Customers' data a gold mine

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am


THE YEAR 1976 produced one of the hottest Wimbledons on record, with Bjorn Borg winning the first of his five Wimbledon titles. The digital age was still a pipe dream and vinyl records sold by the bucket load.

In 1976 there was also a fair chance that your local bank manager would remember your name. Life was much simpler then, and according to recent surveys, also much happier.

That year was also a good year for Dr Jim Goodnight and John Sall, who formed SAS with just seven employees in North Carolina.

Today the company is the largest privately owned software provider, employing more than 9,000 staff in 398 offices in 110 countries.

SAS solutions are used at about 40,000 sites, including 96 of the top 100 companies on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Its timing couldn't have been better. With more banks and financial service companies beginning to merge and grow from the late 1970s onwards, fewer bank managers knew their customers by name, let alone their individual requirements.

There was a gap in the market for co-ordinated useable customer information. SAS had the impetus to fill this gap and hasn't looked back since.

Business success is dependent on attracting, retaining and maximising the value of customers. Iven Kwan Fook-dai, principal, customer intelligence, Hong Kong and South China, said effective data management was central to this process.

'In the digital age, customer data is no longer handled by humans, it is handled by computers,' Mr Kwan said.

Organisations often have the information to achieve these objectives, but if data is disorganised and disconnected, it is of little use.

'SAS software provides all organisations with a tool to collect new data and organise all data so that the end user can define and access target customers with the click of a mouse,' Mr Kwan said.

SAS customer relationship management for banking combines data warehousing, analysis and overall marketing campaign management technology to bring together all relevant customer data and turn it into high-value customer intelligence.

'While technology is not a crystal ball, we will help you discover a pattern from your customer data base so that you can understand your individual customer in terms of profitability, spending behaviour and seasonality,' Mr Kwan said.

Customer relationship management can reduce an organisation's costs. For example, directly mailing to 1 million customers costs $1.4 million for the postal fees alone. If the campaign is not targeted, this expenditure will only result in a small increase in actual sales.

'Applying SAS data mining technology to clearly define the target audience can increase sales between 40 per cent and 50 per cent over a scatter gun approach and also save $700,000 in mailing costs,' Mr Kwan said.

Since 1984, the company has developed a significant presence in Hong Kong. All top 10 Hong Kong banks use some form of SAS technology.

The company in Taikoo Shing employs experienced banking consultants who can partner individual banks of all sizes and work with internal experts to tailor solutions to overcome specific challenges.

SAS works with all Hong Kong universities to provide courses in areas such as data mining.

'City University and Hong Kong University are two universities that use SAS as a teaching tool. We also have our own certification scheme,' Mr Kwan said.

With more companies using SAS technology, an SAS qualification can enhance job prospects in marketing where the emphasis on scientific analysis is increasing.

Those considering a career in this field should be enthusiastic about technology and marketing.

The application of science to human behaviour makes a career at SAS interesting.

'We use technology to build behavioural profiles by putting together all customer attributes from psychographic to demographic so that you can accurately predict who your target customer is,' Mr Kwan said.

Mastering the application of SAS customer relationship management technology can yield high rewards. 'Competitors will try everything to acquire another company's profitable customers. Customer relationship management is a tool that enables you to automatically retain the most profitable customers,' Mr Kwan said.

1976 was a good year for both Bjorn Borg and SAS. After Borg won his first Wimbledon title he went on to retain it more times than any other player. SAS went on to become the current number one private vendor of software. While Borg was good at retaining Wimbledon trophies, SAS remains good at helping clients retain profitable customers.