Connexions Loyalty Chief Data and Analytics Officer turns streaming customer data into a source of innovation
You’ve been thinking about a cruise to Alaska. A relaxing week at sea, basking in nature’s splendor while sailing peacefully through the emerald green waters of the northern Pacific.
This dream holiday may be a secret to others around you – but likely not to Connexions Loyalty. The company uses artificial intelligence (AI) software from SAS to understand its customers’ wants and needs with an impressive degree of accuracy.
Founded in 2001, the loyalty marketing leader works with top brands to provide redemption options and loyalty services to more than 200 million people worldwide. If you’ve ever redeemed points for travel, merchandise or gift cards, you’ve likely used Connexions Loyalty.
With Chief Data and Analytics Officer Rachel Bicking at the helm, the company is an analytics and innovation powerhouse, using its surplus of structured and unstructured data to drive operating efficiencies, personalize the shopping experience for its customers and empower internal stakeholders – be they data experts, business executives or new hires – to improve performance and decision making.
The more we learn throughout the customer journey, the more personalized we can be. Rachel Bicking Chief Data and Analytics Officer Connexions Loyalty
AI personalization engine
Connexions Loyalty relies on SAS® Customer Intelligence 360 to connect its clients with customers via online, mobile, social, print and phone. Embedded data integration capabilities enable the firm to efficiently aggregate customer data and distribute it across channels, opening the door to a wealth of data-driven services to enhance the customer experience.
The company’s AI personalization engine feeds on this data and delivers an increasingly personalized shopping experience for each customer. SAS Event Stream Processing enhances the engine by recognizing patterns in customer behavior in real time and delivering immediate insight to improve the accuracy of next steps and recommendations.
“We’re getting smarter within seconds of that first touchpoint,” Bicking says. “The more we learn throughout the customer journey, the more personalized we can be.”
With credit card points to burn, you fire up your web browser to peruse cruise offers. Based on your digital footprint, the AI personalization engine serves up custom search results, product offers and imagery across its network. Love the mountains? There’s a photo of Mount Denali promoting that Alaskan cruise. In the other room, your beach-loving spouse might see an image of an ocean sunset promoting the same trip.
Bicking credits the company’s 21st century roots for its swift AI adoption. “As a relatively new company, we had the benefit of coming in fresh,” she says. “Rather than working through the standard maturity curve with things like targeting and campaign management, we thought we’d start at the top and build an agile model for all of it.”
Connexions Loyalty – Facts & Figures
gift cards processed daily
in consumer rewards delivered annually
AI makes jobs more robust and fulfilling
Beyond personalization, the company uses advanced analytics to enhance usability across its digital channels – a particularly useful feature for the customer call center.
If customers experience website errors, or get hung up on certain pages, Connexions Loyalty anticipates these issues using a predictive model and feeds that information to the call center. Then, when the customer inevitably calls in, the person answering the phone has key details such as the URL, internet browser and active deals to pick up where the customer left off.
The company takes this a step further with natural language processing, a form of AI that listens to calls and identifies words that trigger escalations or happiness, for example. Based on what the customer is saying, the personalization engine supplements this data with existing knowledge to segment that person in real time and suggest a next best action for the rep.
“People in the contact center have hard jobs, but AI is making things easier,” Bicking says.
The contact center isn’t the only department benefiting from AI. Connexions Loyalty began its road to AI by interviewing employees to uncover the most disliked tasks. If a process could be automated to drive revenue or save money, it was. This boosted efficiency, but it also improved jobs. By cutting out the drudgery, Bicking found that employees were suddenly free to perform their jobs more strategically, making roles feel more robust and fulfilling.
Democratizing analytics with SAS® Viya®
Connexions Loyalty uses a shared services model for analytics support, allowing it to democratize data across the organization. The company has dedicated analysts in each department and major account. Plus, it has data scientists, data architects, data engineers and data administrators on the operational side, and practice leads for personalization, internal analytics, account management and reporting on the customer side.
This matrix-style organization brings a wide variety of analytical skills and languages. To keep everyone on the same page, the company uses SAS Viya, a unifying analytics platform that extends the power of analytics to everyone and integrates analytics projects across code bases. Now, regardless of job title or preferred programming language, every employee has access to business-changing insight.
“SAS Viya is just so user friendly,” Bicking says, “and it also gives us the power and flexibility to build machine learning models in one area of the business and implement them in another.”
For visualization and exploration, Connexions Loyalty uses SAS Visual Analytics and SAS Visual Statistics, both on SAS Viya. Executives use dashboards to monitor growth, potential problems and attrition risk, while new hires can quickly get up and running – a benefit that Bicking says enables her to hire people who are experts on the business side but not necessarily at building models.
“We look at SAS as a collaboration technology,” Bicking says. “The ease of interfaces, the level of talent and training needed, how accessible the tools are and how we bridge the gap between insight and visualization are all big differentiators for SAS.”
With curiosity fueling exploration, the company is getting creative with improving internal analytics in areas such as project management, sales and marketing. “Almost anything we can dream up is technologically possible,” Bicking says. “Because we’re no longer inhibited by technology, the possibilities are virtually endless.”