VCS - Verbatim Coding System

The ISTI-CNR text mining group (led by Fabrizio Sebastiani and including Andrea Esuli and Tiziano Fagni) of the Networked Multimedia Information Systems Laboratory, has recently designed and implemented VCS (acronym of Verbatim Coding System), a highly innovative software system for monitoring customer satisfaction in large enterprises.

In the international market of software products for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) VCS is a unique system, and thanks to this uniqueness it has already been purchased by Egg Group plc, the largest group in the world in the field of online banking, which currently uses VCS in its day-to-day operations.

VCS is, more specifically, au automated system for verbatim coding, an important phase of CRM which consists in the classification of the customers of a company based on the textual responses that they have returned to questions concerning the satisfaction in the product or service purchased by the company. Performing verbatim coding automatically thus means analyzing the textual response returned by the customer and deciding, based on the results of this analysis, to which type or types (among a set of types predefined by the user) the customer belongs. The results of automated classification can be used in several ways. One such important use is in avoiding churning, i.e., the possibility that the unsatisfied customer ceases to use the product (e.g., a savings account) and turns to the competition: when the analysis of the response has revealed a low degree of satisfaction, an employee is alerted who will call the customer with a counter-offer. A second important use is in temporal trend detection: if, following the analysis, the percentage of customers that declare themselves unsatisfied with a particular aspect of the product turns out to be growing, the board will implement suitable actions concerning this aspect of the product, in order to reverse the trend.

VCS is mainly addressed to large enterprises, either in the product or in the service industry, or to opinion polling institutes. In other words, it is oriented to all those subjects that, by their very nature, run opinion polls involving large numbers of respondents, and which are unable to analyze (or to sustain the costs of analyzing) manually the large volumes of textual responses received. Egg Group plc is certainly an example, since it currently receives and analyzes more than 20.000 customer satisfaction questionnaires per month.

The system, currently implemented as a Web application that interacts with the well-known ConfirmIt CRM platform, allows the company both a high degree of automation and a high degree of autonomy in managing their verbatim coding activities. In particular, the system not only allows the automatic classification of customers, based on the analysis of their textual responses, but allows the company's personnel to generate automatic customer classifiers in total autonomy, without the need of resorting to external providers of software services. This may be needed following newly arisen needs such as, for example, the generation of a new questionnaire following the introduction of a new product. Such a system thus allows to drastically reduce the work of human coders (i.e., those who, in the traditional organization of the enterprise, perform verbatim coding manually), whose activity thus evolves from manual verbatim coding to training and supervising an automated verbatim coding system. The net result is an exponential increase in the productivity of human coders, viewed as the number of verbatims coded per person/month.

VCS has recently been awarded the Vespucci Prize 2006 in the "Successful innovation in marketing" section. The Vespucci prize, now in its 3rd edition, is being awarded by Consiglio Regionale della Toscana, Confindustria Toscana, Federazione Regionale dei Cavalieri del Lavoro della Toscana, Banca Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze, and is awarded "to particularly significant and innovative initiatives and projects, capable of combining ethics, invention, research and economic results with quality, development, and innovation."