Optus: Improving product innovation with a data-driven customer view

Optus head of consumer insights talks through the telco's data analytics efforts to better understand customers in order to improve engagement and product development

Paul Rybicki, Optus
Paul Rybicki, Optus

Optus is increasingly combining data on customer behaviour, location, usage and interactions with traditional and digital information to give its product roadmap and marketing programs a shake-up, according to its insights chief.

Speaking at the CeBIT conference in Sydney, Optus head of consumer insights, Paul Rybicki, shared how his team has expanded its data intelligence gathering and is tapping into new data streams in order to drive innovation.

“Innovation is critical to our success – the industry is moving fast, the technology making a lot of historic products redundant is there every day, and our customers are using it every day. We need to respond to this,” he said.

“Ultimately, you can’t innovate if you don’t understand the underlying, fundamental need. For us, the challenge is being open-minded, getting traditional marketers and product people not to just think creatively, but to think about underlying need so we build great products for our customers.”

Using the persona of ‘Teddy’, Rybicki said Optus started by looking at the types of structured information customers provide when signing up to a post-paid mobile service, such as date of birth, address and name.

“That allows the team to engage in basic segmentation such as age, geography, but it doesn’t really drive us to innovate,” he said. “But that is how a relationship begins.

“As Teddy starts to use our products and services, we start to get more information. For example, is he more of a voice customer, or a data junkie? Over time, that customer might then engage with our store, online or contact the call centre, and things become more interesting.

“We could then look at segmenting our customer base based on usage as we can see that.”

This type of information also helps Optus see if there are quality or service issues, or if a customer is calling in more often than other people. Using that, the telco builds models on churn propensity and can be more personalised with communications, Rybicki said.

“What that starts to build is a level of need; it helps us understand the needs of those types of people,” he said. “My challenge is to find those insights, understand those underlying needs, and provide those to the marketers and product teams so they can feed that into the product innovation roadmap.”

Mobile usage is another level in terms of data insight, and Rybicki highlighted the behavioural patterns found in time of day, or whether a customer is dialling local or overseas numbers more often, as key ingredients in improving segmentation and engagement.

A recent example of how this data has informed product innovation is Optus’ new post-paid plans including international minutes.

“To do that, we would look at usage by code and see which countries are important to certain customers and create a product proposition relevant to them,” he said. “The challenge is finding those insights, digging and aggregating the data and finding those nuggets that product and development teams can consume, brainstorm and learn from.”

Where things are starting to become more interesting is in a customer’s data usage patterns, Rybicki said. The sorts of insights Optus is now working on include the importance of social media channels, and whether customers are using their data allowance and mobile devices to stream videos, for music or for general Web browsing.

“It’s not about specific content, but general trends that can feed into my innovation roadmap,” Rybicki explained. “These insights help me understand changing trends and to build profiles that I can’t build without understanding how my customers consume the products we sell.”

Customers are also interested in data on their own usage data, Rybicki said. “They’re asking us to tell them about what they’re using data on and why they’ve gone over their data allowance.

“Traditionally, telcos have not been able to process this, then aggregate, categorise and make it available for self-consumption with their customers. It’s a use case we’re now looking to rollout to both our staff as well as customers so they can use this information and see what they do.”

Another area for product innovation and improving experience is how customers are consuming products via network data, combined with location and service preferences.

“An interesting example is when customers roam or go abroad, I can see they are doing that and have or haven’t used their product abroad,” Rybicki said. “What if I could create an offering that used that traditional offline data but complemented that with ring-fencing a component of our network? When a customer enters that, we could then trigger an event that says this customer probably isn’t going to use our roaming product, so let’s talk to them about that product and helping them turn that on abroad.

“So if I can use location data from offline for example, and know both where our NBN footprint is and the customers in that location that aren’t having a great experience, I might push them a message online about that NBN footprint. If they’re not in that area, then I might push a different message about a new handset.”

A customer’s digital footprint adds another level to this insight. “The opportunity is to take that data and cross-reference that with what we have offline,” Rybicki said.

All of this is being made possible as a result of lower-cost and more powerful technology platforms for analytics.

“The challenge is while plenty of technology vendors claim to solve both problems, we find some are great at doing the digital data piece, and some do offline well. But the opportunity is combining these two together,” Rybicki commented.

The second issue is the skillset of staff. “The people who know digital well might not be the people who use this offline, traditional stuff really well,” Rybicki said. “It’s about cross-pollinating the teams, talking to each other, sitting in each other’s camps, and learning about each other’s parts of the business.

“Customers see the Optus brand whether it’s in-store or online, and they expect all of us to be talking to each other, and know they’ve just been online, walked into a store and are about to purchase that product. For us as a business, this takes technology, and it’s complex and it’s fast, but for customers it’s what they expect us to deliver to them.”

Rybicki’s next focus is on tapping into data generated by the new ‘Cash by Optus’ mobile payments offering to further personalise services and products.

“There are a lot of different data inputs here – some new, some old, many unstructured and most complex – the opportunity is how to convert this stuff into interesting insights and seed it around the business such that we can build the right products and innovate on the back of that information,” Rybicki concluded.

“Underlying all of that is customer trust and privacy. That is critical for us in every decision we make and with every new data piece we consider. Making sure we do the right thing by them is vital in this succeeding.”

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