CEO says big data drives towing business forward

Technology has turned the towing business into an information business, according to Dave Ferrick, CEO of Agero.

How is technology changing Agero as a business? When you think about our business, you think about tow trucks and wrenches and grease, but technology has actually made our business very sophisticated. We are crunching terabytes of data and know where our trucks are, who they are towing, and what type of service we should provide for any particular customer.

When you buy a new car and it breaks down, you do not have a great perception of that vehicle brand. But if we are able to provide excellent service in the name of that brand, we can raise brand perception to where it was or even improve it. We are finding new ways to use data to tie together all the constituents around the value chain. We are running a very important relay race that involves the towing service, dealership and a brand's consumer affairs people. When we move the right data through that value chain, we have a positive effect on the customer experience and retain their brand loyalty.

We are also using smartphones to innovate. Years ago, we bet on in-vehicle telematics and sensors to give us information about cars and their drivers. But we now see the smartphone as the most powerful sensor you can have in a vehicle. The very devices that drivers bring into their cars can do a lot of what a very sophisticated in-vehicle telematics device can do. That was a huge "aha" moment for us. Smartphones will be the basis of much of our innovation over the next few years.

Has technology innovation created any challenges for your role as CEO? As these new technologies come out, everybody wants to try everything, so we need a robust process to boil the options down to what will have maximum impact on our customers. It's a good problem when you have too many great ideas, but I find myself saying "no" a lot more often.

We are a big company, and our technology has to work 24/7. If our systems are down, we leave our customer stranded, so we cannot get too close to the bleeding edge.

Our approach is to pick a client or call center team to try out a new technology and then make decisions about how to scale. I'd rather make a lot of small bets before making one large bet.

Has technology changed your leadership style? I find myself relying more and more on big data to inform my decisions. I spend an increasing amount of time interpreting data to understand which items really require action.

For example, last winter, we had one of the coldest winters we've had in a long time. I knew immediately that our call center volume would be historically high and that we needed to look into ways to reach an unprecedented number of motorists. We were able to quickly reach out to our end consumers and determine their immediate needs.

Out of that experience, we've developed sophisticated algorithms that will tell us how weather conditions will affect our dispatch volume. With this information, Agero can get ahead of weather patterns.

During that cold winter, we had solutions ranging from opening a new call center to giving customers self-service functions online. Through real-time customer data, we concluded that customers valued a self-service option for requesting assistance. We were able to deliver just that--quickly.

This story, "CEO says big data drives towing business forward" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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