Evelyn Rodrigues from WSAA considers some complex data issues

We are swimming in lakes and oceans of data. The data to solve our problems usually exists. Our challenge is that we can’t trust it or we can’t extract it, analyse it or overlay it with other data making it next to useless for decision making. And that is just within our own organisations. When we start to use external data, even freely available data, it becomes even more complex.

Another challenge is the appropriate use of customer data. Just because you could use it, doesn’t mean you should. Even if it is within privacy and legal requirements, we always need to ask ourselves ‘does the use of this data have a net benefit for our customer?’.  By holding, sharing or using this data, could we unintentionally be putting customers at risk, or invading their privacy?

In the last week, I have seen three separate presentations that deal with these issues and it is quite clear everyone, including large sophisticated companies like Woolworths and Cathay Pacific, are struggling with how to best leverage data. Some of my key take aways are below.

Data Governance

Who makes the decisions on data? The role of the Chief Customer Officer is paramount and more and more their role is around the use of data: when should we be using it, what should we be using it for and does it help to understand and deliver better outcomes for our customers. While many of these companies have Chief Data Officers or similar, their role is primarily is breaking down silos and looking at ethical, privacy and legal issues regarding data.

Data Expertise is not the main barrier: While many think that data scientists are the solution, they are expensive and most companies do not have this capability in house. Research by the Data Management Association shows that much of a data scientist’s time is spent just cleansing and fixing up data quality – we need to solve our problems with data governance first.

Break down the data silos: Data silos are not just a challenge internally. They are the source of a major pain point for customers. That is, when they contact the organisation and the organisation has no knowledge of their previous issue. Cathay Pacific also found that by breaking down the silo, they were able to overturn a previously held misconception that was driving investment in the wrong area. They always thought that on time performance (OTP) was most important to their business traveller segment. In fact, OTP mattered most to the family segment. It was only by looking at data from a different ‘silo’ that they were able to identify this. (As an aside, it had to do with the fact that status levels meant that business customers generally had less flight connections and were looked after if flights were late. Families tended to have a lot of connections when they travelled, were supported less when things went wrong and was a lot more difficult for them with young children).

Customer experience

A big focus is on moving people towards low cost, digital channels. One of the insights the data provided to Cathay Pacific was that people use high cost, high interaction channels such as phone because they are afraid to try something new. They have invested a great deal of resources in getting their contact centre staff to walk people through a digital channel along with simple ‘how to’ videos and guides. They have found this has been incredibly successful in permanently shifting a cohort of reluctant digital channel users.

Making things easy usually wins over flexibility and options. Woolworths gave an example about some of the interesting and innovative tech and channels they had in development. They brought customers from different segments in and watched them interact and found that the majority favour the quick and easy as opposed to the cool and innovative. They also highlighted the importance of observing customers with accessibility issues use channels in their own environment (ethnographic research) as this is the way to identify pain points.

What does it mean for the water sector?

  1. Fix up issues with data governance and quality first. It will give you more ‘bang for your buck’ when you engage analysis and data scientists.
  2. Be led by the customer when it comes to data strategy and use
  3. Quick and easy wins over ‘cool’ and flexible when it comes to customer experience
  4. Invest the resources in supporting customers to move to new low cost channels. A good experience the first time they try a new channel means they are more likely to switch.
  5. Watch customers use technology in their own environment. This is particularly true for customers with special needs or accessibility issues.
  6. Be careful of assumptions – is there data in another area of the organisation that can back this up (or challenge it?) before you make investment decisions.

Where to next?

The next big shift is partnerships to share and access data to benefit customers. Woolworths are doing this through their airline and credit card partnerships. But extracting this data and then putting it in a form so that it is actually useable is a real challenge but it can be done to share insights across sectors. A recent example I saw was a presentation by Scott from the Art of More who has pulled together heat maps of food insecurity for charity Foodbank. It uses not just Foodbank data but also ABS, health and travel data to understand where the areas of greatest need, and therefore optimise food distribution. But it can also be used by water utilities to help understand where and how to target support programs. This is just one of many applications we can use to better support and provide broader outcomes to our customers.

While it may seem challenging, the opportunities and benefits to our business and customers are massive if we can bring together the data in our lakes and oceans. Our core purpose must be that we use data to benefit our customers and communities. The capability is there, we just need to be willing to collaborate with this common goal in mind to bring together those drops of data and turn them into an ocean of knowledge.


How data is driving next generation customer experience – a research report by Precisely and Corinium which includes a survey of 100 Global companies and the top challenges influencing their CX strategies