opinion


Carphone Warehouse reveals revolution in data management

Carphone Warehouse has revolutionised the way it uses data to influence customer engagement

With retail operations in eight countries and a growing portfolio of telecommunications services, Carphone Warehouse is currently Europe’s largest independent mobile retail outfit. Paul Scullion, head of business intelligence at Carphone Warehouse explains how the company is using a combination of big data technologies to help improve retail customer service and eventually, help telcos improve their offerings.

“We have a vast amount of data but at this point, I wouldn’t necessarily call it ‘big data’,” Scullion says. “The majority of our information is transaction-based. But when I think of ‘big data’ it’s all about the [high] velocity of the data; it’s about dynamic data, and the kind of analysis you do with that data.”

But, as Scullion explains, the company has made significant progress towards using old data acquired through traditional BI and capturing new data to do the sorts of things most would normally associate with big data, as hackneyed as the term may be.

A few years ago the company moved away from its Oracle-based data warehouse and adopted Netezza, which is hosted in an IBM datacentre (Netezza was acquired by the company in 2010). He says the data warehouse improved performance significantly because of the way it cuts up the data being targeted processes small bits in parallel before sending the results back.

“The performance over Oracle was epic. We had queries that took an hour or Longer with Oracle that now take less than a minute,” he says.

The company, which partners with Accenture for many IT initiatives, uses Informatica’s ETL platform and has recently adopted MicroStrategy’s mobile analytics and dashbooarding tools, which Scullion helped roll out to all 6,500 UK sales representatives at Carphone Warehouse.

Each sales rep has an Android-based tablet available to them, and it is increasingly becoming the central platform through which a wide range of internal data is accessed. Scullion believes is has the potential to improve sales staff engagement, and makes it easier for the company to support them.

He says some dashboards enable the retail staff to see their sales performance, including the product mix they’re generating, how they’re faring relative to other colleagues. In the main dashboard there’s 7 KPIs per colleague, and each has a ranking and an overall ranking so colleagues can see how they are faring relative to others.

“We are trying to put other supportive applications on that same device, so that retail staff have just one place to go for their internal news and systems rather than needing to navigate a series of back-office terminals and applications, and we are looking at potentially moving our MicroStrategy mobile dashboard platform out into the cloud so that we can benefit from the vendor’s economy of scale.”

Where big data can generate big value

In the UK the tablets are also used to help customers navigate the wide range of device and tariffs available to them, which is where Scullion says the company is really starting to get into big data. Through a series of questions retail staff help customers drill down into how they intend to use their devices, and what it is they’re looking for from a network operator.

“Historically the mobile industry has been a bit bamboozling for customers. They feel like they’re being pressure-sold to by a used car salesman,” he quipped. “But the sales journey tool that we use makes it really transparent for the customer. And critically, we record every step in that journey.”

“What we’re able to do is look at that complete journey, record every step in the journey, every button pressed, every bit of data entered, for journeys that end in a sale but more importantly for ones that don’t end in a sale. And what we’re trying to do is look at where in the process certain pressure points put customers off,” he says, adding that the company is looking to do the same thing with its online sales channels.

Scullion says that many customers come into Carphone Warehouse stores with a preference for certain networks, but after being guided through the tariff options often change their minds, ending up with a different operator for a variety of reasons.

And that data, as one might suspect, is extremely valuable to mobile operators. With telcos looking to big data to boost long-term customer retention among other reasons, and mobile markets becoming more and more competitive, it’s clear there is rapidly increasing demand for this kind of information – particularly  high-volume, multi-channel, multi-operator retail outfit like Carphone Warehouse.

“Certainly the insights we’re gathering on decision-making throughout that sales journey could be used to improve the options networks provide. They could help operators come up with more attractive tariffs; they could also be used to help explain why they may be losing so many customers to another operator,” he says.

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