Want happier customers? Dig into the data to find out what they need

CIO Strategies: How better use of data can make customers happier and and more loyal.

Video: 5 tip for digital transformation

If your business doesn't exploit technology and data to keep customers happy, then your rivals will.

Chris Brauer, director of innovation in the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, says companies that surprise and delight clients can inspire loyalty but have to move fast.

"Cultural and digital transformation is reinventing the concept of experience for customers and brands," says Brauer. "The amount of time that established companies have to dominate the marketplace is shrinking all the time."

Here tech leaders from different sectors give their best practice advice for boosting customer experiences in the digital age.

1. Get customer consent to develop data-led innovations

John Hutchins, head of connected home at EDF Energy Blue Lab, says the energy sector is characterised by change, especially in relation to the growing number of devices that connect to the network. As part of EDF's Blue Lab innovation accelerator, Hutchins is investigating how the firm can develop data-driven services for its customers.

Hutchins, who spoke at the recent DataIQ Future Conferencein London, says Blue Lab is a collaborative space where people can work together and develop projects quickly. The hub taps into knowledge from a disparate range of sources, including internal employees, external organisations, academic institutions and startup businesses.

"We start with a funnel, filter things down and create a proof-of-concept," says Hutchins. "The idea is to take embryonic ideas in the lab to the customer within a year. We're always looking for new, great ideas. And analytics is at the heart of our attempts to make things simpler for customers."

Hutchins' connected home team is currently running a trial with 400 customers who have a Wi-Fi-connected smart meter that sends information back to EDF via the cloud. The team has built a platform to store this data and a mobile app, so customers can visualise the insights. He says customer consent is key for IT decision makers looking to innovate.

"We're trying to develop great services by using friendly triallists and dummy data to help train up our algorithms to an acceptable and useful level," he says. "With that model in place, you can go out to your wider customer base and get their active consent before they start using your new services."

2. Focus on solving the challenges your clients face

Saul Lopes, customer lifecycle lead at Virgin Holidays, recognises firms in his industry face a significant challenge. Loyalty programmes are expensive and unlikely to provide a great return, especially as the average consumer buys a holiday form a favoured firm infrequently, possibly every 18 months-or-so at best.

Lopes, who spoke at the recent Adobe CX Forum in London, has focused on data and communications, creating a 37 per cent increase in revenue from customer relationship management. Through this approach, Virgin Holidays has developed omni-channel engagement that has led to an improvement in customer experiences.

"Planning holidays is stressful, especially if you have a family," says Lopes, whose team has analysed customer data to overhaul the holiday reminders it sends to customers. "We recognised we could reduce this stress by giving people the right information at the right time."

The business used Adobe Campaign to help cut its dependence on 44 data tables, with 2,000 variables, to seven data tables, with just 200 variables. The firm homed in on key areas and now uses a variety of techniques to boost experiences, include a booking celebration email, a holiday countdown, and clear information on visas and seat bookings.

"Think about what customer problem you're trying to solve and then use technology to create a solution," says Lopes. "Our unique opportunity was to transform the business in terms of data by unifying customer relationships on a single platform. It was a team effort."

See also: What is a CIO? Everything you need to know about the Chief Information Officer explained

3. Find the right balance between service improvements and profits

Lara Izlan, director of commercial platforms and operations at Auto Trader, has used the data her firm collects to help customers along their car-buying journey. Izlan and her team implemented Adobe Audience Manage to aggregate information and create targeted advertising campaigns.

Auto Trader has used this technique to analyse phases of the car-buying process and to suggest to manufactures the tendency of individuals to make a purchase. The firm serves advertising based on a consumer's stage of research and procurement. Izlan says other IT decision makers attempting to develop insight from information must be careful to ensure all parties are satisfied.

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"You can go overboard with data if you're not careful and you can start to over-target customers, which is certainly not conducive to user experience," she says.

"We're focused on trying to find the balance, where you provide users with a service, you show them interesting information that is in-line with what they're trying to do, and you also make sure your approach is more efficient from a marketing budget point of view."

Other advances are anticipated. Izlan says machine learning, for example, might help the business automatically refine some of the algorithms it uses to target advertisers. As Auto Trader is run as an agile business, Izlan believes it is easier for IT and data professionals to experiment with advanced technology and information.

"We're thinking about how we partner with other organisations so that we can start to incorporate more data," she says. "That might include information from other media organisations and car brands. All that information will help us to understand the customer journey in even more detail."

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