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Big data must put customers before technology

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Having access to so much data can be daunting – as a business it is important to learn how to use it to your advantage but always remembering to keep the customer at the heart of it, says RICHARD MULLINS, MD of MEA at Acceleration.

Data works in two directions. Firstly, it gives businesses access to unprecedented volumes of real-time data about customer behaviour, preferences and context. It also provides consumers with information about where they should go for the best product range, experience, and pricing.

Thanks to smartphones, consumers have this information at hand whenever they research purchases, shop, and interact with brands.

Consider, for example, someone in a mall looking for the best nearby restaurant. He or she will look up nearby pizzerias on Apple or Google Maps or look up best restaurants on Zomato’s app. This provides the local owner of a pizzeria to target him or her with a contextual ad and perhaps an offer for a complimentary drink.

Think about someone trying on a jacket in a clothing store – having checked out the colour and the fit, he or she may decide to find the cheapest price and order it online. This may be done via their mobile phone, a mobile app or a tablet, for next day delivery. Why not offer to match pricing from the biggest online competitors in a PPC ad when the customer does his or her mobile search on Google?

The trail of behavioural, location, demographic and even psychographic data customers leave behind as they use mobile search and social media enables us to understand consumer behaviour and personalise messaging and right place right offer opportunity. Bear in mind that is aggregated customer data rather than information that identifies them personally.

Personalised experiences
To thrive in a world where smartphones make nearly every shopping experience a digital one, brands must learn to use data across their touch points to deliver a clear and personalised experience to each customer. Luckily, marketers have unprecedented volumes of data that they can use to understand and influence consumer behaviour in real-time.

The problem with trying to wrap one’s head around all this data, however, is that it can be hard to capture, analyse and segment. Most organisations have a plethora of information scattered across numerous logistical, transactional and marketing systems. The marketing systems include the likes of CRM databases, ad-servers, social media platforms, search, third-party data providers and more – and most companies have no idea how to bring it all together to create a single view of the customer. Some large enterprises have been struggling to reach this Holy Grail for decades.

What’s more, in the South African context, data isn’t as big as it is in the US or Europe. Outside a few of the large banks and telcos, most local companies don’t have deep pools of customer data to mine for statistical insight as, for example, Amazon. Lacking the volume of data, they will not achieve the same results as a player with Amazon’s scale even if they apply the same algorithms and analytics tools.

Think smart rather than big
We recommend that marketers ignore the buzz about big data and begin by asking a simple question: “What information will enable us to offer relevant messages and experiences to our customers?” Once they have identified that piece of information, they can begin to think about where and how they can access the data and how they will activate it with the customer.

For us, it’s not about big data. It’s about smart and usable data. Data that enables us to align the right message, service and product with the right customer at the right time. Rather than starting off with a complex data technology solution, marketers should step back and ask: “What data do we need, what data do we have, where does our data sit, and who owns and controls it?”

Understanding the answers to these questions will help the brand create a strategy for accessing the data it needs to serve customers better. Most South African brands have a wealth of transactional data at their fingertips – the next step is to start gathering and leveraging data about the customer context and journey more effectively.

The point is to start with the customers: what do we know about them and how do we serve them better? They should look at specific questions – “We have customers who purchase from us twice a year. How could we entice them to double their purchases?” – and seek equally specific answers.

A focused approach is the key to reaping an investment from customer data.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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