What a difference a couple of years make. Just two years ago, British pub closures had become so frequent that some were predicting the demise of an institution every bit as British as Big Ben and the BBC. Today, the shakeout is over, business is booming, and competition is keener than the bayonets of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace.
Marston’s, for example, isn’t content to operate its 1,700 UK pubs. It’s building another 30 or so pubs a year, mostly in newly constructed and highly prized retail locations. Other pub operators aren’t the only competition for the space—and the business. So are fast food and casual-dining establishments. And as though that weren’t enough of a challenge, “Consumers are more canny with their money,” notes Mike McMinn, Group IT Director at Marston’s. “They’re continually raising their expectations and publicizing their disappointments on social media when those expectations are unmet.”
What’s a pub operator to do?
If you’re Marston’s, you emphasize your competitive advantage. In addition to its retail locations—which also include bars, restaurants, and inns—the company operates five breweries producing more than 60 of the country’s most beloved ales. That’s a distinction that few if any pub competitors can match, and Marston’s uses it to emphasize the higher level of quality that it can give its customers.
That’s not the only way to boost the customer experience, of course, and Marston’s strategy is to enhance the customer experience by as many means as possible. That has implications, for example, for the way Marston’s hires and trains employees and for the processes it uses to run its pubs. It also has implications for the technology that the company uses.
Two years ago, Marston’s took a big step toward applying twenty-first-century technology to the age-old challenge of making customers feel welcome when it adopted Microsoft Dynamics 365. Marston’s uses the software as a repository for customer information that’s mined by marketing personnel and used to help personalize the service it provides to customers.
They want more
That was a beginning. But McMinn and his colleagues want more—more data and more analysis—for 360-degree customer views that frontline employees can use to serve customers better. In addition to CRM data, they want to collect and analyze customer data from social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and TripAdvisor, to understand what motivates customers to visit a Marston’s pub, and what they think of the experience both during and after their visits. They want to integrate this information with point-of-service data and customer surveys completed on the Marston’s website, to get ratios of patrons-to-complaints per pub. In addition, they want to know how long customers stay in the pubs and which service areas they visit while they’re there, based on analyses of Wi-Fi use.
This requires a level of data integration and analysis that goes beyond CRM alone. McMinn and his colleagues looked at analytics systems including IBM Watson and SAS Institute but found them too experimental or overly engineered for their needs, according to McMinn.
One solution stood out: Dynamics 365 for Customer Insights, powered by the Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite. Organizations can use the cloud-based tool to quickly bring together customer data for easy-to-access insights into every aspect of the customer journey—exactly what Marston’s was looking for.
“Really fast and easy to get started”
“We chose Customer Insights for a couple of reasons. First, we saw it would be really fast and easy for us to get started with it,” says McMinn. “As a SaaS solution, our time-to-value is greatly accelerated as compared with the months it might take our developers to build a similar solution. Second, Customer Insights makes it easy for marketing and other non-IT people to pull the information they need on their own, without intervention from IT.”
McMinn and his colleagues are now working on their Dynamics 365 for Customer Insights solution and expect to put it into production in 2017. It will extract, clean, and integrate data from various internal and external Marston’s sources, and then forward the data to Microsoft Dynamics 365 to create and update customer records and activate workflows such as responding to complaints. The solution will also analyze the data and provide a role-specific insight into customers to every Marston’s frontline employee.
- Executives will get high-level views with drill-down capabilities on their PCs and mobile devices.
- Area managers, each responsible for a dozen or so facilities, will have real-time data on those facilities on their Windows PCs and devices before they walk into a pub to meet the local manager—instead of having to wait up to a week for that data, as they do now.
- Serving staff will have small Windows tablets outfitted with payment readers and belt printers to both send and receive information to help customers at their tables.
More insight, more revenue
“The cost savings that we have achieved with Customer Insights are significant—and the potential added revenue even more so,” says McMinn. By using Customer Insights instead of another analytics solution, McMinn estimates that Marston’s saved the approximately £20,000 (US$26,500) it would likely have spent on consultants to kick off the project. And it knocked off 60 percent to 70 percent of the time it would otherwise have needed to build the prototype. That’s very important in a market in which fast time-to-benefit is a must.
Faster and less expensive development is great. But what’s most important for Marston’s is improved customer engagement. The more Marston’s learns about its customers, the better it can serve them. That’s what McMinn anticipates from Marston’s use of Customer Insights. “Once our Customer Insights solution is fully operational and broadly deployed, we should be able to sell at least one extra meal and a drink per pub per day,” he says. This is made possible by better targeting customers based on their past behavior. “That’s a conservative estimate, and it means another £7.7 million added to our bottom line each year—just by maximizing our use of this technology.”
Results like that, as McMinn might say, are worth raising a pint to.