Data Fail

It’s pretty much hardwired into the way I look at the world these days that I spot ways that businesses could do things better, in particular when it comes to online and data-driven activity; sometimes in big ways, sometimes in smaller ones. Occasionally I wish I could switch it off, but I suspect it’s with me for the long haul now.
For example: I don’t have a car these days, but I do occasionally have a need for one. So generally I hire. But a few of my friends use Streetcar and recommend it, and when I was living in the US I used to hear positive things about Zipcar, which works on the same model (and indeed they’re both actually now one big international business), so I thought I’d sign up, against the time that it could be useful.

As part of the process, I was asked whether I wanted to add any driving credit to my account right away. Having no plan to do so in the near future (and let’s face it, thinking that I’d rather have my money in my account that theirs), I declined, making the point that I had no idea when I would be using the service. In my head, that’s the point at which a piece of data capture to categorise me as a specific type of member should have occurred; this is someone who’s not going to be a regular user, just one who has the service available for odd occasions when it’s convenient.

Cut forward to today – a mere three weeks later – and I’ve received a “we notice you haven’t used the service yet” email. In an effort to encourage me to do so, they’ve thoughtfully added some credit to my account and invited me to apply it to a couple of hours’ use in the next seven days. So now I’m thinking about what I could usefully use those hours to do, while at the same time pondering that;

  1. They didn’t really take advantage of the conversation I had with their representative to capture some potentially useful data, which means
  2. They’re giving away my first use of the service when they really didn’t have to – weeks or months down the line I’d happily have paid for a couple of hours to do a garden centre or DIY store run, and
  3. They’re incurring an opportunity cost because while I’m using that car someone else can’t.

Less tangibly, they’ve made me aware of the fact that they don’t do everything with their data that they could. Which means that the cynic in me is wondering how far they’ll go to get me using the service. If I don’t use this credit, will they come back in a few weeks offering more? And then more again?

As a customer, I’m very much aware that businesses frequently take more of my data than they really need. As me, I’m aware that if they’re going to take it, they should at least make intelligent use of it…