Customer Profiling: The search for the Holy Grail

October 26th, 2017 by Ruth Alsancak in Customer Service blog

Colourful silhouettes of faces.

Home Group’s Ruth Alsancak thinks about the customer profiling conundrum and reminds us that there’s no such thing as ‘one size fits all’ profiling.

“Our profiling data will have its moment of glory!”, I found myself typing recently (catchy, no?). Apparently[1] profiling is having a “second coming” so it’s a hot topic, but still a bit of an enigma…

Profiling was defined here as “collecting, analysing and grouping information about your tenants… to provide a detailed picture of their characteristics”[2]. The intelligence gained can be invaluable in many ways, including pinpointing where to focus resources and targeting support for customers in need. This could make it a powerful asset as we strive to stay true to our social purpose while operating more commercially.

Profiling’s not always easy, though. It can be hard to collect information and harder still to keep it updated. We need to tell customers why we need it, but accept that they may rather not share. And what exactly do we do with the data? How can we use it to its full potential to support our customers?

Given its current relevance and potential trickiness, I chose profiling as the focus for my Master’s dissertation research. I spoke to housing professionals to understand the uses and benefits of profiling information, and how to avoid the common pitfalls. One finding particularly struck me: each organisation had found its own unique approach.

It sounds obvious, but it’s useful to remember that every exercise will differ. There’s some great profiling guidance out there[3], but it feels like we’re all still searching for the one ‘right’ approach. There isn’t one!

Some organisations use basic information collected at sign up to answer specific questions such as, ‘Does this customer need us to knock more loudly when visiting their property?’. Others work with external consultants to create groupings of customers like ‘burdened families’ to inform important strategic decisions. Both approaches can be equally successful; it all depends on the desired outcomes.

Like other organisations, we’re acknowledging this at Home Group and tackling profiling from different angles. For example, to understand which customers’ queries can be handled over the phone and which need a face-to-face visit, we are making better use of the existing information held on our systems. Why reinvent the wheel?

For our next profiling challenge, though, this might not suffice. What works for one project (or one organisation) won’t work for another. That’s why we need to rethink our approach each time. It’s better for us, and better for customers because they can see clearly why we need information and how sharing it has benefited them.

Profiling isn’t something to be done once and forgotten about. It needs to be carefully planned each time and tailored to specific objectives. We’re moving away from a ‘one size fits’ all approach to our customers’ needs; now it’s important to do the same with our customer profiling.

[1] According to a housing professional who participated in my dissertation research

[2] Tenant Services Authority, Chartered Institute of Housing and HouseMark (2010) Insight in the Housing Sector: Research Headlines. London: Tenant Services Authority (page 3).

[3] Tenant Insight: A toolkit for landlords | New Approaches: Tenant Insight