Cross Talk 6 <TRUSTBANK, Inc.> Improving the search experience through customer understanding and proposal skills

TRUSTBANK operates "Furusato Choice," a portal site that allows users to freely choose where to pay their taxes according to the amount of donation and the thank-you gifts they want. In order to make the site easier for users with various backgrounds and thoughts, they worked with pluszero to improve the search algorithm. We talked to them about the reasons for the collaboration and episodes during the development.

Cross Talk 6<トラストバンク> トレーラー

Executive Officer / General Manager, Furusato Choice Business Division
Masahiro Wada
pluszero Corporation
President / COO / Doctor (Science)
Ryota Mori
pluszero Corporation
Business & Human Resource Development
Takahiro Kimura

Optimizing the search experience with advanced algorithms

Mr. Wada, Executive Officer / General Manager, Furusato Choice Business Division, TRUSTBANK Corporation (hereafter referred to as TRUSTBANK, Wada)

Based on the vision of "creating self-reliant and sustainable communities," we have been developing various businesses related to local communities and regions. This time, we are working with pluszero to improve the website of "Furusato Choice," a portal site for hometown tax payment.

Currently, about 1580 municipalities have contracts with "Furusato Choice", which is almost 90% of the total number of 1778 municipalities in Japan. In addition, the number of thank-you gifts listed on the site is approximately 300,000. I think this is the largest scale among similar services.
Mori, President of pluszero Corporation (hereafter referred to as pluszero, Mori)

At first glance, the "Furusato Choice" website looks like an e-commerce site, but in fact, it has a completely different purpose and user persona, which was a key point in improving the site.

Yes, we are a multi-platform business that connects donors and local governments. At first, we tried to take a general marketing approach by assuming a donor persona and drawing a customer journey. However, there are countless segmentation patterns among Furusato Choice users, and the first issue was that scenario-based user communication would be limited.

The other issue was that the hometown tax payment itself is completely different from the ordinary shopping. Some people do it to save tax, thinking that they will get something, while others do it because they want to donate to their hometown.There are people with different perspectives on disaster relief, community contribution, and social contribution, and this awareness changes depending on timing and social conditions, so it is difficult to cut them into segments. These two points are totally different from a normal e-commerce site.

When we realized this, we came to the conclusion that we need to return exactly what each user wants based on an algorithm rather than scenario-based communication. In order to do this, it is important to utilize technology, and in searching for various companies, I came across pluszero.
pluszero, Mori

What was the deciding factor for you to choose pluszero as your partner?

In addition to the technical capabilities, the content of the proposal was excellent.

When we met for the first time, I told you that "I am thinking about something like this, have a problem like this, and want to realize something like this, but have no concrete ideas." About three days later, he came to me with a 25-page proposal saying, "I don't have much time, so I wrote it all in Word."

The content had a big impact that there was talk within the company that "We were finally entering an era where mathematical formulas would appear in management proposals." The most decisive factor for us was the high level of overall ability to provide solutions by grasping the main points, including the speed and proposal ability.

A deep understanding of our customers helped us to clarify issues and directions that we could not see.

Kimura, Business and Human Resource Development, pluszero Corporation (pluszero, hereafter referred to as Kimura)

Furusato Choice is not just about "making money for the website". We needed a solution that would benefit the donors, the local government, and TRUSTBANK, and we needed a balance between the three.

However, since there was no absolute solution to the balance, we were able to create a lot of prototypes in a short period of time, from two weeks to a month, and through discussions with TRUSTBANK, I think we were able to realize the solution we were truly looking for.

This is exactly how the company works, and the way the process is organized is not just "buy what I propose," as is often the case with tech companies, but rather an attitude of understanding the customer, building and customizing together to provide the best solution.
pluszero, Mori

In addition to what Mr. Wada said just now, it is also important to have a clearly defined budget and the perspective of regional revitalization of and activation of local communities, so it is completely different from just selling products.

In supporting this project, I think one of the key success factors was that we focused on creating a common language. With stakeholders such as TRUSTBANK, business operators, local governments, and users, we created a spreadsheet to factor out KPIs and what points each of us should focus on, and we discussed them with each other for about two months to clarify the direction and what we should create in the future.

It's true that before we started working together, we had a vague idea of how to organize what was in front of us and what kind of mindset the donors had. But as we worked together to break down the KPIs, it became clear that it was important to optimize the search experience, for example, how easy it would be to find the 30 thank-you gifts. I was very grateful. I realized that this was a proper solution.
pluszero, Mori

At pluszero, we try not to fall into the trap of local optimization, and try to tackle issues from a wider perspective as possible. Even if the part we work on together is only a small part of the problem, we want to proceed with a clear understanding of the position of that part in the whole.

Our strength lies in our technology for optimizing numerical values using algorithms and applied mathematics, as well as in our natural language processing technology that we have been researching and developing for many years. In this case, I think we were able to make a good match with TRUSTBANK's data assets and contribute to their success.

You mentioned that we first made a proposal using mathematical formulas, but I think that most of the optimization cases are done by hiding the mathematical formulas and then fitting them into the customers' business. We are good at customizing and proposing solutions that fit down to the smallest detail, which is why we can be highly effective in cases like this one, "where the business model is similar to a certain one, but actually quite different."

Thanks to your help, we are now able to do marketing with a fairly high degree of certainty, which is a great achievement.

If the technological approach of trying to understand people's context and the meaning of words, which is pluszero's research and development area, is put to practical use, I think it will change the way we communicate with users and the way people interact with tools and products itself. Hometown tax payments are tied to people's deep-seated desire to do something for others, so I think it would be very interesting if we could get into that kind of interaction.
pluszero, Mori

I have seen many cases where people have adopted AI but are unable to move on from the demonstration experiments, as the terms "POC poverty" and "POC hell" have come up. Therefore, I think it is better to serialize what needs to be done in order, while determining what can be done using the technology that is available now.

Currently, you are working on growth hacking and kaizen of the site, but I feel that your company has a wider range of marketing possibilities.

In the future, I would like to use AI technology to create a system that can return recommendations that match the needs and characteristics of donors. I would like to optimize the experience from a more microscopic perspective than we have now, in a way that allows us to see the face of each individual customer, and create a search experience of our own. To realize this, I look forward to solving technical issues that we as an operating company cannot do, and I hope to have a long-lasting relationship with you.
pluszero, Kimura

TRUSTBANK is doing business not only for their own company, but above all with the community in mind. We would like to continue supporting you by utilizing pluszero's mathematical knowledge and technology.
The details of the dialogue can be found from the following.

Cross Talk 6<トラストバンク> 本編