Getting the most out of your business rules
Gary Sherman
June 20, 2012

One of my favorite features of a Clarify/Dovetail system is the business rule.
Business rules, particularly notification rules, are a cornerstone of staying up to date on what’s happening in your system, and making sure nothing falls through the cracks.

 

As we’ve been doing more and more Clarify System Health Checks for customers, I’ve observed that many organizations are either over-using or under-using business rule notifications.

Overuse

When there are too many notifications, they become noise, and are simply ignored.
I’ve observed many users who have setup email filters/rules that automatically file those emails away, or even delete them.
With the overabundance of emails that we all get, we’re forced to attack the email problem in some way – and that typically means ignoring everything that’s not critical.


Except emails from my Mom. And foreigners who need me to help them extract money from their trust accounts.

Underuse

 

On the other side, I’ve also seen organizations who don’t use business rules enough, and items do fall through the cracks, which results in cases being neglected, which obviously impacts customer satisfaction. Some organizations barely use them at all, and I think they’re missing out on a major benefit of the system.

Balance

 

So how do we balance all this and make the most out of our business rule notifications? Here’s a few suggestions.

1. Listen to your users

 

The first step is to get an understanding of how effective your business rules are. One way to do this is to simply ask your users. I know – end user feedback! Crazy! A simple survey sent to your user community will tell you a lot. Include all user levels – call center agents, managers, directors, VPs, sales teams, potentially even your CEO. They all have different needs, so it’s important to get input from all of the different types of users who interact with, or are impacted by, your CRM system.

 

Some sample questions:

  • How effective are the system notifications you currently receive?
  • Do they help you do your job?
  • Are there too many? Too few?
  • Do you read all of them? Some? A few? None?
  • Are there notifications that are not needed?
  • Which new notifications should be created?
  • Do they contain all the information you need to make an informed decision about what to do next?
  • What information should be added or taken out of the notification?

 

Those are just a few sample questions – I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas on other questions that are specific to your business.

 

Oh, and this doesn’t have to cost anything. You can easily create online surveys for free, using a survey tool likeSurveyMonkey or even using a Google doc.

 

At a recent Clarify Health Check, I created a survey that was sent around to the user base. I received almost 100 responses in just a few days – and the responses were packed with great information!

 

I like to keep my surveys fairly short – no more than 10 questions – so users don’t feel like it’s a major time suck to respond.

2. Check your data

 

We can analyze the data inside our database to see which rules are firing and how often.

 

Within the Dovetail BOLT app is a Business Rule Usage Report.

 

This report tells us what business rules are firing along with how often. Perhaps even more importantly, it allows you to see the rules that are not being fired. Perhaps those rules could be removed, or made inactive, therefore simplifying business rule administration. Or maybe they should be firing, and need further investigation.

 

Here’s an example (run against my development database, so the rule firing numbers are pretty small):

business_rule_usage

 

I ran this report at a customer site not too long ago, and the results were pretty eye-opening.

 

They have 42 different business rule actions setup. Out of those, only 8 fired in all of 2011.

 

Here’s a partial screenshot showing the rules that fired:

business_rule_usage2

 

What was also interesting was that we could easily drill down into those rules, and get more details.

 

We discovered that many of the people being notified no longer worked at the company, and many of the email addresses being sent to were incorrect.

 

We also were able to see that the majority of their rules never fired at all! So this presented an opportunity to look closer at those rules and determine if they were really needed. If they were needed, we could take a closer look at the rule itself, and adjust it so that it could work as intended. If they weren’t needed – delete them. They’re just clutter.

 

Oh, and back to the Business Rule Usage report – did I mention that the Dovetail BOLT app is free? Get it.

3. Check your conditions and recipients

 

It’s not uncommon that different groups within an organization all use the same Clarify/Dovetail system. So rather than sending out a notification to everyone, we can limit who should really get the notification.

 

There are a couple of ways to do this

  • Add additional conditions to the rule
  • Refine your notification recipients (recipient aliases)

 

It’s common that users belong to many queues, sometimes even those that aren’t their primary work queues. And it’s common that when an item is dispatched to a queue that we notify the queue members. But, rather than notifying all queue members, we could limit it.

 

For example, we may have an IT queue that handles all IT issues.  Even with one queue, we can notify different people in different scenarios:

  • if the case type is “Password Reset” (a condition) then notify the “IT Desktop” team (recipient alias)
  • if the case type is “Server Fault” (a condition) then notify the “IT Server” team (recipient alias)

 

This allows us to fine tune our notifications, and helps prevent notification spam that gets ignored.

4. Context, context, context

 

Do your notifications provide sufficient information for the user to make an immediate decision on what to do next?

 

For example, a common rule that I use it to notify the case owner is someone else logs a note to one of their cases.

 

It’s nice to tell the owner that it happened. It’s even nicer to provide them with the actual notes that were logged. Otherwise, they need to log into the app just to read the notes. By providing more context (in this case, the actual notes), we’ve given the recipient enough information to determine if they should do something more on this case or not.

 

email

 

I’ve blogged about this:
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2008/05/07/notify-the-case-owner-when-someone-else-logs-a-note-to-their-case

 

Another example: I *really* like it when customers close their own cases by the web. How do I know when this happens? By a business rule, of course. And I can provide enough information in the notification email to determine whether I need to take additional action or not.

 

I’ve blogged about this:
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2008/01/07/my-favorite-business-rule

 

Of course, making it easy for the user to get to the item in question is super helpful. If you’re using a web based application, including a URL in your message is super easy – and all the user has to do is click.

 

If you’re using the Clarify Client, you can use a launcher app so that you can have a URL such as clarify://case/1234 take the user to the correct case with just a click. I’ve discussed this in detail here:
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2012/06/04/launching-clarify-via-a-custom-clarify-url

5. Escalations

 

A business rule can have multiple actions. Each action defines *when* it will fire.  This means we have a robust escalation mechanism.

 

For example, we can have a rule with multiple escalation actions.

 

When a Priority 1 case is dispatched to a queue:

  • Notify all the queue members immediately. Repeat every hour until the case is accepted or responded to.
  • If the case hasn’t been accepted or responded to within 1 hour, also notify the queue supervisors
  • If the case hasn’t been accepted or responded to within 2 hours, also notify the Support Manager
  • If the case hasn’t been accepted or responded to within 3 hours, also notify the VP of Support
  • If the case hasn’t been accepted or responded to within 3.5 hours, also notify the CIO
  • etc.

 

Notice that as time progresses, we continue to escalate up the company hierarchy. This provides a lot of power to configure notifications and escalations.

6. Notification Delivery Options, Business Hours, and Urgency

 

When setting up a business rule recipients, you can assign an Urgency to the notification (High, Medium, Low). Each user can define their preferred notification method for each urgency.

 

Out of the box, Clarify provides for the following notification methods:

  • Email
  • Notifier (in-application notification)
  • Tone Pager
  • Text Pager
  • Digital Pager
  • Forward to my Supervisor
  • None

 

For example, I can decide that I want High and Medium Urgency messages sent to my pager, and Low Urgency messages sent to my email.

 

If seeing Tone and Text pagers makes you throw up in your mouth a little bit, that’s understandable. Remember that Clarify was created in 1990, so context is important here. Don’t worry – I’ll show more contemporary notifications options in the next section.

 

In addition, we can define different preferences depending on whether the user is at work or not (Normal Business Hours vs. After Hours).

 

Altogether, each user has 6 notification preferences:

  • High Urgency, Normal Business Hours
  • Medium Urgency, Normal Business Hours
  • Low Urgency, Normal Business Hours
  • High Urgency, After Hours
  • Medium Urgency, After Hours
  • Low Urgency, After Hours

 

This gives us a lot of configurability, so that users are notified properly depending on urgency and schedule.

7. Custom Notification Methods

 

Pagers are out. Mobile phones are in. Instead of using pagers, we can use more contemporary notification methods, such as SMS, phone calls, or even tweets.

 

Here’s a bunch of examples on how to do this:

 

Send SMS messages (using Clickatell):
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2009/04/06/sms-notifications-and-alerts

Send SMS messages (using the cell provider’s email to SMS gateway):
http://rulemanager.wikispaces.com/Custom+Notification+Methods

Send SMS messages (using Twilio):
https://github.com/gsherman/Javascripts

Make an actual phone call (using Twilio):
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/kmiller/archive/2009/04/13/can-your-crm-place-a-phone-call

Send direct messages via Twitter:
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2008/05/05/having-rulemanager-send-sms-notifications-via-twitter

More detailed information about all of this is covered in the Advanced Business Rules webinar I did earlier:
http://www.dovetailsoftware.com/blogs/gsherman/archive/2010/07/29/advanced-business-rules-part-2-webinar-follow-up

8. Better business rule searches

 

A common admin task I run into is trying to track down a business rule. For example, a user may get a notification, and we need to understand why they got the notification. Which means we need to find the rule. And all we have to go on is the notification message itself.

 

Or, we may want to find all of the rules that fire on a certain action (such as case create or dispatch).

 

These aren’t easy to do within the Business Rule management UI within the Clarify Client.

 

Luckily, BOLT does provide a way to do this.

 

We can easily search all aspects of business rules, including the message content.

 

bolt_biz_rules

 

 

In addition, the output allows us to see the entire business rule and business rule action at a glance.  From an administrative standpoint, I find this a great way to search and scan through business rules easily.

Additional Information

 

Here’s another more place to get a ton more information on business rules:

 

Still Have Questions?

 

Have more questions about business rules, rulemanager, or anything Clarify or Dovetail related? Feel free to contact me – I love to share what I know.

 

My phone number and email address are on my contact page.

Summary

 

As I mentioned at the start – business rules are pretty powerful, and knowing how to get the most out of them will go a long way to making your system kick ass.

 

Hope you find these tips useful.

 

Rock on.

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