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Tolling Points

Data is critical to delivering the right messages to the right customers at the right time

By: 
Bill Cramer

Every tolling agency is committed to understanding what its customers need and want. But agencies that haven’t yet tapped the power of Big Data are probably getting a far less complete picture of those customers than they otherwise would.

At IBTTA’s New Media, Communications and Human Resources workshop last week in Cleveland, participants heard that data management makes the difference in turning a more general set of customer profiles into strategic intelligence.

Craig Bettmann, Vice President of Client Solutions at Schaumburg, Illinois-based Cogensia, pointed to the single best reason to understand as much as possible about toll customers. “They aren’t just vehicles or axles on a tollway,” he told participants. “By knowing who your customers are and having a vibrant read on them, you can allocate resources appropriately

More than ever before, agencies can use data to set marketing priorities, assign customer service resources, and optimize operations. They can also use insights driven by Big Data to reinforce customer behavior—if the goal is to increase toll road usage—or change behavior, if the priority is to encourage transponder use or shift users out of rush hour traffic.

Knowing Your Customer

Bettman traced his company’s process for merging standard customer data—often covering 100 million or more transactions for a single agency—with a national household database that provides a wide mix of demographic and census data related to age, income, family size, and home ownership. The database also contains valuable insights on interests and lifestyles, attitudes and behaviors that make it possible to build finely-honed profiles of specific user audiences.

Through the data analysis process, “we always find interesting nuggets that either validate what you already knew about your customers, or tell you something counter to what you always thought or assumed.” By dividing a large group of customers into segments, analysts can get a deep understanding of who they are and how each segment differs from the others.

Slicing and Dicing the Data

That’s how Georgia’s State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) was able to make some important distinctions between the 78% of customers who accounted for 17% of the trips on the I-85 Express Lanes, and the 22% who represented 83% of roadway activity. The infrequent group divided into three sub-categories, the frequent group into four—and from that point, Cogensia and SRTA developed an outreach strategy aimed to boost rush-hour efficiency of one of the busiest tolled lanes in the United States.

  • The group defined as Young Potentials brought together the 6% of SRTA’s customer base who accounted for 15% of all trips. Compared to the average frequent customer, they drove more miles and more shoulder and return trips, were younger, had lower incomes, and were more price-sensitive.
  • By contrast, on the infrequent side, the 18.1% of customers defined as Young City Dwellers accounted for only 4.1% of total trips. Their demographics were almost identical to those of the Young Professionals, but their geography told the story. They were concentrated in the heart of downtown Atlanta, so they had little or no need to commute—and very few of them were contributing to congestion problems along I-85.

When SRTA introduced a toll credit program to encourage customers to shift from peak hours to shoulder periods, 180 of the 260 who took up the offer were Young Potentials, said Malika Reed Wilkins, SRTA’s Director of Marketing and Communications.

“You have to be strategic about it,” Wilkins told IBTTA in a pre-conference blog post. “When the people on our roads are paying for a premium service, we owe it to our customers and our employees to give them the best experience and use data to help drive those decisions.”

In Cleveland, Bettmann said agencies can also use Big Data to track employment statistics, performance data, and survey responses across the work force, making it easier to deliver “the right messages to the right employees at the right time.”                                                                                           

Visit IBTTA’s website for more insights on how Big Data is transforming the tolling industry.

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