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James Taylor's Decision Management

James Taylor

Integrating customer preferences

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I was talking to an interesting company today - TOA Technologies - and as we were talking we touched on something I think it both a great idea and underrated - the use of business rules to integrate customer preferences. We all know that giving customers an ability to influence our interactions with them results in happier customers and more successful interactions. Yet all too often we give them simplistic interfaces to express their preferences - simple check boxes or radio buttons - when they need to be able to be a little more specific for the preference to be really useful.

Take me, for example, I fly enough to have some very specific seating preferences. I like Aisle rather than Windows in general but I will always take an exit row or an Economy Plus seat, even if I can't get an Aisle. But my frequent flyer programs never let me say this. Take communication preferences - a customer might reasonably want to be contacted by email during work hours and by text message outside them. Making this kind of preference easy for a customer to specify and still easy for the system to execute is tricky with traditional development tools and table-driven approaches.

Enter business rules. If we identify the decisions about which we care and start thinking about the rules that drive those decisions we will often see that some of the rules come from regulations, some from company policy and some from customer preferences. By using a business rules management system to manage all these rules we can have a single way to make the decision - execute the rules for this decision - and let the rules engine execute the right subset of the possible rules.

And if we do this then lawyers manage the legal rules, business owners manage the policy rules and customers manage their own preferences. Of course we need to make it possible for these folks to do that without seeing the innards of the system (this is one of the secrets of business user rule maintenance) but it is certainly both doable and well proven in real systems. Now, when we want to let some or all of our customers get more sophisticated in their selections we have a way to do it without an architectural change. We could even start offering value-add services where customers pay for (or earn with their loyalty) the right to specify more complex preferences. We and they can change our rules whenever we need to, increasing our agility AND our responsiveness to our customers.

So next time you are looking at a decision that should take account of customer preferences, think about business rules as a way to implement that decision.



I think that this is called CRM, right? In that case, American Airlines, Southwest and others already have that in place. Most attorneys use software for jury selection that uses rulebased systems. Most firms have some kind of rulebased CRM in place already. And for this very reason donkeys are not sent to school.



If only it were so simple. If this were called CRM then CRM would be more popular with customers than it is! I just checked my American Airlines FF program and, sure enough, no rules there - just a few limited parameters. Southwest does not even remember my usual airport of departure...

The point is not that companies should let customers set preferences - some do manage that - but that if they let customers set RULES they would be able to better match customer expectations.


James Taylor blogs about decision-management technologies such as predictive analytics and business rules, discussing how they deliver agility, improve business processes and bring intelligent automation to SOA.

James Taylor

James Taylor blogs on decision management for ebizQ, and is an independent consultant on decision management, predictive analytics, business rules, and related topics.

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