We spoke with Sophie Krishnan, general manager of Business & Ancillaries at Trainline, to get her take on data and its rapid ascent in recent years as a tool for growing an enterprise.
It’s part of our Corporate Insights series, in which we speak with the firms that have been there, done it and got the T-shirt – last time LinkedIn lifted the lid on the importance of company culture.
Opening by clearing up the specifics of data and how it can be defined, Krishnan said: “Data captures information at discreet points in time which in turn creates a history and record of your business. Data comes in many forms – it’s anything that is collated for reference or analysis, such as financial figures, call centre logs, transactional history or ecommerce data – such as from a website or app.
“Even customer feedback, app store reviews and social media engagements are valuable sources of business data. The power of data comes from putting those sources together to support the best decisions.”
At Trainline, Krishnan was clear that trusting instincts or gut feelings don’t come into the equation when making strategic decisions to take the business forward, and noted that data is the company’s fuel.
“We work on the basis that any hypothesis must be tested and measured for it to succeed, and we learn from that,” she said. “We are also very customer-centric, so data is a hugely important way to learn about our customers’ needs and to personalise our product for each customer as a result.”
Krishnan thinks data has risen to prominence in recent years due to a number of factors – the first being the easy access to technology thanks to the evolution of computers to smart devices, which has increased the amount of data a business can access.
She continued: “Cheaper data storage and increasingly powerful computing power is allowing many businesses to use data to paint a very powerful picture of customer behaviours and evolutions.
“Finally, data doesn’t lie – if set up properly. So data and analytics have enabled businesses to move faster by reducing guesswork and intuition, and getting to the best answers faster. There’s a lot of potential with data – that’s why everyone talks about it.”
Interestingly, while SMEs have been seen snubbing data, Trainline has actually marketed to those very companies with the technology to promote its SME business travel product – developed from data taken from business travellers.
Having worked with SMEs for many years, Trainline took feedback and reviewed analytics to build a simple booking system. This is in turn made savings and enhanced productivity as data allowed it to cut back on admin procedures.
“Using data to shape our new SME product has resulted in a big spike in customer registrations. And there’s no standing still, we continue to evolve the product as we learn more every day,” said Krishnan.
She was keen to insist that small firms can actually make use of data quite simply and said it isn’t just for large firms such as Trainline.
Krishnan detailed: “It’s easy for SMEs to leverage the power of data and use it to shape business strategy. The data collected, no matter what kind, is information that is unique to the individual business and provides a significant competitive edge. For any business to succeed, data should be at the heart of everything.”
With success in mind, Krishnan warned that there is a danger if companies resist data they have access to.
“You can almost guarantee that your competitor won’t be ignoring the data at their disposal, so a business that does so, no matter its size, is foolhardy,” she cautioned.
“To ignore data is risky, as is waiting too long to utilise it – make sure you constantly learn from every source of data you have and use it to continually evolve your customer offering.”
Making data’s importance absolute, she described it as “the voice of your customer”.
“It can help you understand their behaviours and pain points. Using this to tailor your product can put you ahead of your competition. Data can also enhance creativity within your business, encouraging employees to come up with effective solutions to challenges faced by customers,” detailed Krishnan.
She highlighted an example that took place at Trainline, which used internal and crowdsourced data to create an algorithm. It is able to predict how busy trains will be and recommends to Trainline app users where they can board for increased likelihood of securing a seat.
“This directly addressed an industry-wide customer pain point and further enabled us to make train travel even smarter for our customers,” Krishnan said.
She closed by offering her recommendation on how an SME can get the wheels in motion to push on with a data strategy.
“Seek expertise and invest in data skills – there are lots of online resources that can be tapped into to find out more or a freelancer/contractor can be recruited on a short-term basis to provide initial support,” she said. Krishnan added leaders should be sure to appoint someone with SME data strategy experience and that the investment would be rewarding.
“Make sure you learn to love your data from the outset,” she continued. “Use free open source tools and platforms, like Tableau, to explore the patterns that exist within this information. Once you have mapped out, and explored, your data you can ensure that ‘gut feeling’ business decisions become a thing of the past.”