BT Financial's analytics chief: Deep customer knowledge a "hygiene factor"

Head of customer insights and analytics, Greg Nichelsen, says big data is vital in meeting customer expectations but without engagement, it's useless

Having deep customer knowledge has become the new hygiene factor for brands looking to stay in business and meet consumer expectations, according to BT Financial Group’s head of customer insight and analytics.

Speaking at the AB+F Retail Financial Services event in Sydney this week, the wealth management group’s Greg Nichelsen said customers now expect all brands, regardless of industry, to create stellar customer experiences by personalising and anticipating their needs.

While big data is providing organisations with the tools to gain such knowledge, it’s useless without also building customer engagement, he said.

“Customers are overwhelmed with choice; they also know that we’re vying for their attention all the time,” Nichelsen said. “As financial services brands, we’re competing with every brand, and we’re also competing for time on the train or bus on the way home. Engagement is a competition for time and no one has enough of it.

“We have to deeply know our customers, more than we ever have before, because it’s the only way we’re going to do what is now just hygiene: Meeting customer needs.”

For Nichelsen, the key objective is to be emotionally rewarding. In the financial services space, this could be as simple as removing some of the “scare factor” and taking away discomfort for customers, he said.

“Anticipation is also quickly becoming a base need so we don’t waste people’s time on things that aren’t of interest to them,” he said.

Nichelsen also stressed the importance of balancing data analytics with more traditional market research if brands hope to get a full view of their customers.

“Market research is how consumers like to think they act, while data is how they are really acting,” he commented. “We do a lot of work to make sure all our market research is bridgeable and can be tied back into the data.”

Like many brands today, BT Financial Group is looking at how it can become a more customer-centric organisation. One recent example of how it is striving to do this is a leadership program in Asia-Pacific, designed to help leadership teams better understand customer engagement and expectations.

The 12-week program saw leaders taking on personas of the group’s customers, walking through the buyer journey, and included meetings with customers to help executives walk in their shoes.

Data also lies at the heart of BT’s customer engagement efforts. Nichelsen described big data as an “attitude” towards better understanding customers and driving strategies, rather a technological activity, and detailed a range of ways other organisations could fine-tune their data-driven efforts.

These included removing impediments to data access, taking a more agile and integrated approach to data discovery and utilisation, embracing the idea of failure, and ensuring that all data is used to tell a story.

While technical knowledge is vital in tapping into data assets, Nichelsen said business acumen was equally critical.

“We all talk about the data science skills required, and yes there is a technology side to this… but there’s absolutely a business acumen side to analytics and if you don’t get the right balance, you either get a very R&D approach, or a very non-technical approach. You need something in between.”

Data-driven insight is also about leverage everything you can, Nichelsen said. “This can be hard, but you have to find a way to push these programs forward and get some stuff to happen,” he added.

Also from the AB+F Retail Financial Services conference: Westpac head of customer relationship marketing talks about why social is a great conversation starter

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