Sunday musings: Data tracking — food we eat, customer service, planes we fly

copyright MPD01605 Flickr Creative Commons

Today we take time to muse about big data. It has significant promises in the fields of promising merchandising and, perhaps, in customer service. But, big data has a problem with big physical objects, like a 250-ton airplane.

How data and online ordering is changing fast food service

I never heard of Sheetz before I moved to Virginia from Boston about six years ago. But, this mid-Atlantic rural gas station/convenience store chain is at the cutting edge of using data to shape what they sell and how they sell it. Plus other online companies are learning that take-out customers order more when using ipads and computers.

For food items like sandwiches, salads, and nachos, “People discovered toppings they didn’t know we have. We cannot show a menu with all possible scenarios, but we can in touchscreens. We can offer condiment screens, vegetable screens, and a whole bunch of choices people can take their time going through,” Sheetz said. “You find that some people have interesting tastes, thanks to the touchscreen (laughs). They will put mayo on something you and I would never put mayo on. Some things you add on to a sandwich are free, others are upcharges, which are right on the button — like bacon, cheese. You can easily put that upcharge right on the sandwich. You wonder how people will fit all the things you order onto a roll when it’s volume heavy!”

Last but not least, the chain is also able to obtain valuable data from the touchscreens. Sheetz’s systems retain data from the touchscreen, which the chain then uses to track item sales, margin management, and inventory management.

And, who knew that we ordered more when using an ipad or computer to punch in the order?

“The difference between online ordering and offline is that most restaurants tell us orders are bigger and higher,” says Eat24’s chief marketing officer Amir Eisenstein. “For example, if you order a pizza over the phone you’ll just tell them to bring an XL pizza and a Coke. But when you go online, you see the whole menu. All of a sudden, people order appetizers, ribs, salads, and stuff they don’t normally order over the phone. They have more time on the menu, they spend more time on the menu, and they order slightly more items than over the phone.”

Data is changing airline customer service

The advent of Internet connections in airplanes has created a new way for the Internet provider and the airlines to connect with passengers. Whether or not users are aware, data about their online habits are being collected as they use these in-flight systems. Plus, real data from surveys and feedback forms can provide upfront collection of marketing and customer service data that is analyzed.

So, airlines that are charging for in-flight Web connectivity are managing to get their passengers to pay for their research. Or, another way to look at this is that, when the data becomes more valuable, passengers may end up paying less. That way, as costs go down, data collection will go up and both the airlines and the analytics companies will be rewarded with more data rather than more money.

Of course, there is a trade-off in privacy. Would you pay more for a private online experience? Or, pay less knowing that everything you tap into the computer will be tracked? Someday it may be the passenger’s choice.

Passengers of Gogo’s airline partners who contact customer care during their flight have the option of participating in the survey. Customers who opt in for Gogo marketing will also be emailed a survey within 48 hours of their flight.
The ability to survey passengers while they are still on the flight allows for a better and more realistic understanding of the customer experience.

“Our philosophy is, the closer we are to the interaction, the more realistic feedback is going to be,” Penuela said.

U.N. to consider ways to track planes over seas

The United Nations agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, has a big problem. How can they accurately track aircraft across the globe? There is no easy solution and any international solution adds more complexity to making sure episodes like the disappearance of 250-ton Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 don’t happen again. Competing satellite systems have pros and cons. Plus, space-based systems need to be integrated with ocean-based communications and everything new needs to be compatible with the current systems. It is a tall order. It is why, even in these days of super high-tech, tracking a giant physical object is so complex.

“ICAO doesn’t have a very good story to tell,” [another expert with long experience in multinational aviation negotiations, speaking on the condition of anonymity] said. “Nobody does.”

Like the Malaysian plane, the Air France jet was flying over open ocean, far beyond the range of tracking radar on the ground. But it was not far off course, and searchers had a good idea where to look from the start — they found floating debris from the crash within a few days. By contrast, the Malaysia Airlines jet stopped communicating with the ground and then turned sharply off course, leaving only faint and obscure clues to where it had gone as it flew unrecognized and largely untracked for thousands more miles.

The options before the aviation organization to prevent a similar disaster pose various complications.

Photo credit: By MPD01605, Flickr Creative Commons