Harnessing customer data reaps rewards for brands

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Organisations that apply an analytical approach to real-time customer engagement can see a significant increase in customer satisfaction and profitability. This is how Tiffany Carpenter, the UK and Ireland head of customer intelligence solutions summarised the findings of "The Age of Now", a research report it published in late July 2017. In a conversation with DataIQ, she elaborated on some of the results of the survey which polled 350 heads of marketing, customer service, digital and data from across the UK.

The survey showed that organisations were not making use of artificial intelligence, with 76% responding that real-time customer interaction still relied on human interpretation and intervention. More than a third said they had no real understanding of the benefits of AI. According to Carpenter, AI has been “hyped up”, but it still has an important role to play. She said: “It’s really about understanding which areas of AI are more practical in order to deliver results. We talk to a lot of executives who think they can put a black box AI solution in place and allow it to make decisions. In fact, we’re a long way off from that point.” She warned that any AI solution would have to have transparency around the decision-making process and pointed out that SAS has full transparency and traceability in its algorithms.

The survey also relvealed Tiffany Carpenter, head of customer intelligence UK  and Ireland, SASthat, while many brands were aware of the importance of collecting customer data, few were doing so effectively. Just one in six said they were able to adjust their customer communications in real time and 60% said they were unable to communicate with customers through multiple channels in an integrated way. Carpenter said report revealed that there is a “deluge” of digital data that has become available to organisations but this data is very “noisy” and difficult to decipher.

The vast majority (97%) of respondents said they had obstacles to being able to properly access and understand the customer data they collect. These obstacles were budgetary restraints (53%), the threat of a data breach (42%), legacy systems (30%) and regulatory compliance (30%), especially with GDPR enforcement less than a year away. However, Carpenter also pointed out that, from the experience of herself and her colleagues, internal politics are also a major barrier. She said that the way organisations are organised is not always conducive to putting the customer at the heart of decision-making.

According to Carpenter, operational silos exist within organisations with different business units working towards different KPIs. She gave the example that within one organisation, the marketing unit might have a KPI around customer acquisition while the customer call centre may have a KPI related to net promoter score or customer satisfaction. She also said that business units may have budgets of varying sizes as well as different systems or technologies that deal with customer experiences.

She said: “Those systems don’t talk to each other, so you’ll have multiple systems across an organisation handling different customer channels which then creates a very fragmented customer journey. It creates a challenge in terms of pulling all that data together and delivering a single consistent unified customer experience at any touchpoint.” Carpenter added that SAS, in its capacity as an analytical software and solutions provider, would be able to help to overcome this challenge.