Jamie Hart, director of innovation at William Hill, explores how the company has evolved and experimented to take full advantage of the omnichannel approach to capturing and retaining consumers.
For today’s consumers, it is hard to envision a world without the internet and mobile devices. People now expect exciting and engaging experiences at the click of a button as standard, with the demand for digital experiences impacting upon almost every consumer market.
For many retailers, digital growth has often come at the expense of the offline elements of their business. However, at William Hill, we’ve found that this digital revolution hasn’t cannibalised activity in our traditional stores. Our customers tend to use both betting shops and online services, creating an audience of truly omnichannel customers. In fact, these users already represent a staggering 22% of our customer base.
This surge in omnichannel customers has, of course, put an 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 few barriers when switching between competitors. Industry players, therefore, are needing to concentrate on developing a compelling online customer experience to maintain their position in the market.
An evolved business model
The buzzwords ‘innovative and ‘disruptive’ are enthusiastically flung in the direction of start-ups — highlighting their ability to be flexible, adventurous and risk-taking in their approach to innovation. In contrast, large public companies have a focus on shareholder value and a commercially savvy aversion to risk. Often in mature businesses it’s difficult to prioritise true innovation — to deploy enough resource for a long enough period of time, to prize the outcomes even if their contributions start small, and to deal with the failures that are often en route.
But, in many commoditised or crowded markets, cultivating disruptive innovation from within has become essential to being able to drive growth.
It was for this reason that William Hill invested in its new, experimental division, WHLabs. It’s part of the core business, but operates at the very vanguard of the agile approach and culture that the wider William Hill Online division is adopting. With dev teams long structured in an agile manner, the goal is to cultivate experimentation, entice top-class recruits and make a try-fast/fail-fast mentality a reality.
In this environment, new ideas can be rapidly trialled, tested and assessed without the fear of impacting the core business, but with the financial stability of a major organisation: the business has committed to investing in WHLabs. Once an idea is proven in this environment, it can then be easily integrated into the experience of the core product.
Knowing the customer
While risk taking is encouraged within WHLabs, innovations need to be focused on enhancing the customer experience. The only way to ensure they are doing this is to take a data-driven approach to measurement. Naturally the first step in this process is to fully understand the target audience — their behaviours, habits and desires.
From targeted marketing to identifying new revenue streams, the benefits of customer profiling are well documented. However, creating these profiles still remains a primary challenge for most retailers, particularly with the rise of multi-device consumers.
To this end, William Hill has developed a modern, responsive new front-end web and native app platform. Giving a more consistent experience across devices, it crucially takes control of code drops in-house.
This additional control empowers our development teams to assess and react to our users’ experiences, making site changes, running A/B tests and quickly deploying new features or tests. Teams are therefore able to profile users, then take the profiled data and turn it into actionable insights that improve a user’s journey.
Through Trafalgar, William Hill has taken control of making those changes and deploying new features quickly and in-house — ultimately delivering a host of intelligent touch and conversion points at the right moment in the user’s journey. Over time, the business believes that this ability to test and learn faster than the competition should create real differentiation.
Personalising the customer journey
Delivering a personal experience has become a key priority for retailers in recent years, quickly evolving from a ‘nice to have’ to a consumer expectation. For bookmakers, there’s a need to gather and collate data from both a consumer’s online behaviour and their in-store habits, and create a holistic profile of each customer. As well as this, today there are more than 1,300,000 sports betting opportunities available on William Hill each day and the odds are constantly changing — often 5,200,000 price adjustments happen within a 24-hour period. Therefore, any personalisation platform also needs to be fast and responsive enough to adapt to these fluctuating odds.
In order to capitalise on this opportunity, WHLabs is therefore working to develop a sophisticated personalisation system, utilising customers’ betting histories and behavioural patterns to deliver them a tailored experience across all channels.
This will not be a simple task, and there are significant technical challenges to overcome first. To understand this, there’s a simple way of visualising the challenge: take Netflix’s acclaimed recommendation capability, then multiply that challenge to accommodate a significantly higher “product” set (prices and markets) that updates and changes minute by minute.
Why bookies need technology
The gaming industry has long held close ties with technology and the development sector. The scale and complexity of operating our core business offering — namely handling millions of financial transactions at constantly shifting price points — and need to stay one step ahead in a market that has invested heavily in digital marketing means William Hill would not be in the position it is today without technological innovation.
In fact it is because of these ties that William Hill recognised the need for the innovation capabilities of WHLabs, as well as the need for this to be a fundamentally different business in every way to its core organisation. It’s not enough to simply run a healthy and stable core business, rather a unit like WHLabs is also vital for ensuring investment and innovation continues to be made in the customer experience of the future.