The British Heart Foundation and the IM Group are seemingly worlds apart. One is a charity close to the heart of many, hosting iconic fundraising events such as the annual London to Brighton bike ride and 700 charity shops on many British high streets.
The other is an independent vehicle distributor of Asian automotive brands – including Subaru and Isuzu - with operations in the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the Nordic and Baltic states. Despite their differences, for both organisations it became imperative some years ago to see data as an asset, handle it more effectively and extract fruitful insight from it.
Founded in 1961, the British Heart Foundation has accumulated almost 60 years’ worth of data on donors, volunteers, campaigners and staff. The charity began its journey to being more data-driven eight years ago, before the time of Ciara Bosworth, the current head of CRM, data and customer services.
Back then, the fundraising team, one of the most dynamic in the charity, started by creating a single CRM hub, integrating six databases into one. However, things got off to a rocky start. Leadership turnover was so high that Bosworth became the fifth lead in two years. Upon arrival, she identified one of the problems of the project was that it lay in the wrong business area.
"The initial pilot approach dealt with it as a tech project."
“The initial pilot approach dealt with it as a specifically tech project rather than a marketing-based project or a business-project, so we had a number of teething problems,” she said. Bosworth addressed this by bringing in business analysts, project managers, coordinators and “proper” tech resource. She said that she and her team then worked really hard to consolidate, clean and de-dupe the data.
Howard Ormesher also had a complex data set as IM Group operates through a franchise network of 80 Subaru dealers and 105 Isuzu dealers in the UK. He said that the aim was to use data to encourage its dealers to deliver marketing and “a combined bigger bang for our buck.” A secondary aim of Ormesher in his role as group CRM director was to facilitate and create an environment in which the dealer could operate in a way that is GDPR-compliant.
He faced two serious challenges, the first being inaccurate and incomplete data, with dealers not always taking down customers’ details comprehensively. The second was non-linear contact information where a customer would buy a vehicle from dealer A but go to dealer B for servicing, and after a few years take the car to dealer C for a trade-in. The customer could end up receiving mailings from all three dealerships, and neither dealer would know who the main point of contact was.
Ormesher’s goal was to try to “untangle this complex web of data.” While the he and his team were dealing with data challenges within the organisation, Bosworth and the British Heart Foundation data team had to contend with a pressures stemming from wider society.
In 2015, all UK charities found themselves operating in a very hostile environment. The tragedy of the death by suicide of Olive Cook, a very generous charity donor, and the outcry and repercussions that followed had a chilling effect on Bosworth’s team. They were demoralised and it was difficult to motivate them. She said: “From the team’s point of view, activities that happened a very long time before they came into place, overshadowed everything they were trying to do.”
“Data didn’t feel like an asset, it felt like a risk.”
She said that, to the team, data felt like a risk instead of an asset. “Everything we held, everything we did, we second guessed, and it was really hard from a resource point of view to keep people moving. It is unbelievably difficult to motivate your staff when they are terrified of making even the simplest mistake.”
Bosworth added that the public seem to hold charities to a higher standard of conduct and place more trust in them than regular companies. However, she said that in no way should mean that non-profits should receive more lenient treatment than commercial organisations. The BFH did in fact receive a fine from the ICO, a fact that the charity does not shy away from.
The recently-enforced GDPR and the threat of substantial fines that come with it are of particular concern to Ormesher, given that he said that in the past, the question of who owned the customer was a grey area. “It was not clear cut. In many ways there is almost a tri-partite relationship between us, the customers and the dealers. We kind of shared the customer,” he said. “We were the controllers of the data with the dealers as data processors. But the dealers are independent businesses, they’re data controllers in their own right.”
IM Group would like to see the customer sitting in the data driving seat.
To resolve this, he brought in a single customer view tool, which merged prospects and customers in the same system and maintains the “proactively captured” data. Using software provided by Blue Group, the IM Group data team manages an in-house system of around three million records that is refreshed every day, although Ormesher added that “quite a lot” were lost in a the process of creating a new retention policy to become GDPR-compliant. He also said that the dealers use Contact Tracker for the lead management system as well as DotMailer for EDM.
Now Ormesher would like to see the customer sitting in the data driving seat. There is a preference centre through which customers can register ownership of their vehicle and choose the dealership that would prefer communication to come from, as well as the type and nature of that communication.
The IM Group implemented a set of rules of engagement preference order that the dealers can see and contest. The latest purchasing leader trumps all other connections and the customer becomes attached to the dealership they purchased from for marketing and communications, unless they express a preference for a different one. He said that the dealers are happy with the new system. “It works,” said Ormesher, “It’s building trust”.
For Bosworth the challenge of a single customer view approach was the sheer volume of data they were dealing with. “Despite having access to some great analysis tools, our primary CRM just isn’t set up to support that kind of reporting. And as we are continuing down a single customer view path and bringing in more and more data sets, to help us manage all those communication preferences, our system is just larger and larger and slower and slower.”
"By embracing new technologies, we can really harness the power of data."
She said that they realised their tech stack wasn’t sufficient, as selections can take days or weeks to build and hours to run. They also embarked on a training programme to “educate and empower" staff to think and strengthen their understanding of what they are asking for. The full effects are not expected to be felt for another few years but Bosworth has already seen that she starting to get better questions.
Bosworth is now in the process of finalising the selection and contracts for a new customer data platform which she knows will make a difference, both to the charity and the people it works with. She said: “We hope that by embracing new technologies and thinking about how we can really harness the power of data, we will actually be able to make a difference in people’s lives.”