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How to leverage data for the underserved market

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Simply knowing who is part of our most disadvantaged populations can be a challenge that makes reaching the public sector almost impossible. To overcome these obstacles and better serve consumers, we must first identify disadvantaged groups and their needs. Government agencies can use two powerful tools to help reach the most vulnerable: credit and alternative data.

Defining disadvantaged populations

The first thing agencies need to do is understand what an underserved population is is. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has a good definition health care specific: individuals who have experienced health inequalities. Disparities in healthcare can manifest due to a lack of available services, difficulties accessing care, and limited knowledge of how to navigate the healthcare system or find providers. Agencies wishing to define disadvantaged populations can adapt this definition to their specific areas of expertise.

The Federal Reserve also has a good working definition: people who don’t access to a bank. This lens is useful because a lack of access to essential banking functions is a major barrier to receiving other public services. Without a bank account, check cashing options are limited and often come with additional hurdles such as tighter checks, timing requirements, higher fees, and more. Those without a bank account also cannot receive any direct deposit benefits or savings interest that would help them move forward. Identifying the unbanked or underbanked first is a great way to use data to find and reach more individuals who are likely to be underserved by public services.

Research shows that disadvantaged populations regularly fit into specific demographic groups. These groups include the unemployed and the elderly, veterans, the disabled, those living below the poverty line, and those living in rural areas. Due to a combination of factors, these groups are at the highest risk of needing government benefits often participate in utilities at lower rates.

Related: Harness the power of data to drive sales and customer engagement

Insights out of reach

As it stands, government agencies could better understand who uses their services. A lack of comprehensive insight is partly due to outdated privacy legislation and bureaucracy; until recently, government websites were not allowed to collect cookies from their visitors. Of course there is a thin line between privacy protection practices and the use of data to better reach disadvantaged populations. Yet many government agencies can handle the data they have more effectively. Critical insights can be out of reach for agencies struggling to analyze the amounts of data that can exist in different systems.

Public sector executives need to address this pervasive problem with a viable solution. Veterans are a significantly underserved group – often because states do not have access to a robust database of their veteran populations. However, they are just one of the groups often overlooked by government agencies. And while many agencies are become better at using digital tools and data analysis, there is still work to be done. Improving reach is one way to close this gap, and we can do this by making judicious use of good data.

Related: Using Data Analytics Will Transform Your Business. Here’s how.

Data opens doors

The private sector is good at leveraging data to identify and reach its customers. Most brands and companies know the demographics of their typical consumers – and they are experts at turning that knowledge into profit. Data can reveal where a company’s target market lives, how it responds to advertising, and other key behaviors that better enable retailer reach. Government agencies can operate in the same way.

Take the bus system in Montgomery County, Maryland, for example. The county’s Department of Transportation redesigned the bus system introduce the flash. That redesign happened because the agency was looking at its own data behind its typical user. Before the redesign, bus passengers often had to make multiple transfers, adding further disruption to their lives.

The Montgomery County Department of Transportation (MCDOT) looked at who was affected by this problem, at what peak times it affected them, and how the city used the bus system. It then created new routes, resulting in significantly improved and efficient customer experiences. Innovations like these are exactly what other government agencies should embrace to serve voters more effectively.

Related: Redefining customer engagement in a world where data privacy reigns supreme

Take action

Good data is essential to determine the best way to connect with consumers. But how exactly do busy public sector leaders begin implementing a more robust data analytics strategy? External data is readily available from many public sources. Companies such as credit reporting agencies have access to a plethora of information about underserved populations. They can help pinpoint the most vulnerable audiences – who they are and what they need – to maximize the good a new outreach program can do.

Internal usage data can also be key to determining the greatest need. Public transportation is an excellent example: adding a bus route in an affluent suburb may not be as important as expanding or optimizing routes in a densely populated metropolitan area, because most people in the suburbs own a car. Agencies will only discover such information by using data.

Analytics are particularly valuable when determining the best strategy to reach those in need. Not all methods work for all target groups; one group is best reached by e-mail, another group is more open to television commercials and yet another group is most receptive to telephone contact. Analytics can provide valuable insights that stop agencies from wasting resources on dead ends or unnecessary services.

Quality service starts with informed outreach

Public services are designed to help the people who need them most. But to achieve the goal, we must first know their necessities. Improving the customer experience starts with a solid outreach strategy, guided by both external and internal data and analytics.

Modern tools can help us close the gap in need, improve the quality of life of the most vulnerable and take our society to the next level. Data is the engine that drives the train to that goal.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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