Customers are people not data

Data is driving digital marketing at the moment, with brands using their customer knowledge and data analytics to drive their online campaigns and use of social media more effectively than ever.

Use of data in digital marketing was certainly a hot topic in Marketing Week’s Customers Retention Summit this week.

Knowing your customers is not only the best way to win customers, but to retain them. What is changing is the way data analytics is being used in a more sophisticated way to build strong customer relationships and have more meaningful interactions, which inevitably lead to sales.

Data clearly shows patterns of behaviour and allows brands to commute with their customers in a more relevant way.

But the important thing to remember is, customers are not data.

This point was backed up by conference speaker Chris Bibby, Virgin Media’s direct marketing and CRM director, adding that customer relationship management should come from the customer, and not be focused on the customer.

What the company has done as a way to combat its customer service perception problem is to pull together, not just hard binary data which both its marketing teams and its customer service teams have at their finger tips, but anecdotal language which customers have used to describe its service.

Called ’Verbatims’ the company uses them to back up the ’numbers bit’ of customers data and tell them why customers are scoring in a particular way in CRM analytics, therefore giving them a more ’human’ face of the customer than a spreadsheet provides.

The company has also created a group of ’Promoters’ who started off as an online community, but now actually meet Virgin Media marketeers and staff face to face, to talk about likes and dislikes.

Bibby says the project has been highly effective and created a step change in how his team feel about their customers. The drive for the company is to continue to put these potent customer insights into action.

Such projects need to be backed up by hard data that show finance officers and procurement departments that impact positively on the bottom line.

However because digital can be as data driven as you want these days, it’s a much easier sell to finance and procurement types. It’s automated, there are low overheads and you can instant gage your ROI and response rates far quicker than before. More stats for brands to look at, but more weight for your budget spend conversation.

A comment backed up by David Oliver of European broadcaster Veersat, in relation to his dealing with finance officers. “Marketing teams need to speak the language of finance officers. They need to earn that level of respect,” he added at the conference.

That’s all well and good, but customers want more.

Social media has made people more impatient with brands who don’t know about them and don’t know who they are. This is particularly important if two sides of the business, both of importance to customers, don’t talk to each other.

Barclays has made great advances in integrating data captured from its customer facing part of the business in branch, with the online banking side.

Head of digital sales Julian Brewer says customers now have an expectation that you should know everything about them – every transaction they make – they expect you to know them well.

The bank has had to greatly improve its data stream between branch and online, which up until 2008 involved a Barclays employee physically taking a data stick with branch data over to the online team in another part of town, meaning once the data was analysed, it wasn’t particularly effective.

The bank is now able to get that data almost instantly, so, on a basic level if a customer pays a bill in branch, Barclays can offer advice the next time they go online to show the customer how easy they can do this online.

Oliver says for them, having all this data about their customer, means they can acquire sales through better service. As a result of more effective data and digital interactions, the company has seen an increase of 25% in customer retention with online services compared to standard retention.

Having that level of insight with your customers is as imperative in the digital space as it is offline, but without relevant communication, the customer just becomes a number, a segment, a target market.

Knowledge combined with great messaging, make for great communication, which in turn means long lasting, rewarding and meaningful relationships with customers.

That’s customers, not data.

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