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The future belongs to slim, data-based CRM

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In this month’s edition of the Founders Column, in collaboration with GameOn, Golden Whale co-founder and COO Claudia Heiling talks all things technology as she pinpoints new areas for innovation.

The igaming industry has always been one driven by innovation. From the rapid shift towards the online space to the incorporation of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), we have continued to embrace new ways of elevating the overall experience for players.

Advances in technology are trends that need to be kept up with; fall behind and you risk your players flocking to a competitor who has a newer, shinier product offering. Not only can technology help you provide your customers with the best-in-class products, but it can also play a significant role in retaining your players. Let me explain.

To give you a bit of background, I am the co-founder and COO of Golden Whale, a company delivering machine learning infrastructure and services to gaming companies. We are focused on solving some of the most expensive problems of our industry around customer retention.

How did I come to work in the igaming industry, you ask? This was a combination of early interest in PC games – nobody beats me at Tetris! – and luck.

Right after university, I started working at Greentube. I took every opportunity to grow my responsibilities in parallel to the company’s growth being instrumental in multiple successful market entries of games and portals in both B2C and B2B.

I went on to work in other industries too, but missed the vibe of igaming, which led to founding Golden Whale together with my favourite colleagues from the past.

Starting from scratch

Founding a business had always been in the back of my mind – but it all comes down to timing. Building a new company from scratch needs to fit the market situation. Always being very data-driven in the past, we knew the timing was right to enable machine learning for gaming when the development of algorithms into very useful, applied scenarios picked up a few years ago.

There’s so much to focus on besides the product-market-fit. Firstly, be of value to your customers – whether offering a B2B service or a B2C offering, always put the customer in the centre of what you’re doing. We’re openly discussing our ROI with our B2B partners, which has been a win-win situation for all parties involved. 

Additionally, build your business around something you’re enthusiastic about. Scaling new technology in a data-driven environment like gaming has been always a common core interest. Furthermore, strongly consider who you found the company with. Besides the obvious need for expertise, trust and complementary skills are key.

Another lesson to consider is keeping a lean structure and staying as flexible as possible. This is especially true when starting something new. Make sure your team is ready to execute. Remember to believe in yourself and take action if you’ve found something that’s “yours”.

A greater focal point

Technology has not only played a central role in my career to date, but has also been responsible for some of the biggest evolutions that we have seen within the igaming industry. As the industry continues to mature, this focus on technological development isn’t going away any time soon. And nor should it.

In fact, I think that technology is going to become more of a focal point in the coming years. There are two reasons for that. On the one hand, we’ve certainly entered the era of “useful” machine learning, while artificial intelligence, of course, has been around for many years already.

With the rise of ChatGPT and the like, almost everybody gets the chance to experience how powerful these tools can be in our daily operations. We’re at a distinctive point in time where machine learning is not only here to stay, but will become part of our daily lives.

On the other hand, the need for improved retention strategies has been growing due to increasing competition, rising costs of user acquisition and even evolving complexity in regulatory frameworks. Attracting new players is just one part of the equation – retaining existing players is equally crucial for sustained profitability and growth. Technology also offers multiple tools to enhance player retention – for example, using AI and machine learning.

As almost every new technology creates some disruption, adapting to new ways of work and making use of AI and machine learning will also be crucial for our industry. From my point of view, being open-minded and embracing change is essential. But in order to achieve this you first need to identify your use-cases. You shouldn’t implement a new technology just for the sake of it.

Looking for inspiration

I would always start off with a small proof-of-concept project to understand the benefits any new tool or solution could bring to my business. Look for low-hanging fruits, which often are some of the biggest pain points, and work on those primarily. In the case of retention optimisation, this could be issues such as “Who are my players at high risk of churn?” or “Which players just come for the free spins?”.

Once you have identified those pain points, run your first test campaigns – always against a control group – with the engagement methods you already have in place. If the first results are good, use them to gain recognition for this new approach within your organisation. Take it from there and add additional use cases whenever feasible.

Based on the fact that customer expectations are getting more and more complex, our industry – like almost any other industry – has to re-think its engagement and retention strategies. Personalised offers are already standing out in the market. Therefore, not adapting will leave your brand behind.

I see parts of the CRM processes changing; segments are a very helpful tool for us to visualise and understand large sets of data. At the same time the average, even within well-defined segments, is the enemy of personalisation. 

To identify areas in which the igaming industry can improve its engagement and retention strategies, it’s always worth looking for new digital standards introduced by big technology brands in other industries to keep up with change.

Industries such as ecommerce, fintech and mobile app development are particularly noteworthy for their digital innovation and can serve as sources of inspiration for the gambling industry.

The future belongs to auto-CRM

One common mistake we see in the market is going too fast for a big “one-size-fits-all” solution, which usually takes too long to implement and configure in a way that it’s useful for the people dealing with it in daily operation. Instead, I’d recommend a modular, easy-to-connect approach to keep the whole structure flexible, fast and well-equipped for the future. 

This might sound quite complicated, but when you get it right, the pay-off is endless. Golden Whale specialises in delivering highly personalised gaming experiences and unlocking the potential of machine learning technology.

To be more specific, we deliver predictions and recommendations for product and CRM teams to engage with customers on a highly individual basis, following the goal to run a healthy and sustainable business.

Having been in the industry for over 20 years and seeing the changes that new technology constantly brings to our daily work, I believe the future belongs to slim, data-based, auto-CRM and product managers who understand the value of combining their creative work with new tools and services based on AI and machine learning.

A machine will never invent a new campaign or product feature; ideation will continue to be in excellent hands with humans. At the same time, finding the optimal point of operation based on multiple factors and dimensions is where machines excel.

Getting support for optimisation and exploitation by machine learning, while we as humans can focus much more on creating new ideas and features, seems an obvious and valuable development for me. This approach speeds up the learning curve of any gaming operation massively.

What comes next?

With new technologies flooding the market, this year is going to be one of great change for the igaming industry.

But for anybody looking to enter the igaming or tech space in 2024: Be ready to become part of a fast-moving, growing, and competitive environment at the forefront of innovation and digitalisation, with many opportunities to learn and progress – personally and on a career-level.

Once in, always look out for people who support you and who you can support. Be solution-oriented and help solve problems for your superiors. Change the workplace if you don’t feel the culture is right for you, there’s plenty of different work environments within the industry.

Consider your strengths and values and look for a fitting employer. Make meaningful connections wherever possible and look out for role models you find inspiring. Speak up for yourself and don’t wait to be chosen – this is especially true for introverts!

The intersection of gaming and tech is an extremely exciting and creative place to be in. From a data scientist’s perspective, with such a large amount of data available to work on, we’re living the dream.

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