Today’s world has been dubbed appropriately as the age of the customer. As a business your, engagement with customers, if properly managed can bring immense benefits to your planning process. By learning the behaviours of your customer at your touch points during their journeys, you will develop great insights to enable you to plan and design great experiences for them. Apply data science techniques to data derived from customer activities (by consent) and leverage opportunities to enhance your ability to empathise with your customer, and be empowered to address their concerns more succinctly than your competitors. This should be the quest of any business that seeks growth and sustainability within the context of our current enigmatic business environment.
The role of technology
This process has been made easier with the use of technology, hence available software such as Qualtrics and Tableau are used by firms to capture and act on customer, product, brand and employee experience insights to intuitively develop customer empathy. Amazon has used this strategy to good effect. By combining a google-like functionality they enable you to evaluate such things as customer reviews, price, and availability thus offering the customer a wide berth in terms of product choices. For example, if you were looking to buy a router to speed up your internet connectivity you will be able to sort by connectivity type (wireless or cable) based on your preference and even compare speeds and pricing to make informed decisions. Furthermore, they provide you the ability to learn how the product meets your needs by reviewing customer feedback and product ratings. How about the fact that your Amazon account is so personalized that in your next visit to their site, based on your buying habits, they can provide you suggestions on your possible buying options.
Fundamentally, what you need to mine data efficiently is data. At the basic level data refers to numbers, text, video, and audio. To mine this data you need a system that allows you to collect a large pool to extract what is most valuable to you. Data mining is essentially the analysis of large pools of data to find patterns and rules that can be used to guide decision making and predict future behaviour. Not having accurate data can be debilitating to any business. Your constraints could range from a high error rate to time inefficiency. Conversely, using the right technologies and toolkit you potentially improve your data accuracy and timeliness in accessing and applying the information to relevant business scenarios, therefore as a consequence, your decision making is significantly improved. Intelligent data mining projects produce excellent results.
To understand the importance of data mining in everyday life, let us observe a few common scenarios. In a typical store, the benefit of mined data allows you to ask the store attendant, ‘how many of these items remain in our store? Which colours in our stock go faster? Which item categories sell the fastest?’ How about this pattern identified by phone companies; They have been able to determine for example that customers who call three times or more on an issue are likely to leave you if their issue remains unresolved. The technician from your internet supplier who comes to you and offers you a little extra to ease your pain and ends up persuading you to change your mind from switching to a competitor is probably acting in response to feedback from data analysis. The goal is to use data science in the areas of importance to an organisation’s mission to optimize operations and bring down the cost of goods.
Applying data science
Organisations in the logistics space are using data science to develop a better understanding of their customers. By analyzing customer data regularly, they can measure metrics that inform on such critical issues as churn rate, customer loyalty, and product or service profiles. The business value here is in the capability to generate customer profiles based on buying patterns, store visits, off-loading times, and fuel consumption. A case study in Kenya offers a great example of how data science can be a potential trigger for your customer engagement strategy, and by inference customer experience. It is not easy to manage a customer base of 25 million and determine their behaviours accurately, however they discovered an interesting pattern from analyzing their data.
It was this, that customers using their version of mobile money (M-PESA), showed an interesting trend, which helped them in the decision to introduce an overdraft service to make the customer’s life easier. They concluded that although there were numerous cancellations due to insufficient funds, 58% of customers completed their transactions within 2 days. Hence the introduction of a mobile overdraft service. To make the service more accessible to the average Kenyan, they would use a local term, fuliza M-PESA. The ability to predict events of this nature paved the way for businesses to deliver differentiated customer-centric services. Evidently this model is replicated variously in our local telecom space.
The scope to leverage data for business value knows no limits. The key is to think small and start using pieces of data to support the customer’s interaction with your company. According to Jonathan Carter, a renowned data artist, there are opportunities for you to create legally and ethically compliant ‘storyboards’, for how data and marketing technology can be used to develop and deliver sustainable trust, value, and control to both the customer and the brand. He opines further, ‘there is no getting away from the need to move towards a comprehensive and connected view of your customer data’. Your understanding at an individual level of how your customers are behaving across both ‘brick and mortar’ (traditional off-line businesses) and, increasingly the direct and indirect digital landscape, where customers are constantly exploring and interacting with your brand and services, present you the opportunity to sense and respond to their interactions at the moment. Your access to huge amounts of (consensual) customer data empowers you to recognize where you can drive value for customers and prospects. You generate profits ultimately by acquiring a thorough customer transaction history and using that information to tailor offers to them.
Getting your data from the right sources and having the capability to harness it efficiently will leapfrog your business fortunes amazingly. To begin with, having a fully functional website is key to developing customer insights for your business. Additionally, you get to understand your business stakeholders by using scraping techniques (the act of extracting data or information from websites with or without the consent of the website owner), to collect data from structured and unstructured sources. You can complement this by applying techniques like sentiment analysis (the interpretation and classification of emotions – positive, negative and neutral – within text data using text analysis techniques) to find out what the stakeholders think about you and what strategic or operational steps you can take to improve your services and products. Having online presence can be a very effective addition to your marketing strategy.
A couple of years ago I met a Briton on my flight to Ghana. He was an army veteran, had just retired, and was looking for some adventure. We got talking on our connection from Amsterdam to Accra, as it turned out the decision to come to Ghana was a random one. He had never been to Africa, so I got curious about why Ghana was his choice. Well according to him he was researching online for hotel accommodation and was also interested in additional offerings for him to travel around and get to see places of interest. Well this hotel (can’t remember which one) in Elmina, offered him all that and assured him of a pick-up from the Airport to Elmina on his arrival. Should this hotel invest in a well thought out digital strategy, its scope for customer acquisition will be GLOBAL! Clearly, the creative use of data will potentially turn the fortunes of that business on its head.
Understanding the customer as revealed by the data you acquire (by consent) through your touchpoint interactions, will enhance your capacity to generate business intelligence and insights of competitive value. This will help you make better decisions encompassing the needs of your internal and external customers. These could range from product packaging, pricing, and beyond while serving your customers’ changing needs. Note this caveat, that the data on its own will not tell you the full story. What you need is to develop a customer-centric mix where your focus on data, complemented with carefully designed processes and customer empathy resonates. Also worthy of note is that in this era of a (disruptive) technology revolution, by adapting deliberate strategies of growing your digital marketing strategy, your ability to learn about the customer to ultimately leapfrog your business performance is an opportunity you must not compromise. Test and learn to see how to use customer information, but expect customers to be learning and changing their behaviour too.
The Writer is the Managing Consultant at Capability Trust Limited a People and Learning Organisation. He can be reached on 059 175 7205, [email protected] .