Finding the Signal in the Noise


In the Chat Aims to Transform Customer Service Within Big Brands with a Second Generation Social Listening Platform that Puts Customers First


With more than 1.3 billion Facebook users worldwide and more than 500 million tweets per day, social media platforms have become a dominant communication channel within our lives.

So when our flight is delayed several hours, or our phone fails to hold its charge, we as consumers now turn to social channels to voice our concerns and questions – with the hopes that the brands we interact with daily are out there listening.

However, the challenge that those in the hospitality industry, banks, telco providers, and retailers are facing is implementing a platform to identify these conversations. A platform where you can not only find and listen to these important signals within a sea of noise, but act swiftly upon that information to improve customer satisfaction, and drive new revenue.

It’s a daunting challenge to solve, explains John Huehn, CEO and founder of In the Chat. “The average telco in the US market needs to monitor an astonishing volume of information – up to 10 million posts a day related to their and their competitors brands,” explains Huehn. “There are tens of millions of people in the US today talking about their telecom providers every day. So how does a company effectively, efficiently and expediently decide which of these posts are of highest value? And perhaps most importantly, which of these customers need immediate attention from a customer service or sales representative?”

Huehn believes his company has the answer to that challenge.

John Huehn

A former telecommunications executive turned entrepreneur, Huehn knows too well the frustrations internally facing large enterprises with massive call centres and customer service arms. “When I was running my former company’s customer service organization, I would walk the floors and hear our reps on the phone with customers. If there was a product issue, we’d be the first to feel the pain. But when I took that problem back to my executive counterparts in marketing and product innovation, their response was ‘quantify the issue.’ The trouble was, with voice-based interactions, you know the pain is acute, but there’s no tangible data we could put our finger on to back up our claims.”

With the rise of social media channels, new platforms for social listening emerged about five years ago to assist companies in monitoring references to their brand on line. But these first generation platforms, Huehn explains, were all about quantity versus quality. “The problem with the first generation platforms is they relied upon keyword searches – very much like Google – to bring back information to the brand. So let’s imagine I’m Wind Mobile, and I’m looking to know what people in the Twitter sphere are saying about my company. On an average day, that might return to me 4 million mentions, of which 5,000 are really about Wind Mobile and not some reference to barometric pressure or summer breezes. To get from that top level of information into more detail to narrow the field you might put in exclusions or key word matches, but the data is still not structured or categorized in any way that truly makes it useful. To get to that level of insight, brands needed to apply elbow grease using manual methods to sift through the information. And that’s painful, and costly, and very very slow.”

Second generation platforms, such as the one developed by Huehn’s company In the Chat, takes social listening to the next level of performance using advanced text mining algorithms, machine learning and artificial intelligence research developed by PhDs out of the University of Waterloo to read and categorize social media data, in the same way humans read and categorize social media.

“With the In the Chat platform, we can take those same 4 million posts mentioning the word ‘Wind’ and break it apart, drilling into the data to determine whether that post is really talking about the brand, or summer breezes to isolate those conversations truly relevant to Wind Mobile. Then from there, we can use that same logic to determine if it’s a question being asked; or if a consumer is talking about a specific product; or is angry or happy about their experience. So instead of looking at 4 million -- or 5,000 posts -- that mention Wind. We can get right down to the posts talking about Wind’s pricing or hardware. We can then compare that information like for like against competitors and bring in things like sentiment analysis, so we can begin answering questions such as ‘are people happier with Wind’s pricing compared with Mobilicity’s pricing?’, or someone else’s in that space. This level of automation provided by In the Chat puts in the moment hyper-relevant information in the hands of brands to turn listening into action,” says Huehn.

And those insights can be instrumental helping brands move the dial on key business performance metrics such as customer satisfaction, revenue and marketshare.

“In terms of business insight, you can begin looking at like for like views of you versus your competitors, or what volume of conversations are happening on particular topics,” says Huehn. “And you can begin making business decisions based on that data. You might combine that real-time listening intelligence with data from call volumes, or customer purchase habits to make decisions such as ‘should I abandon that product or alter my pricing?’ We have customers who use our In the Chat platform that have launched a product at 6 am in the morning, learned about problems with the product at 7 am, and implemented a fix by 11 am. In the past that would have taken weeks to do.“

The next door unlocked for brands by In the Chat’s platform is the one leading to new revenue streams. “Brands also want to be able to engage in order to drive business results,” says John Huehn. “And we can tell them if a customer is asking questions about services, allowing them to route that post to a customer service representative. We can isolate and send posts that are potential sales leads or retention opportunities to sales people – siphoning off posts that may just be noise, like a person commenting on the company’s recent financial results. Just like traditional call centers used interactive voice response systems to route customer traffic (i.e. press #1 for service, #2 for sale…) we use text mining algorithms to ‘listen’ to social conversations, understand what people are saying and route these messages for action and response.”

In the Chat’s latest addition to its platform, delivered to market in June 2014, is a new SMS based communication channel. The feature set, launched with key telco and banking customers, puts new power into brands’ hands to engage with consumers in full end-to-end customer service via SMS. “It’s a very straightforward product,” says John Huehn. “We assign a phone number, or text number or short code to the company. The company then makes that information available to customers and they can use it to interact with the customer via SMS for direct customer service.”

It’s such a simple, intuitive idea, Huehn marvels that In the Chat is the first to bring the concept to market. “When you look at the call centre, everyone started with phone, then moved to email, then to chat, skipped over text and moved directly into social because it was so highly public. And yet, if you ask any millennial how they would prefer to act with a company in terms of customer service, it’s a no brainer that it is by text. That said, there’s no one in the market today delivering this kind of service.”

In the Chat’s new SMS offering opens up a world of opportunity for the company, which is headquartered out of R+T Park’s Accelerator Centre. “SMS is a global language in itself, and our platform is now available in English, French, and Spanish, with more languages coming on line through our UW partnership,” says Huehn. “This will allow us to soon reach the entire globe with our offering.”

While the ability to connect on new levels as unlocked by In the Chat’s platform has the power to transform customer service delivery models, it also may hold the key to innovation strategies within some of the biggest brands in the market today.

Says John Huehn, “Text messaging is incredibly easy to mine, and promises to yield a wealth of data that just can’t be captured today in the voice-based world. Cost reduction, improvement in customer response times, new opportunities for revenue growth, and the ability to intervene in real time with people who are unhappy with your brand, or unhappy with a competitor’s brand. We can deliver it all. We are providing brands with a way to and efficiently engage with these people in the moment of their decision, and for any brand today that’s simply gold.”