Few organisations in the world hold and manage quite as much sensitive data as telecoms operators.
Not only do they manage the routing of phone calls and internet traffic, but they also have access to highly personal customer data, including where their customers have been, who they have spoken to, which websites they have visited - and much more.
Giffgaff, the UK mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) that runs on the O2 network, is determined to use that information for mutual benefit of both company and customer, claims Helen Mannion, head of business intelligence at the company.
"We want to listen, we want to collaborate, and we want to create mutual benefits using data. We are rooted in community and mutuality," says Mannion, speaking to V3 at a recent DataIQ event.
The company, which was formed in 2009 and now has 200 staff, bases as many of its decisions on data as possible.
"The management has embedded a good culture of data," says Mannion. "They want the data to inform their decisions. This makes my job a lot easier; to sell them data solutions that can deliver benefits from the data."
Mannion's team is embedded in a centralised function, using data to improve operational efficiency and inform sales, marketing and finance, among others. "This gives us full overview and reduces duplication," says Mannion.
So how is Giffgaff using its members' data and what benefits do they get? Mannion mentions member lifetime value and econometrics, overlaid with MLD (mean log deviation, a measure of income inequality). This latter measure feeds into Giffgaff's credit-vetting programme.
"Lots of people are not accepted by traditional credit agencies, so we ask, 'Are we okay to accept them based on what we know about them?'," she says.
"That way, they get a phone loan or retail loan that they wouldn't otherwise get, and we sell more phones. It's a win-win."
Mannion's team has also been working on machine learning for automated modelling systems for next-best-action analyses and cleaning up their data sources.
"We've been getting our behavioural data in order," she says, adding: "We are looking to add more attitudinal data now. We want to understand our members better [and understand] what their needs are."
Preparing for the GDPR
The benefits to both company and customer from using behavioural and attitudinal data are easy to understand. What is much harder to gauge is how much of this data Giffgaff should use and how. With the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into effect next year, much more clarity is required around the use of sensitive data.
Mannion acknowledges that big changes are coming, but believes that Giffgaff's culture of collaboration should give it a good start, although she says it's early days in the company's journey towards full compliance with the GDPR and other similar legislation.
"We are doing a lot of work to get the language right," she says. "We don't want anything to be hidden away. We want to be transparent and helpful in order to build relationships with members - which will hopefully get them to stay with us longer."
Asked about whether members will be able to opt-out of certain forms of tracking and data collection, Mannion said that this had not been decided yet. But she pointed to examples where Giffgaff has quickly taken members' feedback on board.
"We used to have an opt-out checkbox for recurring [monthly subscriptions]. The members said they didn't like that so we took it out. But then later we found that most people wanted subscriptions to recur so we asked them shall we make that automatic, and they said yes so we put the opt-out box back."
Customers also asked for their credit-card information to be removed from the site. "They said, 'we want more freedom to check that you've really deleted our information and it won't be re-used', so we said 'fine' and we did it."
This culture should make compliance easier for Giffgaff than for other less digitally-oriented firms, she suggests.
"It's pretty rare to find a company with that kind of joined up view."
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