When Ben Keith, owner of Star Sports and a well-known face on the independent bookmakers’ scene, went on Twitter the other week to complain about the way the industry had progressed in the last few years, he voiced what might be deemed as a jaundiced view of the modern betting world.
“You can keep your apps and affiliate-schemes,” he told his followers. “Proper bookmakers stood on a stool and worked with a board, chalk, a book and tickets.”
The days of ‘proper bookmakers’ that Keith refers were also a time when bookies were known as turf accountants, a phrase that conjures up images of wide-boys with even wider suits.
But it also represents a view of customer services that was very much, up close and personal, and though it might sound anachronistic, it’s a view of the customer/operator relationship that is on its way back. At least, this is how many are viewing the potential for digital offerings to once again connect with customers on a one-to-one level.
“This is how big data is being viewed in some quarters,” says Mark Robinson, chief executive at real-time data personalisation provider deltaDNA. “Back in the dim and distant past, the relationship between the punter and the bookmaker was highly personalised and the bookmakers knew exactly what type of bet the customer wanted, and how much that customer was likely to be worth to them over a period of time.”
Similarly, he says, today’s behavioural analytic techniques based on player data mean operators are now able to understand a lot more about how a customer behaves online, their betting preferences and the frequency of their gambling activity.
“You can know so much more now and it means you can be that much more targeted in your marketing and promotional activity for tens of thousands of players,” says Robinson. “The capability of understanding the data available today in real-time enables the level of understanding that the bookmakers back in the day would know instinctively.”
This capability is the outcome from the explosion of cloud computing power, a development which means that operators and suppliers are now able to utilise the masses of data they collect about player behaviour and manipulate it to help them understand their customers better.
“Operators can now truly use the data that is to hand,” says Kostandina Zafirovska, chief executive at sports-betting backend supplier BtoBet. “It forms one of the keys to the future of sports-betting. The data informs our recommendation engine, for instance, ensuring the end users are being offered a personalised offering attuned to their desires.”
None of this should be surprising given that we live in a world where virtual assistants are now very much part and parcel of the home environment. “It’s a cultural change, not just a technological transformation” says Zafirovska.
Armed with a clearer and more detailed picture of how an individual prefers to gamble, a more personalised offering offers a route to generating greater revenues from the current customer base. “Knowing their past betting experience, it is a pretty easy sell and it won’t feel spammy to the user,” says Nathan Rothschild, co-founder and partner at consumer-facing data service provider iSport Genius. “It will feel like a contextual and relevant bet, similar but not identical.”
It works at a similar level to nudge theory – the behavioural science notion, whereby positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions can be used to influence decision-making. In the sports-betting arena, a personalised offering can leverage a customer’s interest, for instance, in English football, to point them in the direction of bets on other leagues and competitions.
“It’s not even a shift,” says Rothschild. “It’s just a different angle.”
The move towards personalisation doesn’t come without its controversies. How operators handle personal data is becoming an ever more crucial issue, particularly bearing in mind the upcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on the part of the EU in May next year.
But as Robinson says, when it comes to most consumers, what they are most upset about is how often that the messages they receive from companies are not targeted enough.
“People thought personalisation was an intrusion on people’s data, but actually there is an expectation that if you are going send me a message, you should know more about me and do it properly,” he says. “People share all sorts on the internet; the worry is that if you take the old-school approach, and you are sending them information that isn’t relevant, it makes you look unprofessional and it looks like you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Not having a clue about who the punter was is a mistake that a turf accountant from back in the day – or indeed like Ben Keith, the modern-day version – would never have made. But if today’s operators want to know anything about personalisation, maybe they should be asking for tips from the man on the rails.