Ersek and Thompson agree about mobile's potential. Western Union's mobile app helps customers find local agents and stage transactions on the phone, so everything's ready to go when they get there. One future enhancement developers are working on is prescheduling regular transactions and pre-populating data fields, to save time.
Such personalization is good, but Western Union doesn't want to lose the genuine interpersonal relationships between customers and agents that feed trust in the brand. That's a key difference between a bank and a company like Western Union, Servon says. Customers who come in regularly to conduct the same transactions develop rapport with agents. "For the companies that sell the products, their business depends on those relationships," she says.
Technology like compliance systems and patented inventions is indeed an advantage, Aron says. But truly innovative companies also try to capitalize on broader concepts. That might include ideas such as trust and customers "as whole people," he says. For example, at 7-Eleven Japan, senior executives realized that the company's fundamental asset was its knowledge of the small communities where its convenience stores have stood for so many years. The company expanded into adjacent businesses lines, adding dry cleaning, postal services and other ways to do chores inside 7-Eleven stores.
"Big data led them to say, 'We understand the community better than anyone else,'" Aron says. "They realized they know how to solve daily problems."
Western Union has no plans for a dry-cleaning business. But it is stretching its thinking about what a money-transfer company can be.
Copying moves from the retail industry, Western Union's Thompson talks about offering special deals for frequent buyers. Analytics makes it possible to sift out, say, customers who send $50 to Thailand every week. That kind of regular customer could get a personalized offer—maybe a package of five transfers per month for a discounted fee, he suggests. "We use your usage pattern to customize your experience," he says. "That's just for you."
IT and marketing are working together to understand larger societal and behavioral trends that can affect business. For example, analyzing internal and external demographic data can predict migration patterns and help determine where to open a new retail location. And tracking the "migrant diaspora" that Western Union's CMO talks about would let the company create special online promotions for customers who are culturally similar but geographically dispersed. Thompson wants his IT team to help business colleagues anticipate such trends, to "get ahead of the business with our data," he says.
One recent insight Western Union found is that when customers who usually do business in person come to the website, they act differently from newer customers whose main interaction with the company has been online, he says.
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