Improving customer service, within the law
Today it's all about the customer, knowing what they want and giving it to them - how, where and where they want it.
With most customers today being quite fickle in their choices, organisations that wish to punt their brand need to do so carefully, without irritating the customer. The best way to do this is to empower the customer, by delivering to them only the most pertinent and relevant offers.
In order to achieve this, one needs to properly analyse and understand customer data, in the highest quantities available, in order to gain as much insight into individual customers as possible. In this way, the organisations can more effectively target their customers. Accurate targeting means the customer will more than likely welcome such an approach, as it will be the right approach, for the right customer, at the right time.
Obed Lesejane, Senior Business Solutions Manager at SAS, points out that when conducting such a customer analysis, businesses need to draw information about customer behaviour and customer lifestyle, as well as purchase patterns and the types of products they like.
"Obviously, the more information you can obtain about the customer, the more comprehensive your analysis will be, meaning that the offer provided is more likely to fit the customer's need. A good analytics solution will collect its data from a multitude of different sources too - from cellphones, Web traffic, social media, Internet of things-linked sensors and even point-of-sale devices," he says.
The question is: if the organisations undertaking such analytics are collecting what amounts to customers' personal information for this purpose, how does the forthcoming Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act affect them?
"The truth is that the analytics involved in customer targeting seldom requires what is defined as 'personal information' to obtain the required results. For one thing, most of the data used is collected in scenarios where the customers choose to 'opt in', so they have already agreed to the harvesting of their data. Secondly, SAS is able to hide the details of who the data belongs to before it is put through the analytics process, keeping it secure," says Lesejane.
In addition, he explains, it is also possible to implement access control, to ensure that only those who have the required access can see the data, while any other observer is restricted. When this is coupled with strong data encryption and information masking, the information is kept quite safe and secure at rest and in transit.
According to Lesejane, segmentation techniques also allow customers to be broken down into smaller target markets, in order to more effectively drive those with certain attributes towards appropriate products, but even this segmentation can be done without needing to know specific personal customer details.
"Here it is really all about similar attributes and traits, so if you are aware that a certain customer has bought a certain product, they will also potentially be interested in something else that is similar. This is the approach used by most of the large online retailers, like Amazon."
But what about the legislation related to the retention of customer data? This, he adds, is also not a problem, since the nature of customer targeting is such that older data would likely no longer be relevant enough anyway.
"Apart from the foundational information - customer name, account number and so on - everything else will likely change as the customers also evolve. This constantly changing customer behaviour means that the POPI Act's limitation on how long you are allowed to keep such data shouldn't affect retail analytics in any way.
Ultimately, the main issue from a customer analytics point of view, in respect of POPI, is the security of the consumer data that customers allow companies access to, which these companies then use to deliver an improved service.
"SAS offers solutions that provide such security, while also translating this data into effective analysis that enables the enterprise to deliver better faster and more targeted services to customers, thereby improving the customer experience. And of course, happy customers are more likely to let you have access to more of their personal information, so it becomes a continuous loop of constantly improving customer service on one side, and increased sales on the other," he concludes.