NB: This is a viewpoint from David Greenbrown, founder of StressFreeAirportParking.
The internet revolution continues apace. Not content with completely changing the entire world in less than 20 years, the Internet is now also trying to organise it.
No no no, linking every computer on the planet together wasn’t enough, we now have to link all the data on those computers together as well, and we must do it immediately.
Got any information? Doesn’t matter how small or inconsequential it is, doesn’t matter what format, doesn’t matter when it’s from. "I’ll organise it" cries the Internet, happy that its role in life hasn’t yet been fulfilled.
I’ll organise it, and moreover I’ll make it possible to create little computer services from which anyone in any country can access any piece of information. It tech-world, of course, they're called APIs.
Data meets data
The web has gone from simple > complex > super-complex and now back to simple again, and it’s all driven by APIs. There are currently over 9,000 APIs listed on Programmable Web (almost 200 are travel-related) – this list is far from exhaustive, I'm sure – for example, three of my own APIs are not yet listed here.
Yes, any company or individual can create an API to expose their own little secret stash of data! And any other company/individual can connect to it.
WOW. Is this the epitome of sharing or what?
Forget about a few photos on Facebook – I want instant access to someone else’s lovingly constructed data architectures built from the unique perspective of THEIR knowledge and expertise. Forget ye not, this is knowledge and expertise that only these companies/individuals can have.
Furthermore, the data must ALWAYS be exposed directly online for anyone to use or for anyone to mash-up. Or, and this is the big one, for anyone to build their business from.
What to do with someone else’s data
Ok, so what have we got? We’ve got exponentially expanding sources of easily accessible data. It’s available to us on a 24/7 basis.
We can even mix and match services to create our own hybrid solution if we so desire (some people do desire this, believe me, I’m one of them). We knew all this anyway (didn’t we??), we’re using these services every minute of every day in one way or another.
But as business users, what we’re often not sure about is how does all this huge weight of information change the way we interact with our customers online? How can we apply this vast mountain of seemingly irrelevant data to our business model? Pray tell, how can I make some cash here, goddammit?
Well, here are some of the best real examples of how to put some of these little APIs into action:
Flight information consolidation service FlightAware is a simply awesome tool for checking flight times, or even better, wanting to track real time information about a particular flight.
I own a nationwide Meet and Greet Airport Parking company that uses this service to track if a customer’s flight is late, therefore allowing supervisors to re-align staff rotas so that customer’s cars can be returned at the correct time.
This service is a brilliant example of how the points raised previously in this overview are being used to customer’s benefits in the real world:
- The data is available
- It can be encapsulated into a bespoke service tailored to an individual companies highly specific requirements
- Interested parties can connect to the service through mobile or computer
- The customer benefits through enhanced service level and/or value for money
Trust Pilot is an established customer review website which focuses on obtaining genuine customer reviews about a service or product.
I don’t know about anyone else but I hate websites with canned customer reviews. "It was great," said John Jones, "It was Fab," said Joey Johnson, "I wouldn’t go anywhere else," said Silly Sausage.
Completely pointless in my opinion, and big turn off in subconscious consumer procurement and evaluation of products/services.
To use Trust Pilot a customer places an order with an online retailer and is sent an email, from Trust Pilot itself, asking for a review of the service.
The reviews are all made and published directly onto Trust Pilot’s directory of reviews. It’s not possible to place a review on Trust Pilot without a genuine order reference, which is a godsend for any company which has experienced problems with malicious reviews being placed against their name.
The API magic here though, and again I use this service within my own businesses , is that you have access to the data in order to create your own widgets to display on your own websites.
This allows our customer service team to receive fast communications in respect of any supplier complaint or bad review, or for managers to have direct information in respect to our own service levels, which we ultimately use for the good of the customer.
SMS tech provider Clickatell have created an extensive series of text messaging APIs that are in all honestly a maze to work through, but if you can see the wood from the trees you’ll find all sorts of little gems that will enable enhancements to the way you deal with your customers.
All that is needed is a mobile phone number fed into their systems and you can provide you customers with order status updates as and when your own systems determine it appropriate.
For my meet and greet company this is allowing us to obtain vital missing bits of information from customers who place orders with us through agent websites – if we are missing an exact arrival time for example we can simply text the customer to ask, which has a directly positive effect on their experience when arriving. Before you ask, we cannot email as our agents do not supply email addresses with orders.
Last but not least, one of the simplest little APIs we use here is this IP Address Geolocation tool. This is a beaut of an API purely because of the extensiveness in its simplicity.
A database of IP address to country location mappings is queried as you see fit and with the returned matches you can cater the output of your website to suit localised users.
It’s worth using it with precaution, as some ISPs do strange things with their IP address allocations, but generally speaking we’ve found that a little IP based tweak here and there has proven to be beneficial to the majority of users who frequent our websites.
It’s clear that data against data interactions will be the true drivers of online change in this next short lasting Internet era.
Consumers no longer have to rely on 2nd or 3rd hand information when making product or service choices and businesses no longer have to wait to be able to access the business critical data they need to drive customer improvement based changes.
Patience is a thing of the past, customers deserve the best information they can get, and by leveraging this vast multitude of API mash-ups now available, businesses can provide.
NB: This is a viewpoint from David Greenbrown, founder of StressFreeAirportParking. His personal blog is Weerdboil.co.uk or follow on Twitter.
NB2: Flight data,