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Be where the customer is

Saul van Beurden, CIO Retail Banking & International, ING

In early May 2012, SAS hosted the fifth annual European edition of The Premier Business Leadership Series in the dynamic city of Amsterdam. The first of the 2012 global series continued the theme “Innovate. Optimise. Transform.” and focused on the revolutions taking place in core decision-making processes – with an emphasis on how big data is being used through technological innovations and the application of high-performance analytics to address today’s business challenges and opportunities.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the organising team for the conference and especially lucky because I had unprecedented access to the supporting materials our keynote speakers used during their thought leadership presentations. In particular, I saw that there were a number of big themes running through the conference this year: the global economy, the facts and information in decision-making and the increasing availability of large volumes of data, as well as the expanding role of the main Board Director were just some, but I want to focus this article on one theme that really resonated with me – ‘being where the customer is.’

In his keynote presentation, Saul van Beurden (CIO Retail Banking & International, ING) talked about how his bank had recognised the importance of focusing on the customer’s experience with the bank, as well as the everyday issues of keeping the core processes running. With this in mind, the bank actively seeks ways to reflect more closely the lives of their customers and how they want to interact with the bank.

Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco

This is a point that was echoed in Sir Terry Leahy’s (former CEO of Tesco) presentation when he talked about ‘Following the Customer.’ Leahy used the example of how Tesco’s analysis of customers’ behaviour and preferences identified the need for a new kind of store format; one designed specifically to cater for busy lives where the customer just wants to pop in on their way home from work, buy the day’s essentials and then leave – this ran contrary to conventional retailing wisdom which was to focus on big footprint, everything-in-one-place, out-of-town stores.

Of course, before you can ‘be where the customer is,’ you need to know your customers, their expectations, preferences and what kind of relationship will work for both them and you. When speaking about Yapi Kredi Bank’s (YKB) CRM successes, Nazan Somer (Executive Vice President of Retail Banking) described how her bank changed from being a product-centric organisation into a customer-centric one. This required bringing together all their communications channels into a coordinated system. As Nazan put it “having a lot of channels does not necessarily mean you are truly multi-channel.”

“Being where the customer is” for YKB is central to their strategy too – reflected the strategy’s name the ‘Winning Customer Strategy,” specifically named so that the customer remains at the forefront of any discussion within the bank about future plans.

It would be hard to fault the results of this focus on the customer: since implementing the strategy, YKB’s revenues have increased by 43%, as well as significant improvements in other key business measures; something for the shareholders to be very happy about.

Gathering the data to support a customer-centric approach does not come without challenges; not least of which is dealing with the sheer volume, variety and velocity of this ‘big data.’ According to Jim Davis (Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Office, SAS) this has led to the need for a new kind of business-savvy corporate adviser, the data scientist. Data scientists apply a solid background in math, statistics and computer sciences to the analysis needs of the business. For this, they also have to be good communicators – fluent in the semantics of a range of technical and business disciplines.

In a customer-focused organisation, data scientists are the ones who can put the ‘customer stories’ gathered from analyses of big data into a context that business leadership can assimilate and act upon.

The tools that data scientists need are markedly different too; to make sense of big data within a decision window that makes sense, you need a new generation of high-performance analytics that can deliver answers in seconds or minutes, not hours or days. When SAS CEO Jim Goodnight talked with Tham Ming Soong, former United Overseas Bank (UOB) Chief Risk Officer, in Amsterdam, they not only discussed how high-performance analytics can transform a risk department by running many more models against much more data in far less time, but also about how the same data can potentially be used to form a holistic picture of a customer.

This is a logical extension of ‘know your customer’ – knowing not just a customer’s potential to spend money with you but also the possible risk they may represent as well. This in turn provides valuable insights for designing business processes and offers for the customer, improving customer experience through relevance and service.

What role does the customer play in your big data strategy? Share your thoughts below and watch out for more from me on this topic on the Business Analytics Knowledge Exchange. In the meantime, check out the full PBLS Amsterdam conclusions by reading ‘What the Executives Say.’

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One Trackback

  1. By Big data makes everything more complex on July 26, 2012 at 9:01 am

    [...] my last blog post, I explained how industry leaders at The Premier Business Leadership Series in Amsterdam spoke [...]

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