The Friday Interview: Michael Branagan, Deep-Insight

16 Jul 2004

Michael Branagan is in the business of keeping customers happy. The CEO of Deep-Insight, an Irish firm that offers its clients analytical CRM (customer relationship management) services, he has scrutinised all manner of business models and looked under the carpet of every kind of company.

Fire a big brand name at him and he will come back with a fascinating assessment. Take the airline business. “Ryanair is an ambivalent company – it will solve its customer’s problems but the customers hate the way they do it,” he says, describing the ‘some you win, some you lose’ approach of the low cost airline. “On the other side you have Aer Lingus. They don’t solve anything – they don’t provide the cheapest fares – but they kill you with kindness. The fascinating thing with Ryanair and Aer Lingus is that they’re diving towards each other to see who can get the balance right.”

For Branagan, the balance is not simply about getting the customer relationship sorted out. It’s no coincidence that his firm also provides analytics for getting the best out of company employees. The two are inextricably linked as he explains: “I was recently in the States where I had a meeting with JP Morgan Chase. They liked what we do because they talk about the value profit chain, where the two elements of the chain are clients and staff. We analyse both in our work.”

Research in the US only serves to highlight the importance of the employer-employee relationship. The rate of staff turnover is as high as 51pc is some sectors, according to Branagan, a chilling statistic when you consider that an increase of 1pc in customer retention can lead to an increase of 5pc in profit.

Managing the customer and the staff is one of the biggest balancing acts when it comes to deploying e-government strategies. So it’s not surprising to discover that Branagan has been introduced to the UK’s civil service training college, where 10-15,000 managers are trained every year. “Tony Blair is trying to make the public sector more accountable and transparent,” says Branagan, “which means they have to move from being a faceless public service to a more service focused organisation.

“There is a culture of less accountability in the public sector but that’s changing now. They are all publishing charters and service level agreements with the public that look at the nature of the relationship.”

For Deep-Insight, the public sector is a relatively new area for a company that does most of its business with high-value clients. Around 60pc of its customers are outside Ireland, large private organisations that need the type of diagnostic analysis that Branagan’s firm can deliver. But the bottom line for Deep-Insight is that when it comes to customer relationship management there is little difference between public and private.

“The same issues drive all organisations,” says Branagan. “They have essentially the same requirements. When you get an organisational snapshot you can pick up where the problems are very quickly. We’ll pick it up regardless of sectors.”

A former managing director of two of Ireland’s internet service providers, Indigo and Unison, Branagan set up Deep-Insight in 2000, around the time when CRM was one of the hot dotcom acronyms. And he recalls it was a time when the technology often got in the way of the job that was needed to be done.

“People focused heavily on handling the various methods of communication rather than what they were trying to achieve,” he says. “There were wonderful anecdotal stories about customers still receiving mail even though they had been dead for six months. There’s been a total focus on the mechanics rather than what you should do with the information.”

The big mystery is how so many big companies have continued to get it so wrong when it comes to customer management. “There’s an element of corporate arrogance,” he says. “If you look at the FT-SE 100 today I think there are only six companies that were there 70 years ago. Why is that? What happened is that they were servicing their clients’ needs but at some point they passed over and started to become inefficient and not listen to their customers.”

By Ian Campbell

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