Profile of the real customer

Cloning people may be a dilemma for the future, but managing the various profiles of the same customer is a problem many companies are grappling with today.

Vancouver-based Intrawest, owner of golf and ski resorts across North America and Europe, realized it would have to cleanse its data if

it wanted to segment its customers and market to them efficiently.

Intrawest chose SAS-owned Dataflux tools to attain this goal, and recently rolled out a beta version of its cleansed, updated datamart to a select group of its properties for trial.

The first step is doing a gap analysis, says Kevin Koonar, director of data services at Intrawest, “”assessing where you are, where the problems are, finding out whether you’re scalable enough or flexible enough.

“”We set some pretty aggressive goals for ourselves for where we wanted to be, and to change the whole organization from product-centric thinking to customer-centric thinking,”” adds Koonar. “”To achieve that, we needed to have a solid foundation.””

Koonar says the company had as many as six or seven different profiles for one customer, and its existing system was proprietary, making it very difficult to apply changes.

“”The whole thing was riddled with errors that made the quality of data very suspect,”” he says, and cleansing the data was an arduous task.

Intrawest chose Dataflux partly because of price, says Koonar, but also because SAS has a strong roadmap for the product.

“”We basically have 10 different resorts plus other lines of business we’re pulling things from,”” says Koonar. Even within one resort, there are different data sources. “”There’s systems for lodging and there’s systems for ski passes and cards . . . for food and beverage, for retail.””

Intrawest has taken millions of records from all those sources, consolidated them and put them through a huge cleansing process using Dataflux.

Michael Turney, program manager of industry solutions at SAS Canada, says Intrawest’s situation is not uncommon, and many enterprises are a lot worse off when they embark on a project such as CRM that requires accurate data.

“”You have to clean up that data first,”” Turney says. “”I think a lot of organizations went into this running and forgot or didn’t recognize the state and quality of the data was going to be so important,”” he says. “”They just knew they had the data. In many cases, they started to do some customer segmentation, but if the data was dirty in the first place, the segments you’re analysing against aren’t going to be very accurate.””

For example, a company could pull a profile of a customer that says she likes to receive special offers by e-mail. With dirty data, the e-mail will often go unanswered, and the company has spent marketing dollars for naught.

One of things SAS is working on with organizations says Turney, is getting them not only to take a step back and look at their tools and processes, but also to look at the state of the data.

“”We came up with an intelligence value chain that helps organizations with a methodology, even at a higher level a road map of where that data quality issue becomes important in that journey towards intelligent activity,”” he says.

The first step is to plan what the organization wants to do.

“”In the context of Intrawest, its issue was a more effective marketing campaign,”” says Turney.

Of course, Intrawest had multiple repositories of data for its various properties and multiple ways of interacting with the customer, says Turney.

“”All of the different places that were touchpoints for those customers and all of those different properties gave the customer an opportunity to input information about themselves,”” he says. “”Depending on how it was being collected and who was being empowered to input, there’s going to be slight nuances.””

While one entry could have the customer’s full first name, another might have only an initial.

Ultimately, says Turney, the goal of the data cleansing process is to have one version, “”and make that the latest version of the truth.””

“”The whole concept of being more customer centric is something we are just introducing,”” says Koonar. “”We have a lot of customers who visit many of our resorts, but when it comes to what we do with those customers from a cross-marketing perspective, we’re just not able to say ‘these customers can be peeled out’ and we need to look at marketing to them across resorts.””

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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