The controversial subject of data collection



Spark CEO Matt Bain explains how New Zealand’s largest telecoms and digital services provider handles the complex subject of data collection | Content partnership

When I talk to people about data, most of them understand that every time we download an app, order an Uber, browse social media, GPS the fastest way home, or just search online, we leave a trail of data behind us.

And research tells us that people generally don’t mind sharing their data – as long as there’s a mutual benefit.

The reality is that our data is there and helping us in a thousand different ways. Yes, if not handled or used properly, it can be inconvenient or even harmful. But the truth is, good, bad or irritating, our lives depend on it. So, the problem for New Zealand companies is how to ensure the security of our customers’ data, improve business results while benefiting the end user?

First, I think the conversation needs to become more nuanced. Much of what we hear and read about data collection is binary: businesses love it, customers hate it. This narrative is promoted by organizations that build their brand on the idea that the practice of data collection is generally scary and should be feared. And of course, there are companies that have shown the world what happens when their customers’ data is not used responsibly.

However, as is usually the case with binary arguments, there is some common ground worth considering. A world where businesses and individuals have a fair exchange of data – where both parties benefit from how data is used and where the individual has a choice about what happens to their data.

Any good relationship should be based on trust and mutual benefit and, like the harvard business review concludes the article (above), the customer and business relationship around data collection is no different.

Rethinking advertising to make it a service

Just over three years ago, as the new CMO of Spark, Aotearoa’s largest telecom and digital service provider, I realized how many data touchpoints we had with our customers across our operations. Plus, how hard we have to work to ensure our systems and platforms are equipped to handle this data in a way that helps us better serve our customers.

A few years ago we were limited to a view of line numbers and connections – meaning we knew we had a number of mobile, landline and broadband customers, but we didn’t have a clear understanding of a client and the various services he purchased from us. This has limited our ability to serve our customers.

We now have a more complete understanding of our customers – the ability to recognize all the products and services they buy from us in one place, for example, allowing us to be more responsive to their needs – or at least it is our intention.

For example, if a customer calls us because they are experiencing a broadband outage and we can see that they are also a mobile customer, we can apply additional mobile data to keep them connected through their hotspot for that the fault is repaired. Or, if we can see that there are multiple Spark customers in a household and they all love gaming, then when we roll out 5G in their region, we can proactively offer them a plan better suited to their style. of life – and make a deal through our partnership with Xbox.

We believe that understanding our customers’ preferences allows us to serve them better – and that’s a net benefit to the customer and the business. In telecommunications, for example, only 1-2% of New Zealanders are in the market for our services at any given time. It is therefore much more effective for us to advertise directly to these people through our app, email or targeted service. advertising rather than the traditional approach – advertising to every New Zealander through a national mass advertising campaign.

We would argue that it not only saves the company money by better targeting marketing spend, but also gives customers information that is more likely to be relevant and useful.

I know receiving targeted advertising probably doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping. But it can dramatically reduce the noise, and when done right, it can even feel like a service — especially when the combination of data and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) enables an organization to understand and predict what people want and when more accurately.

Imagine you have an old iPhone that starts slowing down, the battery runs out after an hour, and you can’t take any more photos because the storage capacity is exhausted. You intended to upgrade, but with work and kids, you didn’t have a chance to go out and find a suitable option.

Rather than continually bombarding you with information about every service we offer, wouldn’t it be much more beneficial if we contacted you with a tailored offer when you needed that upgrade – saving you time and the money? With good customer insights and AI, this type of “advertising as a service” could become fully automated.

And hey, because we know you love music, we might recommend a mobile plan that includes Spotify and add 200 Airpoints so you can fly and see the Backstreet Boys live at Spark Arena.

Building a better future with data

The benefits of data go far beyond targeted advertising. At Spark, we use data to improve diversity and inclusion in our business.

We have around 5,000 employees across the country and we want our organization to reflect the ethnic diversity of Aotearoa and be a place where everyone feels able to give their all at work.

But to do that, we need to understand the ethnic makeup of our business, so we can target interventions in the right way and, most importantly, co-create those solutions with our people. So data should be our starting point.

Like most other businesses in New Zealand, we have a limited view of the ethnic diversity of our workforce – with a small percentage of people sharing this information with us.

We know there are a range of reasons why people choose not to share their ethnicity – and that’s okay. But for many people, knowing how the information will (and won’t) be used is a major factor.

So, through an internal campaign called Whole Hearted, we encourage our employees to tell us more about themselves and, most importantly, explain how their ethnic data helps us improve inclusion and describe exactly how we will use it. We only launched the campaign in November and data collection has already increased by 12 percentage points.

Using “data for good” also extends beyond individuals and can have far-reaching benefits for society at large. For example, our subsidiary Qrious has worked with MAUI63 to use data to protect the world’s rarest dolphin species – the Māui dolphin.

The MAUI63 team needs to know the precise location of these dolphins, but also where they are likely to go in the future. Historically, this was done using a large drone that flew over thousands of square miles of ocean to identify Māui dolphins and track them.

Today, based on data gathered from historical observations and the application of AI, the drone can follow a heat map of probability, greatly increasing its ability to locate and change course to follow the Maui dolphins.

Data innovation = privacy innovation

Data presents enormous opportunities for businesses and their customers, but with more sophisticated use of data comes responsibility and a requirement for a more sophisticated approach to privacy.

Ten years ago, in marketing, privacy was only about customer lists, marketing opt-outs, and competition terms and conditions.

Today, in an increasingly digital world, Spark manages more information than ever before, and the opportunities for innovation with data are also increasing. At the same time, our customers have widely varying opinions about how they expect us to use and manage their data. All of this brings new challenges to how we make decisions about data use.

At Spark, we don’t just want to comply with privacy laws and regulations, we want our customers to see us as the brand they would trust most with their data.

Last year, we introduced a set of concrete values, endorsed by all members of the leadership team, to define what we stand for in terms of privacy and provide clear guidance to our employees when making decisions. , beyond legal requirements.

Incorporating these values ​​into Spark required innovative thinking. We already had company-wide privacy training, but it wasn’t possible to develop every person at Spark into a privacy specialist. At the same time, we needed our people to be ready to make sound, values-based decisions about new uses for data — and we needed to be able to do that at scale.

So we implemented a privacy model that leverages the intelligence of our employees, with the support of an automated decision-making tool designed here at Spark. We have recruited and trained people in different parts of the business to use this tool as well as their own expertise to act as privacy ambassadors – helping teams make decisions based on privacy policy and values by Spark.

Therefore, when a team has a new idea for which they would like to use data, they must submit an online privacy review request which will first be assessed by one of our Privacy Ambassadors at using the tool, and if necessary, accepted. Spark’s Privacy Team for further advice.

We are committed to doing more to improve the value and benefits customers derive from their data, and we will continue to strive for New Zealand’s best privacy practices.

We believe it’s our responsibility to find that common ground – not only to keep our customers’ data secure, but also to use it to better serve our customers and find new ways to help individuals and companies to have a better relationship with their data.

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