Using data for a better customer experience

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Engendering a culture of collaboration, using data to answer very specific questions, and gathering data about customers through more creative avenues. These are a few of the actions being taken by c2c rail, Arcadia and NCP to improve the experience of their customers and drive up revenues.

For Matt Arnull, head of enterprise architecture at Arcadia, more value can be derived from data when it is used to answer simple questions. Though he is a technologist and admits that it is easy to get distracted by the technology, he finds the best way to find out which issues to investigate is to ask the board, "what keeps you up at night?".

"It's not about the data, it's about the insight."

Budget hotel bedroom“It is not about the data, it is about the insight,” said Arnull. He was warning against the temptation of collecting as much data as possible and getting carried away by the quantity of it.

He said that the data journey should instead start with a small investment to solve a particular problem. Arnull referred to a “well known budget UK hotel chain” that he worked with three years ago as an example of how this can be done.

“We realised that our price point wasn’t right, but we didn’t know what to move it to.” He and his team created a simple SQL database that took the prices of competitors, as well as weather data and information about local, upcoming events.

“In the space of two years, the room price was moved by £5 without touching customer sentiment and still giving the same value proposition.”

For Arnull, the benefit of working towards such a specific aim was that there was "a massive net turnaround in the numbers coming to the business," and the board was able to recognise the value of it very quickly because it was such a simple use case.

The success of the initial project meant that the team turned its attention to another specific problem, that of figuring out which hotel rooms to upgrade.

Liverpool Street train station London concoursePaul Challis, head of IT at c2c Rail, spoke of how he would like to use data going forward to understand his travel customers better. With increasingly flexible working, longer commutes, car-sharing and, soon, self-driving cars changing how we use the trains, for Challis it is important to understand customer data and, as such, “the patterns of behaviour within our environment that we can control.”

"We should use data to say, 'how do you want to travel with us?'"

He said that what is already in place is personalisation CRM that enables customers to get perks and extras, such as coffee or a child’s ticket. But he wants to gain an even deeper understanding of the customer. “We should be using data to say, ‘how do you want to travel with us? How can we enhance your experience?’”

“Understanding customer behaviour through the data that we collect through all of these digital touchpoints is really crucial for our industry, so we can make sure that we can retain that customer and still have people travelling on the trains,” said Challis.

"If I know what your intent is, I can marry up your experience."

Arnull is adamant that data trumps intuition when it comes to giving customers a great experience, so one of the digital touchpoints he is using to collect information on customer behaviour is video.

The questions that Arcadia wanted to answer related to customers’ intents and actions while in store. The organisation wanted to see if a particular display was having the desired effect, or whether customers could find a specific product.

He predicts the effect on retailers will be significant. “The whole journey picture starts changing quite dramatically particularly as retailers start repurposing the store into being one of the key parts of their experience, rather than just an outlet for sale. It is becoming increasingly important because if I know what your intent is, I’ve got a better chance of marrying up your experience.”

While the information that can be derived from video footage of customers is indeed rich, is certainly worth thinking about the privacy implications for those consumers, the level of detail necessary to glean the required data and whether customers would feel comfortable being tracked in that way.

NCP car parkDespite all the benefits that come with working with and gaining insight from data, a lack of collaboration between staff and personnel could pose an obstacle to obtaining that insight.

This is the issue faced by Max Crane-Robinson, commercial director at NCP. He said that the skills and capabilities that one needs to operate a physical car park, including managing teams and dealing with customers, will never go away.

However, the skills the company needs in the longer term are possessed by "intellectual, analytical people" who can “look at spreadsheets, write code and create offers and propositions with partners."

He asked: “How do you get those two groups of people [operational and analytical] who want to achieve the same goal to talk the same language as each other and be on the same page? That's the really hard bit."

When all is said and done, an organisation's greatest asset is its people. Their ability to work together to derive insight from and subsequently take action based on decisions made from that insight will be the key to bigger numbers and happier customers.

Paul Challis, Max Crane-Robinson and Matt Arnull were speaking at Gartner Symposium ITXPO.