What the NSA and business (should) have in common

Regardless of where you sit on the privacy vs. security spectrum regarding the controversy over the NSA collecting telephony metadata for millions of phone calls, the situation has made one thing clear: telephony metadata can be valuable.    In fact, now is a good time to evaluate (or create) a system for internally gathering and making the most out of this important, but often overlooked information source.

Telephony metadata does not contain the content of telephone conversations.  It is simply information about the calls. It includes details such as the telephone numbers involved, the time the call was initiated and ended (thus the duration) and, in some cases, more.  If you are old enough to remember when long distance was charged by the minute, your telephone bill contained the metadata necessary to calculate your charges.  

Although metadata will not give anyone insight into the particular content of a conversation, analyzing a large numbers of calls can reveal patterns that expose relationships and potentially even behavior.  That's what the NSA is trying to do.  

In business, telephony metadata provides insight into the behavior of customers, prospects and employees, and can be used to define or reevaluate best practices.  For example, are you staffing your contact center to have the right number of agents available to manage calls according to historical data, or are you guessing?  Do you know when your sales prospects are most likely to pick up the phone?  

How Does Technology Help?

Most business phone systems have some reporting capability against basic telephony metadata.  This includes:" Number dialed" Number used to dial" Call start time" Call end time" Call duration" Internal vs. external calls" Missed calls

More advanced solutions go further and make it easier for businesses to understand. These solutions provide:" Total talk time (Across multiple transfers of the call)" Inbound live answer (Know if the call was answered, abandoned or if it went to voice mail)" Which extension answered an inbound call" Outbound dial attempts vs. connects

This detailed information can provide a look into the productivity of your staff overall or an individual employee.  For example, is a remote employee as responsive as someone in the office with a similar job?  Are you missing an opportunity to service and upsell customers because they are calling in before your phone lines are staffed?  Are callers becoming frustrated and abandoning the call because they don't reach a live person quickly enough?  Telephony metadata is the prime source that can reveal this vital information.

More Data, More Power

Just like the NSA combines telephony metadata with information revealed by other sources to give it more meaning, businesses can increase the power of their telephony metadata by merging it with data from other business systems, most notably the CRM.  

Combining telephony data with CRM data reveals the patterns of individual customers and prospects.  This information helps managers make data driven decisions that maximize efficiency and revenue generation.  For example, if 80% of your support calls are coming from 20% of your customers, you might be able to reduce the burden by addressing those accounts holistically.  

If sales reps are having long conversations with contacts who are not in the CRM system, you may have a data entry or a productivity problem.  If a key account has had no contact from your company for more than six months, you might want to give them a call.  The idea is to use the rich data to develop best practices and to be able to identify and understand outlier behavior.

Businesses don't have to do anything special to create telephony metadata, it's already there.  The question is simply, do you have the right technology to make it easy to understand and meaningful, and are you asking the right questions to reveal potential process improvements that will lead to greater customer satisfaction and revenue generation?  The government has a lot of weapons at their disposal, so it isn't surprising that they are using this one effectively.  Are you?

Nealon is president and general manager of the cloud division at ShoreTel, the leading provider of brilliantly simple unified communications platforms, including business phone systems. He is a technology industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) space.

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This story, "What the NSA and business (should) have in common" was originally published by Network World.

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