Yakult Quenches Thirst for Understanding Customer Data

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For some companies, obtaining customer data is the biggest challenge. But collecting that valuable information wasn't the problem for Yakult, a global manufacturer of health beverages. Instead, combining customer information from various sources into a usable format was the issue.


"We didn't have a serious reporting tool, and we had a lot of different sources of data," said Eddy van Hamersveld, national sales manager at Yakult Netherlands B.V., a subsidiary of Yakult Honsha Co. Ltd., Japan.


Yakult, which makes a fermented milk drink that includes a strain of lactic acid bacteria, collects information from at least five different sources: from supermarket data from ACNielsen to sales data from Yakult and its competitors as well as advertising data. Van Hamersveld was left to combine the information from these sources into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, a time-consuming task that did not necessarily produce easy-to-analyze results.


"We had a lot of different data to combine," he said. "I was looking for a reporting tool that was flexible."


Last summer, Yakult brought on Spotfire, Somerville, MA, an interactive, visual data analytics applications and service provider, to create a system that would let it dissect customer information more quickly and easily and react to what it revealed to serve Yakult's customer base better. Spotfire's DecisionSite software provides van Hamersveld with graphs, tables and maps so he can manipulate the data quickly to obtain the information he needs.


The databases contain four years of data, and the new system lets him jump from one variable to another (to compare segments such as males and females, age groups and the Yakult product the customers purchased -- original or low calorie) and to compare sales data. Van Hamersveld said the tool also makes it easier for him to collect data for PowerPoint presentations to communicate the latest sales figures to company management on a monthly basis.


"For me, the most important thing is getting the sales data," said van Hamersveld, who then shares this data with account and marketing managers.


Van Hamersveld said it was easier to learn how to use DecisionSite than it was to get initial buy-in from his colleagues on the implementation of the system.


"It takes more time and effort to convince people to use it," he said. Once colleagues saw the benefits, they were convinced.


DecisionSite also lets Yakult understand the customer behavior behind the sales. The company surveyed 45,000 customers on their Yakult drinking habits, including why they drank it, how they learned about it and how long they've been customers.


Before conducting the survey, company management thought customers bought the product mainly for its health benefits. But customer segmentation analysis revealed that consumers were drawn to the beverage for its taste. The company also thought that decreased use of Yakult in the summer resulted from the higher temperatures, but analysis showed that summer vacations -- and the temporary absence of customers from the region -- led to the sales drop.


Though these initiatives have helped Yakult understand its customers, the company also has been active in informing customers about itself. Van Hamersveld said Yakult continually works to strengthen its relationships with customers. It mails a small magazine four times a year and also sends information regarding what scientists uncover about the beverage.


"These people are well informed," said van Hamersveld, noting that the database contains contact information for customers who mailed comments.


Yakult works continually to add customer information to its database. It is in the middle of a survey seeking consumer feedback on its commercials, and plans for the DecisionSite system include a deep analysis of customer behavior on the Web site.


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