Insights

One Big Trend Companies Should Know About My Data

Apparently, Uber has a company tool called “God View” that reveals the location of Uber vehicles and customers who request a car. This tool can allow a wide number of Uber employees to view customers’ locations. So this is “my data” and now Uber has it!

So what's the trend?

Having differentiated customer data will be a source of competitive advantage from now on.

And for this, gaining consumers’ confidence will be key. Companies that transparently inform customers about the information they gather, give customers control of their personal data and offer fair value in return for it will be trusted. Consumers will even give such companies larger access and a disproportionate share of their wallet. Soon, investors will value this, and it will reflect in stock prices, too! Over time customers would demand that their personal telecom, credit cards and banking data be available in a personal data warehouse.

Yet many industries still take a short-term view of this trend.

Big banks have even tried to choke the flow of data to popular websites that help consumers manage their finances. In India, I am not sure how leading banks like HDFC and ICICI would respond to requests for electronic receipt of my data. Banks, facing increasing competition from these companies, are becoming more protective of their customer information and are limiting how much data they pass on. And yet, by allowing third-party software access to data, a bank could act as a platform for third-party innovation, just like Apple acts as a platform for developers through its App Store.

In fact, this becomes even more critical in the healthcare arena. Shouldn’t patients be the owners of their own medical data? The U.S. government has an interesting Blue Button Initiative. This protocol is already providing a secure way for veterans and Medicare beneficiaries to share their medical history with healthcare providers they trust. You can use your health data to improve your health and to have more control over your personal health information and your family’s healthcare.

Power of APIs

Many businesses are still not getting the fact that using APIs can be a powerful force multiplier for them. Put simply, an API is a set of instructions that allows one piece of software to interact with another. In general, as the array of API-enabled devices and services grow, so does the range of ways that they can be connected. An interesting UK government report suggested that: "You can even connect the lights in your living room to ESPN so that they flash when your football team scores, or to your calendar so that they blink on your birthday."

The growth in the use of public APIs reflects the fact that there are a number of ways in which organizations can benefit from allowing their software and data to interact with third parties. For some companies, their APIs are their core business model.

Twillio, for instance, provides a service that allows partners to send and receive voice and SMS communications.When a customer receives an SMS message telling them that their Uber driver has arrived, this is powered by the Twillio API.

An interesting proposition

Richard Thaylor, a professor of economics and behavioral science at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago has an interesting proposition.

This is what Thaylor provocatively suggests:

“If a business collects data on consumers electronically, it should provide them with a version of that data that is easy to download and export to another website. Think of it this way: you have lent the company your data, and you’d like a copy for your own use.”

I think this is a powerful idea and can have a huge impact on consumers and also create a huge number of intermediary companies who help consumers make sense of their data. The idea of using analytics as “personal power” will definitely be resisted by companies and governments, but it has the power to allow the customer to control and manage her relationships with telecom, retail and myriad other companies.

Here is how Thaylor explains this can happen:

“Mydata” is the term we use in the United Kingdom; in the United States it’s called “smart disclosure.” The idea is that in many cases we can help consumers simply by making their own usage data available to them. Here’s an example: You’re searching for a new smartphone calling plan. What you’d like is access to all the ways you use your smartphone – in a machine-readable format. That would create a business opportunity for online services that I call “choice engines.” With one click you could upload all of your usage data, and the choice engine would recommend plans that suit your needs. We can help people make smarter decisions across many areas of their lives just by giving them access to their data."

My experience of working in large banks and retail companies has been that often thoughts like these can be seen as fluffy and not hard “revenue producing” ideas. This really is about becoming more customer centric.

In many companies, such as banks, business silos make customer-centric initiatives far more difficult. As marketers in service companies, often the power does not lie with the CMO to drive such thinking forward. Yet as industries are getting disrupted, maybe this is the time to make CMO voices heard and take steps to become more customer centric.

How does all this matter to companies?

1. Business is no longer the gatekeeper to data.

Customers will demand their data and intermediaries will build a solution that offers “customer value” on top of it. Banks, retailers and telecom companies will need to follow this trend and partner their customers for making money.

2. Marketers can help customers lead a better life.

Whatever business you are in, customers will want you to add value to their lives. Helping customers use their own data in creative new ways can be a great differentiator. Customer data can be used to benchmark customers. Customers would love to know how their telecom spends compare with someone of a similar profile. Am I spending too much time on the phone lately as compared to others? Or how many hours of kids’ television programming does my household watch as compared to others? Customers may willingly provide more data (information about their family or interests) in return for getting additional value.

3. Creating a personal data product business.

Most millennials are data natives. A data native is someone who expects their world to not just be digital, but to be smart and to be able to personalize to their taste and habits. For example, a bank should not only be digital and interactive – it should be personalized. It should tell you what you need to know based on your interests, location and preferences. Data products provide context and personalization. If your brand has the customer's trust and if you can help them improve their lives, they may even be open to giving you their data from other service providers.

The expectations have shifted. Companies need to focus on creating a product based on data and making it valuable for their customers.

Read more on my blog about customers, analytics and how data can transform us.

Article written by Ajay Kelkar
Image credit by Getty Images, E+, Vertigo3d
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