by Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) In a world where consumer expectations are shifting dramatically, data becomes one of the best ways of understanding humans and achieving competitive advantage. In this first Only Connect Podcast, Uber Eats South Africa GM Ailyssa Pretorius and I chat about why data is critical to sustaining competitive brand advantage.

Read the companion column to this podcast here.

Full podcast transcript

Brad Elliott: If customer centricity is so obvious, why are so few businesses truly embracing it as a leading principle?

Ailyssa Pretorius: I think there are two big problems. The one is the data actually isn’t that accessible. And so, as Uber Eats, we’re really lucky, we obviously have an application, that means we can follow data, you know, at every step of the transaction from a customer, and that allows us to get really deep insights. And so the first thing I mean, it was really surprising to me how little detail the current POS systems in South Africa actually provide to a restaurant partner. So basic stuff like stock management actually doesn’t exist in most POS systems. And I think that was quite surprising for me. So I think the first thing is, does the data actually exist? And the second thing that I found is: the idea of using data in a very smart way means that you kind of need to be very clear on what your objective is and what your outcome might be, and how deep you want to be in an investigatory world. So kind of, do you want to decide all I want from my data point is to drive new sales? And to do that, you need to get really deep into segmenting the data, thinking about the data in different ways, and letting the data talk to you. What I found is very often, when people have a ton of data, they go very high level. And so they’re not getting the deep insights that really can drive customer centricity.

BE: So I mean, listen, from my experience, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with those two problems because it’s what we experience with our clients as well. And I’ve always had, obviously a strong opinion on it.

AP: Quite simplistically. It’s not something that we’ve been our generation has been taught, really, in terms of how to deal with this kind of big data.

And I think it will come and I’m seeing trends within the industry of more and more people investing in basic things like data analysts within their organization, business intelligence,

functions within their orgs. I’m seeing restaurant partners coming to us and asking for more and more data and getting more insights into kind of whatever knowledge that we have, and trying to figure out how to use that and really tap into that.

And I think it’s a natural progression of where we have to go right, if you, it doesn’t make sense to take a big risk when you’ve got a ton of data that will help you mitigate that. And I think people are coming around to that idea above and beyond the customer centricity opportunities.

BE: I started that sounded like you had finished talking about the two main problems. And then I sort of chipped in around access to data, which is one problem, The other problem is once you have the data, everyone’s sort of just taking this high-level view, but it seems like from there you’re seeing quite a bit of skills development and people up-hiring or up-skilling to access that. Yeah, I mean, in my experience has been very much the same. But I’ve always wondered if as businesses, they either don’t understand the value that data can extract or give them because, as you said, they don’t have a clear objective, or whether it’s just laziness. I mean, for me, the technology exists to segment and deep dive into data, do you think Change Management is actually part a crucial part, getting people’s attitudes to change towards data is more the problem and the technology itself?

AP: I guess it’s about how does information filter down and who’s looking at it? So you can imagine a normal salesperson looking at a set of data is interested in two things: What was my sales value? And did I hit my targets? And so I think there’s a piece<?> as the companies need to think about in terms of how you’re incentivizing people. So are you thinking about new sales, attracting new markets, and building an organization that’s thinking in this way, so that people are kind of incentivized — not necessarily financially, but just in terms of how they measure their performance — to think innovatively and in with an entrepreneurial mindset? And I think I think that’s a big piece. I’m not convinced people are lazy. I’m convinced that I think it’s more they’re not clear on where to even begin. And I think, you know, you think about how people perceive people who data analyze, and you imagine a bunch of geeks in every room, have old computer screens and are writing weird data queries. And I think that’s quite intimidating.

So I think it’s more an intimidation factor than a lazy factor.

BE: So who do you think are the top thinkers on customer centricity? Both locally and globally?

AP: After Uber Eats you mean. <laughs>

BE: So that aside, ja, of course!

AP: I’m not sure if I can talk to a specific company that I think is doing this well. But I think the companies that are using tech to speak to their consumers in the way that consumers want to be spoken to, are the guys who are the most forward-thinking on this. So it’s the guys who are smart enough, when you leave your cart to send you a Facebook message to say, Hey, did you have an issue? Is there any way that I can help you? Or it’s the guys who are thinking about WhatsApp shopping because they understand and identify what their consumers need and want. I think the people who are perhaps, maybe not being customer-centric, but are definitely using data in a very strong way, and are thinking through behavioural economics in the way that they’re building loyalty to their platform, the guys that I’ve kind of been inspired by, are Discovery Vitality. What they’re doing in South Africa is the kind of one of a kind in the industry in terms of using data to identify consumer , identify how you can change that , and identify very clearly what makes a consumer tick. And I think that kind of mentality — obviously, they’re using it for a very different objective, but that they’re probably, for me, the leaders in thinking on how to actually speak to a consumer in a very specific way.

BE: Yeah, I agree. I think they’re doing a great job as well.

AP: Listen, I’m obsessed with my Apple Watch, I went for a run this morning even though I had no time, just to make my points.

BE: Exactly. And that’s the thing. So, we talk about data and customer centricity and everyone in sort of defaults back to personalization — which I think is really important, obviously, and meeting customers where it suits them best — but if you talk about true behavioural change, if you look at Vitality and an Apple Watch and points, for me, it’s not even about them debiting an amount off my credit card for the Apple watch anymore. It’s an obsession for me to reach my points. So it’s almost like the stick has fallen away, you know, “Oh my word if I don’t reach my goal I have to pay for my watch”, I think they’ve really actually changed that behaviour.

AP: I think that’s where they’ve totally done it right in terms of balancing that carrot and a stick because I don’t feel like I’m penalized. And, and this they’ve been very specific about this and they’ve experimented a lot with figuring out the right mechanics here, but exactly to your point, I actually don’t know when they charge me into my bank account or not, but I certainly know that I’ve got a leaderboard with my family. I don’t want to make sure I’m the one who doesn’t get their points for the week.

You know, and you’re kind of, doing all sorts of health checks and assessments that I would never do with someone my age, just to get a couple more points on the board. I think it’s really exciting what they’re working through at the moment.

BE: You know I think maybe to your point as well, your point earlier on data and sort of this perception that it’s a bunch of geeks, sitting in a room with old computer screens. I think maybe that was the type of data we used to have. We used to have really dry demographic non-behavioural data, right, a snapshot of a person in time, but with the rise of digital and technology and channels and platforms, the amount of data we can get on behaviour — actual behavioural data is so massive that maybe that’s why companies haven’t really woken up to it as quickly as they should have. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that?

AP: I definitely think so I think, I think a number of companies are starting to think about it. And the guys who’ve started to think about data a little bit earlier are the guys who are starting to do things a little bit differently.

But I also feel like there’s been a long time you had basic data and people just haven’t looked, and it was just because it wasn’t done. And it was okay to just do things based on whatever consultants or marketing company advised.

BE: Makes sense. Are you getting some, some black BMW’s driving behind you there? The President obviously driving past. If you can still hear me then I’ll just go on talking.

I don’t take too much of your time either. So I think yeah I mean, for me the whole data play as well. And I think that’s almost one of the questions that I got to, when I was asking about Uber Eats, is that through data you can really understand people and their behaviour. I think if you use that correctly you can really build trust with them.

And once you do that you’re actually able to transcend into verticals, and businesses that you may have never thought of. So if you take Discovery as an example. I mean they were a health insurance business. They now are basically a full financial services business and they’ll probably transcend into other verticals soon as well. I mean, it really does give you the competitive advantage to not only dominate in your existing vertical industry but actually the outside of it and that sort of speaks to your virtual restaurants anddark restaurants’, as well, you know you’re not just —

AP: Exactly and I think even if you go beyond the spectrum of Uber Eats to Uber as a business overall, if you think about some of the things that Uber has done in terms of, obviously sitting on a ton of data, we’ve built a product called Uber Movement, and I think it launched two years ago almost now. But We sat on all of this data which showed how people were moving around cities, and we realized city planners desperately wanted to understand this because we have that by time-of-day, and where is the starting points and how are people congregating. And you can imagine how much a city planner values understanding what happens on a Friday at two o’clock in the morning and what do I need to do to make sure that the city’s adequately secure, that the roads are okay, where are the words being used more and more, and Uber actually open sourced this. And people are using this to get to a deeper understanding of their cities.

You think about it from an Uber Eats perspective and you think about where the world is going in terms of understanding their food a little bit better, figuring out salt content, figuring out sugar content because of the current rate of obesity.

Does a platform like Uber Eats start to become an information sharer, more than just a place for you to order your food but provides you with the kinds of information that you need to make the right decision making when you’re eating?

But by the same token, does Uber Eats become — and this is not on our roadmap to be super clear — but I just think the world is limitless with some of these things I think there’s a there’s a lot of experimentation going on globally as we start to understand consumer behavior a little bit better. And I think when we talk about customer centricity, it’s putting the customer first, but it’s also about getting a deep knowledge of what the customer is actually looking for and making sure that you’re continuing to provide that and innovate against those insights

BE: Ya, and I guess that’s why the most innovative companies don’t mind making their data open source because they gather more and more and have more and more insight into people, which they can then obviously, let’s be honest, we’re in business for profit at the end of the day, but then they can use that down the line to further understand their customers and obviously increase customer lifetime value and build that relationship.

AP: Yeah, and I think what’s interesting if you look in the tech industry. If you look at the leading kind of technology companies in the world at the moment, I actually would argue that they’re definitely motivated by profitability because everybody needs to get there, if you’re going to be a business. But I think the fundamentals are: figure out a consumer need, solve for the need, and you’ll make a viable business model. Versus maybe some of the old school thinking which is let me make sure that I’m profitable from day one. And that means I have to make adjustments to my service offering unnecessarily to fit a financial model

BE: One hundred percent, that’s a great way of looking at it. Would you be comfortable and telling me who you think is losing in this field, who is losing in customer centricity. We know who’s winning, I think we all kind of — who do you think… It doesn’t have to be one company might have been just an industry.

AP: The adoption of available data that I’m seeing happen a lot, less, a lot slower than I had anticipated, is actually with our restaurant partner base. So, and this is weird, this is where Uber Eats we talk about restaurant partnership and trying to really figure out how we actually provide insights that are more user friendly and make sure that we continue to influence our restaurant partners I feel like this, the industry in South Africa is not using data as quickly as it should. And it’s interesting in South Africa. If you look at Cape Town versus Joburg.

You know if you just started basic stuff like trends, how quickly are Cape Town restaurateurs adapting to trends in global food trends, versus. Sorry. Yeah, Capetonians versus Joburgers, and then similarly, when you start to see changes in consumer habits, how quickly are we adapting? Another good one is the grocers in South Africa and the retailers in South Africa —

BE: Those are the ones I was going to bring up

AP: You know, how, how have we not thought about — Amazon is massive. Virtual shopping and on-demand shopping is something that is definitely a movement, we understand how much more precious time has become and you know this is what makes Uber Eats a success. And I feel like in South Africa some of our retailers have just been a little bit slow to adopt some of the insights that they definitely have.

BE: And that’s for me it is my number one go to, I’m on record for it is Woolworths, I mean Shoprite and them I can sort of, I can sort of them a bit of leeway, because their target market or their typical customer doesn’t — well, maybe that’s an assumption a bad assumption — but in a way doesn’t part with as much data. They’ve definitely got a lot of insight, for sure. But it’s not your Woolworths customer where you’re tracking a card and multiple touch points, so you know I think retailers are really under-investing in unichannel approaches overall.

AP: Even beyond the grocery space, if you think about and I suppose Woolworths isn’t limited to grocery, but think about how long we’ve been offering credit through retailers to consumers. So, that gives you such great insight in terms of when are they shopping, when are they spending the most, when are they defaulting on their payments, what are the trends on purchase, when do people start winter shopping actually, and when do they stop?

BE: Yeah, I mean that went back to my question that I asked you in the write up, was all of these companies have the same — having dealt with him on a one to one basis, lots of them, and not just the retailers and grocers — they all have the same excuse around like,Oh no no that’s you know that data sits separately from that data and everything’s siloed and we’ve got this one customer view project we’re working on but it’s going to take five years to roll out,’ I just sort of nod my head in absolute amazement but, you know, literally one of the biggest retail groups we work with, we went there —So you want a single customer view how long is it going to take to pull this data in?’ And they were likefive years’ I was like that is absolutely mind-blowing. Like, I don’t understand. Yeah, I mean having a siloed data is always a barrier r but I think it’s always an excuse.

AP: I think I think people have been using data for the longest time to send Happy Birthday messages. Yeah.

BE: If you’re lucky. The example I always use is I get mailers for female clothing but don’t read into that.


BE: So yeah, so do I just wanna I know we’ve been talking for 20 minutes which I appreciate I’m just gonna end up with a more general question: are there any great books or podcasts that you’ve read recently, they don’t have to be necessarily on customer centricity but I’m assuming that data and customer centricity are very close to your heart?

AP: I’m obsessed withHow I Built This’ — I don’t know if you’ve heard the podcast? They release a weekly podcast and it’s basically people have started from very little, always, and the best one is the Spanx one if you’ve got time to listen to it, but it’s about entrepreneurs, and how kind of how in the world did they even think about the idea. And what did they do to shift their little idea which usually started in a garage or the back of the house into something that, you know, all of these companies that they interview, are more-than-billion-dollar companies today, and they’ve either sold or made decisions to retain, and it’s not necessarily about data but it definitely, It helps me think a little bit deeper about how are people thinking about these customer insights, how are they thinking about what the customer needs, and how — you know the podcast is amazing because it’s about how relentless people are in their vision, and I think I take two pieces of inspiration for that: one, Uber Eats it’s a very operational business, and sometimes it takes a lot out of me and my team to make magic happen that we do every day happen. And so for me, it’s a, it’s a bit of inspiration on you keep cracking if you believe in what you’re doing because you know you’re doing something great.

And the second piece that is super-clear is you have to continue to innovate. It’s impossible to be static in terms of your offering and succeed long term in a marketplace. And I think that’s why I particularly love it from a book perspective, I’ve actually downloaded, I haven’t read them, I’m on leave tonight. So I’m reading it on the plane. Yeah, yeah absolutely I’m going to New York, I’m super excited.

I have to be in San Fran for work the week after so I’m just making a bit of a holiday slash work trip out of it.

BE: Have you been before?

AP: I have been before, but the times that I’ve been before I’ve been as a… I was one of those terrible tourists who wake up at five did all of the must-do tick off your list thing, which I think is the worst way to do New York. So this time I have seven full nights and absolutely nothing planned which I’m very excited about.

BE: I’ll send you some suggestions if you want because I did everything like a local, but yeah.

AP: Oh, I’d love that.

AP: I was just telling you I’m just actually opening my Kindle to tell you what it is, but this was on the recommendation of somebody from Discovery who spent a lot of time getting deep into behavioural economics.

He recommended I download this book. The book is called Predictably Irrational.

BE: Apparently it’s amazing.

AP: Yeah, so it’s apparently just, and he’s actually this guy Dan Ariely has written — if you’ve actually gone to Amazon — a ton of books, particularly as he starts to learn a little bit more about how humans behave. So I’m quite excited to read this one, the one I really enjoyed wasHow Google works’.

And that was just for me a piece around getting a deeper knowledge of how to motivate people a little bit better, especially in this kind of industry, and then Shoo Dog by Phil Knights.

BE: Shoo Dog is a great book as well. A great entrepreneurial book about tenacity and gearing yourself to the fucken max — a risk taker of note!

AP: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about entrepreneurs is they’re all a little bit cooked, to be honest.

BE: You gotta be you gotta be slightly nuts, you gotta put it all on the line.

Okay, cool. I really appreciate your time, especially on a day that you flying out.

AP: Absolutely and do send me that list I’d love some of that stuff but I think there are some, some hidden gems in there as well.

BE: Enjoy New York it’s my favourite city in the world. I’m jealous.

Bradley ElliottThe founder of Continuon and Platinum Seed, Bradley Elliott (@BradElliottSA) has created a number of businesses in the digital and technology sectors. He believes that marketing needs to be reinvented so that it becomes more useful to humans and brands. He’s also a collector of fine whisky. Bradley contributes “Only Connect”, exclusively to In this column and twin podcast, he chats to custodians of the world’s top brands about what matters most to them.

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