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Driving innovation with customer insight

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Written by: Benjamin Boesch, Chief Digital Officer, VFS Global

As end consumers, we have enjoyed substantial improvement in digital technology over the last 20 years. Smaller and faster hardware components, mobile and wireless connectivity, and advancements in software engineering have created customer experiences that were earlier regarded as utopia.  The so-called User Interface (UI) that we interact with to consume information, interact and generate transactions, is an outcome of well-orchestrated processes around experience design and engineering. In this process, actively and passively generated data plays a major role:

  • Passively collected data doesn’t require any contribution from customers and usually happens while customers interact on websites or apps (customers can opt out of such a collection)
  • Actively collected data can be generated through customer surveys, focus groups or other purpose-driven interactions with customers.

The misuse and exposure of highly sensitive and personal customer data has created some degree of mistrust in society, especially towards larger technology firms and their ecosystems. Data protection regulations like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and other interventions by governments, aim to provide guardrails for digital companies.

Is all data collection bad? One could think so, inferring from the media coverage that focuses on misuse for commercial benefit, competitive advantage, and vulnerable to cyber-attacks. 

What is overlooked often, however, is that both active and passive data collection lies at the core of product development. Most of the digital products and services we use in our daily lives, like mobile devices, apps or smart home appliances, wouldn’t be as sophisticated and secure without the careful analysis of data and the derivation of modifications, simplifications or additions to existing solutions.

This process can be well performed without using customers’ personal and sensitive data, and while creating transparency on what is being collected and why.

At VFS Global, we don’t store or analyse personal data beyond the visa application timeframe defined by each client government. However, non-personal web traffic and behaviour, for instance, is being used to assess the performance of our systems and improve customer experience, all without using any personal data and by providing customers the option to opt out. A few examples:

  • We compare the duration our web visitors spend on our sites. A significant deviation of duration will help us identify areas of improvement or potential errors in the process.
  • Analytics data can help us understand which devices and browsers our customers are using. This helps us optimise the experience for most frequently used solutions, in particular the steady rise of mobile traffic
  • A surge in web traffic is a great indicator for increasing demand for visa applications. To ensure a smooth experience at the Visa Application Centre with minimum wait time, traffic data helps us plan staffing at our centres well in advance.

Passive data collection has certain limitations. In particular, customers do not get to voice their opinion about an experience directly, and they can’t tell us what additional or different services they would like to consume. For that reason, we are regularly engaging directly with our customers to improve existing services and identify new ones. For instance:

  • We have found that four out of five customers find wait time and document submission at the Visa Application Centre fairly stressful. For that reason, we have implemented a new solution called Digital Document Check (DDC), allowing customers to upload their application and have it checked from the comfort of their homes, providing assurance and reducing the time spent at the centre
  • Focus groups helped us understand which colour schemes and fonts are easiest to read, especially for customers with visual impairments. Based on this insight, we have substantially changed the look and feel of our websites which are serving more than 100 million visitors per year
  • In interviews, we identified the desire – especially during the pandemic – of customers to receive our services from home rather than in the application centre. Our Visa at your Doorstep (YAYD) service allows customers in a growing number of countries to submit their applications and enrol biometric data from their homes.

While data collection and usage need to be controlled by checks and balances, it is fair to say that it is hugely valuable and paramount for progress and innovation in customer experience.

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