Customer experience in gambling has come a long way from the halcyon days of setting foot into your local bookies and placing a bet with pen and paper.
Of course this is still a possibility, but without the live price updates, graphic visualizations and iconic advertising- it just doesn’t have the same feel.
After all, how individual can the experience of filling out a betting slip really be?
Crispin Nieboer, Director of corporate development and innovation at William Hill believes the next great battleground for the gambling industry will be customer experience. And he is using the huge amounts of data generated by mobile to create an unrivalled, personalized gambling experience.
Hot Topics caught up with Crispin to find out more about the future of customer experience in gambling.
HT: Why do you think there has been such a rapid digitization of the gambling industry?
The evolution of the gambling industry has always been intrinsically linked to the diversification of its channels. From the racecourse, to telephone betting, retail shops, online and now mobile, industry players have faced the need to adapt each time a new channel has presented itself.
However, to a large extent the scale of customer demand for digital services has driven the speed of digitization in the gambling sector. We are dealing with over 21,000 online transactions per minute, significantly more than Amazon handles even on its busiest day of trading.
We also process over 6 million price updates a day, spread across the 1.3 million different markets that are available to our customers.
The sheer volume of data means that ensuring we have the capability to process it is crucial. However, there is also the simultaneous challenge of making sure that we are able to regularly and rapidly update our bet recommendations and marketing touch points.
Of course the corollary to the increased demand for digital services is the increased pressure on gaming companies to provide a rich customer experience. Initially, this was simply to meet growing demand, but has now become a key differentiator in a highly competitive market.
After all, retail stores by their nature are tied to a fixed location, with a fairly regular customer base. The consumers who visit online businesses, however, face fewer barriers when switching between competitors.
The key players in the gambling industry therefore, perhaps more than other sectors, need to concentrate on developing a compelling digital customer experience to maintain their position in the market.
HT: What will the continued digitization look like?
Personalization is already important, but over the next few years it will become a real battleground in customer experience. We would not be surprised at all if, within the next few years, every single one of our customers is getting a completely individual experience in terms of the markets, offers and messages that they see when they log on.
This is a broader consumer trend, the expectation that we are now in “The Age of You” where a personalized experience is key.
This presents a massive technical challenge. With more than 1,300,000 sports betting opportunities available on the William Hill site alone each day and usage on the smaller screen real estate of mobile proliferating, surfacing the right content at the right time is critical.
As a result William Hill has developed a sophisticated personalization system that uses betting history and behavioral patterns to make recommendations. To understand the scale of the task, think Netflix recommendation capability and multiply that challenge by a “product” set (prices and markets), that updates minute by minute.
Crucially, William Hill is aiming to bring together both customer data and contextual big data to build a holistic picture of its customers. Intelligent use of the information from across our owned channels can only go so far.
HT: How do you stay ahead of the curve when it comes to being aware of the relevant innovation in existence?
For us innovation isn’t a side project, or a whim. We don’t assume that we have a monopoly on good ideas and we are constantly on the look out for opportunities to collaborate and learn.
We have spent a lot of time creating an ideas-driven organization, and I would say that we’ve got a greater appetite for external partnerships than others – for instance earlier this year we launched the industry’s first Accelerator programme specifically to bring new ideas and new innovation to our doorstep.
Internally we have also invested in our WHLabs setup as a permanent feature and not as a “project” investment. WHLabs has license to experiment and creates new customer experiences on a dedicated innovation platform.
This sort of innovation set up means we can really hone in on the key issues that really matter for our customers. For example, one of the things we’re most proud of as a business is the Priority Access Card, which we launched back in September.
The card is a game changer for customers – it gives instant access to your winnings as soon as your bet comes in, whereas before you needed to wait 3–5 working days for your bank to transfer the money from your betting account into your bank account – a key niggle for online customers of all bookmakers.
Our card means you can celebrate the winning moment immediately by using the card to either withdraw the cash from a cashpoint, or make a purchase anywhere that accepts MasterCard payments.
HT: How are gambling companies optimizing their content for mobile?
We’ve recently moved to a fully responsive web experience, meaning that the customer experience is adaptive to and consistent between any device. This capability gives us the platform to then deliver all of the personalization and curation for which we are striving, technically.
We think, design and plan mobile-first in recognition of the fact that more than half of our new customers are acquired through mobile.
HT: In what ways has customer experience in gambling improved?
Data is key to both understanding customers and thereby personalizing the experience, and more generally for measuring the impact of changes vs. a baseline.
For example, at William Hill we have a big business intelligence and data analytics unit that is constantly looking to innovate – using a variety of data visualization and machine learning techniques to statistically cluster accounts – and all with the goal of answering questions about our customers that will help us to deliver a better and more relevant experience.
Consumers are hungry for new and exciting experiences that enhance the experience that they have. For us, this means developing user experiences that are meaningful and easy-to-use. Ultimately, it is going to be these experiences that will keep our customers interested and engaged.
We’ve found that delivering innovative experiences via standalone apps has proven an effective way of getting products to market quickly. Beyond this, having the tech to deliver personal experiences is key. Our new Trafalgar platform has given us a flexible, responsive front-end site that can dynamically serve content, and it is this sort of technology that helps us to learn and constantly improve our understanding of our customers.
Additionally, since the advent of our new Trafalgar platform, we also have a new website framework and development methodology that is adaptive. It offers more opportunities for testing and personalization than ever before, so we can try different customer journeys, get feedback, assess results and resultant behaviors.
This is all really positive for customers, as the experience improves and improves at a greater velocity than ever before.
HT: How are gambling companies maximizing the reach of their digital communications with customers?
We’re constantly aiming for relevance, rather than reach. As a marketing organization we utilize all of the key channels – whether it’s our campaigns team creating powerful, adrenaline-charged new TV creative for the new football season, or our CRM operation integrating with the latest social media targeting tools.
For relevance, which is our primary goal, we’ve invested in the Adobe platform that gives us great measurement power. Via A/B testing of our onsite messaging, push notifications and more, we’re becoming increasingly personalized. More broadly, as WHLabs, we’ve launched an app called Rapid.
This is the quickest way to get your bets on and set notifications for goals and events in the games that you’re backing, in order to learn quickly about what customers want – on the assumption that once you’ve backed something, you’re invested and would welcome a greater volume of timely updates that enhance the thrill of the ride of the bet that you’ve placed.
HT: What are the key industry trends for 2016 that we should look out for?
I think for the gambling sector the key trends center on increasing immersion and enhancing the ‘ride’ our customers experience between the placement and settlement of the bet. This may take the form of exploring opportunities in technologies like VR, or looking at the next evolution of short-term markets.
That is perhaps the most exciting area where we will see developments in the next 12 months. In sports betting, we’ve all traditionally relied on the match or the race to add the excitement, with few opportunities to quickly reinvest your winnings and “reload” the hit of adrenaline that is ultimately what we are delivering for customers.
That’s the bit that’s changing: everything from the bet placement, to the emotional joyride of watching the bet unfold, to the payout.
We already offer markets like “Who will win the next point?” in tennis and “What will happen in the next two minutes?” in football, but next year we expect to see big changes in the technologies that underpin these sorts of markets to create richer, more immersive and engaging experiences for customers ‘second screening’ during live sports events.
HT: The gambling industry is transforming at a rapid pace, incorporating tech innovation to improve every part of the sector; what can other industries learn from this adoption?
In reality the gambling and gaming business is a technology game and has been for a long time. For us what we see now is acceleration in the pace of change and the need to be innovative in how we approach all elements of our existing proposition is driving a cultural shift towards an agile, data-driven ethos.
Of course the challenges that the gambling industry face, particularly in meeting and exceeding the expectations of customers who expect a frictionless, personalized experience as the norm, are not unique, but are shared across the whole retail and ecommerce sector. But it is the readiness with which the gambling industry has always embraced technology and innovation that I think is the main lesson for other industries.
Establishing a culture of innovation in a large organization isn’t a simple task – especially when it’s often seen as easier to focus on quick wins within the core business. In our case, technology and data have been pivotal in our strategy for a while and therefore our transition to an innovation-centric, data-driven organization hasn’t met with as much resistance as other companies may face.