant — and faster — feedback to clients.

“We started thinking to ourselves, what else can we do with this data to make it useful to our customers?” Banerjee said. “Instead of just providing reporting and analytics, we added a real-time alerting capability that notifies customers when something happens.”

Say, for instance, a customer gets sick after eating a particular item, Banerjee says. As soon as that customer calls the company to complain, or takes to Twitter or Yelp to share his or her experience, Clarabridge begins tracking keywords. If something seems amiss, Clara­bridge’s new system will send an instant alert to the company in question.

“When we start to see a spike in a new kind of issue that doesn’t fall into statistical norms, we’ll identify it,” Banerjee said. “And that forces a set of processes [to help] the company say, okay, is this a product quality issue? Is this a labeling issue? Is this a merchandising or marketing issue? And ultimately they can chase down the problem and resolve it.”

At L’Oréal USA, executives say Clarabridge has helped increase real-time interactions with customers.

“Social media continues to be a critically important customer-feedback channel,” Céline Dumais, vice president of consumer affairs at the company, said in an e-mail. “We’ve enhanced how we listen to, understand and act on those conversations across our 27 brands.”

In other instances, Clara­bridge, which counts Marriott International and Capital One Financial among its clients, has begun putting together weekly and monthly reports to help business owners make sense of recurring themes in surveys and reviews.

“If, for example, I’m a hotel manager and I’m interested in knowing what’s causing specific customers at my hotel to not come back, I can get proactive alerts that say here are the reasons certain people gave you bad reviews this week or this month,” Banerjee said. “And then I can use that information to get my staff to focus on fixing those problems.”

Banerjee, who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was one of the founding employees of MicroStrategy, the Tysons Corner-based software company. He left MicroStrategy in the early 2000s to found consulting start-up Claraview, which he later spun off into Clarabridge.

But first, he had to iron out his vision for the new company.

“It didn’t come to us on day one,” Banerjee said. “It took us nine or 10 months in the early days to figure out: Does this technology we’re building work best for customer experience? For social media? Does it work best for finding bad guys? Helping lawyers do litigation or discovery?”

The company has since carved out a niche in helping companies parse the ever-growing realm of customer reviews.

“We’re dealing in a reality where every year, the data volume gets bigger,” Banerjee said. “Every year the types of things that people want to do with the data get more diverse. This is a market where you really can’t stand still.”

 
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