Crispin Nieboer on William Hill’s data-driven approach to customer experience

A major consideration for any customer-facing business is how to use technology to create meaningful and positive customer experiences.

Crispin Niebor

How can a brand use the data it has captured to help build memorable and personal relationships at every stage of the customer journey?

At the forefront of this data-driven approach is Crispin Nieboer, Director of Corporate Development & Innovation at UK bookmaker William Hill.

Crispin will be speaking at the Festival of Marketing in November on the Customer Experience stage, but as a taster for his appearance I talked to him about William Hill’s approach to data and CX.

What led to William Hill developing a more data-driven approach to its customer experience?

Creating enjoyable and memorable experiences that our customers love and trust is what we’re about, and clearly the judicious use of data underpins this. And, there have been changes in customer behaviour – we offer a vast range of markets and ways for consumers to bet, a vast range of gaming experiences and more and more of our customers want to use these on a mobile device.

So there is a pragmatic need to serve relevant content at the right time across various devices. To build up that knowledge of the customer, we’ve moved way beyond demographic segmentation in our owned media.

We have a bilateral, personal relationship with our customers. We owe it to them to try to mesh historical data, plus our understanding of correlated behaviours and interests in betting, to give them the best possible experience.

Did you meet with any resistance to this transition?

In general, establishing a culture of innovation in a large organisation isn’t a simple task – especially when it’s often seen as easier to focus on quick wins within the core business. In our case, technology and data have been pivotal in our strategy for a while and therefore our transition to an innovation-centric organisation hasn’t met with as much resistance as other companies may face.

In terms of becoming more data-driven, again we encounter delight rather than resistance because it’s not about an obsession with metrics for metrics’ sake, it’s about allowing people the freedom to take decisions with the safety of robust data underpinning it.

Can you tell me how William Hill captures and utilises its customer data, and whether this is shared across teams?

The capture, structure and storage of data is key in a business like ours that processes such huge volumes of transactions.

We have a big, smart business intelligence and data analytics unit that is constantly looking to innovate – using data visualisation techniques, machine learning to statistically cluster accounts, all kinds – and all with the goal of answering questions about our customers that will help us to deliver a better and more relevant experience to them.

It’s about marrying two types of of data: customer data plus the contextual element that is big data. When well connected, that’s where we can optimise journeys and make life easier.

Beyond this, having the platform to deliver those personal experiences is key. Project Trafalgar is one significant step that we’ve made in this regard.

We have a flexible, responsive front-end site that can dynamically serve content and make changes in great volumes with great speed – and it is this sort of technology that helps us to test, learn and constantly improve our understanding of our customers.

Who do you see as your main competition in the online gambling world, in terms of providing good customer experience?

I’m sure we’re all focused on largely the same broad areas online  – relevance, performance and speed. At William Hill, we want to differentiate ourselves by developing solutions that address these issues in a completely different way. That’s why we’ve invested in our WHLabs unit and an innovation platform on which empowered developers can create brilliant things.

We’re a market leader that isn’t standing still, and we think that the best route to differentiation is to learn the fastest. WHLabs gives us agile development teams in various locations, all focused on delivering products that enrich the customer experience, such as the recently launched Priority Access Card.

We’re also keen to foster new talent and collaborate outside of WH, as we’ve started to do through our start-up accelerator initiative.

Are there plans to tie up your high street branches to your online products? How will this change the customer experience on and off-line?

Definitely. An important part of our technology strategy moving forward is to bridge the gap between the retail and online experiences so we can provide a consistent experience to our customers across all channels.

The WHLabs teams are working on various projects that will bring this experience closer together, all within a climate that prizes rapid proofs of concept and quicker deployment of new technologies.

This agile approach means we’re confident in our ability to lead the market in this respect.

How do you track and measure how the work you’re doing is impacting the customer experience?

We’re all about testing and learning – we talk to our online panels of customers, we do traditional surveying and insight, we have various forms of brand measurement in place, we work with external research agencies and ultimately we think like our customers.

It’s also about the approach to launching things – putting things in front of customers early, gaining feedback, optimising and putting it back out there.

That’s also the beauty of WHLabs – with WHLabs we want to be braver, launch more things, test them, see if they work and then identify whether our customers would value those products or features as part of the core William Hill experience.

Another sort of example of constant customer learning and dialogue is that we’ve also recently launched a dedicated Twitter customer service channel so that our customers know exactly where to go for support or queries.

William Hill Here to help

By its very nature, social customer service (which we’ve been doing via our main social channel for a while) is a real-time litmus test of customer experience where we can see patterns in queries and the like. That’s even easier to discern now that we’ve created a dedicated channel.

Or we might launch something connected to an event – we were able to get lots of amazing real-time customer feedback at the Ally Pally Darts last year, which we sponsored and where customers were using the new Darts app to have a fun, gamified betting experience.

Are there any areas you feel that William Hill can still improve the CX?

Absolutely – improving the customer experience is an infinite task for all customer-centric businesses. It’s an obsession, a culture rather than a project with an end-date.

We’ve set ourselves up with a permanent, well-resourced development unit that has adopted an agile approach, is recruiting top talent and is constantly innovating.

Clearly, we see great room for improvement. In fact, Trafalgar is the platform for further improvements that will enable us to make rapid progress now – it puts us in control of our code drops, increasing the volume and velocity of possible front-end change.

This, along with our data strategy, gets us fit for supercharging the customer experience by optimising what you get today and creating what you’ll get afresh tomorrow. So in reality, this is just the beginning.

Do you run into any problems when developing and improving CX in terms of adhering to gambling regulations?

I don’t see any conflict between improving customer experience and gambling regulations – in fact, we have hatched projects from WHLabs that are all about limit-setting and responsible gambling and which were developed proactively, rather than dictated by regulation.

Outside of your industry, who do you think is providing brilliant customer experience?

I see pockets of goodness in lots of places. Amazon’s constant boundary-pushing on the service side: I live in London and Prime Now is a huge feat.

Some of our guys visited Spotify and we saw real commonalities in the way we set up our dev cells – it’s inspiring that that setup hatched their new BPM/tempo-linking feature within a customer experience that is simple, clear and well communicated.

Or perhaps something like Shazam, which is such a good example of a core proposition that has been enhanced radically by the integration of other services via APIs – the seamless handoffs into various on-demand music services, to buying, to sharing.

Or moving away from narrow ecommerce stuff, sometimes it’s all relative – taking a City airport flight to visit one of our other offices is a dream, the layout and policies seem designed to respect the business traveller’s ability to traverse security efficiently, and as a consequence if you’re travelling for work, it’s a far slicker experience than doing the self-same thing at a larger airport.

Having said that, as a business traveller I am their key audience and it is of course easier to please when you can be single-minded in your proposition.

You can learn even more about customer experience trends at our two day Festival of Marketing event in November.