Creating a Permanent Bridge between Academia and Corporate America
Thomas Bishop

Tom Bishop

Every Monday, a multidisciplinary team of Ohio State students and faculty join Nationwide’s customer insight and analytics group to talk about marketing and business operations research. To a casual observer, it would appear as a typical corporate staff meeting. But, it’s actually a unique, corporate-academic collaboration through the Nationwide Center for Advanced Customer Insights (NCACI) housed at Fisher.

Researchers from the Departments of Psychology, Economics, Statistics and Marketing have formulated and completed empirical research projects based on Nationwide’s quest to get a deeper understanding of its customers’ buying preferences and needs. The center, which recently concluded its second year, has exceeded the expectations of both college and Nationwide leaders, completing an impressive 60 projects with more under way.

“We’ve been able to leverage disciplines across the school that’s allowed us to enjoy all the capabilities of Ohio State,” says Paul Ballew, senior vice president, Customer Insights and Analytics for Nationwide. “We’ve never leveraged the relationship with Ohio State to this extent despite being three-and-a-half miles up the road. We have created a permanent bridge between ourselves and academia in the area of consumer behavior (research).”

Ballew credits the center’s success to the talented team of researchers and the leadership of Tom Bishop, the center’s executive director, and Yiem Sunbhanich, executive-in-residence, who is associate vice president of Nationwide’s Behavioral Analytics team. “They’ve been able to enlist talented faculty members, recruit terrific graduate students and do all those things essential to being successful.”

Bishop, who also serves as an associate professor in the Department of Statistics, believes the center may be one of the few market research centers in the country that actually does the research versus the more typical model of hosting academic seminars and serving as a research broker. The center has helped Nationwide determine the right mix of product combinations including banking, retirement, home and auto products to offer individuals based on their needs.

“The center has provided significant analytic support in this area — we’ve deployed it now throughout the entire Nationwide organization so our agents, call centers—anyone who is in touch with a customer — now understands the customer more intimately and what products and services that they may not be consuming today could meet their needs,” says Ballew.

The center also has proven to be a “very effective pipeline” for recruiting at Nationwide with three graduate research students already hired, including Michael McCaslin, who recently completed his PhD in the Department of Psychology.

“This was a great opportunity for me to work in a very academic oriented environment while getting my feet wet in an industry field,” says McCaslin, whose research interest focuses on attitudes and persuasion and how to measure changing attitudes in people over time. His work at the center dealt with analyzing customer satisfaction surveys and understanding the factors that affect customer satisfaction.

“What I most appreciated was the interdisciplinary focus and background of the center. It was extremely rewarding to work with people from different disciplines and to hear how they approach problems. I’ve been exposed to a lot of methodologies and analytic tools.”

McCaslin’s comment resonates with Bishop, who expressed appreciation for the work ethic and enthusiasm evident in the students, who often work far more than the 20 hours per week they are paid to because “they enjoy it.”

“We’re proud of the applied research environment that we’ve been able to create for the graduate students to complement their classroom training. I think the students are constantly surprised by the things they’re learning that complement their theoretical training,” he says.

Nationwide plans to focus next on involving Ohio State’s Department of Psychology in the advertising research process, and will be looking to the center to help it invest in more data-mining activities, which Ballew believes is key to delivering even more customer insights.

Tom Bishop Interview

Tom Bishop, executive director of the Nationwide Center for Advanced Customer Insights, discusses the vital link between academia and corporate America.

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