Data Journalism: Using Data to Tell Better Stories


Share on LinkedIn

There are many things the world of business could stand to learn some lessons from, and sometimes lessons come from unexpected places – like from a newsroom. For example, the way a newspaper structures its content is precise and intentional – journalists use a headline to explain the point of the whole story. Then, of course, the more you read the more informed you become. The body of the piece is so well written and detailed, with every sentence supporting the point of the story. Because of this, if you chose to, you could stop reading at any point without missing out on the overall takeaway.

There are also moments when the situation is turned the other way around – journalists could learn from business people about data accuracy and misrepresentation of information. However, it would be wise for leaders to learn a lesson or two from journalists to implement in their own business practices.

This practice of business leaders taking certain lessons from journalists brings us to a unique phrase that should be considered for a moment: data journalism. Data journalism speaks to the heart of the difference between analysis and action. So we have this idea of data journalism, but how can we, as customer experience leaders, put it into action? How can we become data journalists? To start, there are three questions we must ask ourselves:

1. What are good journalists really good at?
2. What can we learn from these journalists about the presentation of our facts?
3. How can storytelling help industry leaders?

What are good journalists really good at?

Journalists change things. From the way we see the world to the way we feel about something and behave. What’s even more unique about this is that journalists do all of this through their stories – not just numbers, charts and tables, but through these in-depth stories, journalists are able to persuade and incite a reaction. As customer experience leaders, this is what we should be doing.

What can we learn from journalists about the presentation of our facts?

Context is everything. Without context a number is meaningless. Some people talk about their Net Promotor Score (NPS®), or the likelihood someone is to recommend your business or services, without knowing the true meaning behind it. For example, let’s say an organization learns they have an NPS® of 45. Is that good? Is it bad? Should I really even care what the NPS is?

To build a story, we need context and comparison to establish a setting. As a leader in the customer experience industry, questions you should be asking to establish this setting include:

• What are the NPS scores of your competitors?
• How has market share and revenue changed?
• How have scores changed through time?
• Is there a link between those items?
• What actions drive the scores?

Just by asking these few questions and gathering insight from the answers, we start to see the beginnings of a story. Each story needs a purpose – for example, it’s our purpose to become a market leader. The story also needs some characters. In this case, the characters include you (the business leader), your customers and the competition. So we have the purpose and the characters for the story – now we need a plot. For the plot, we need to know how things have changed and where the differences are. But let’s also not forget the most important part – where is this heading and how can we make it better? Package this all together, and we now have a story that people can actually listen to and critically act upon.

How can this storytelling help industry leaders?

Data is like any other raw material. It takes effort to make something from it. This effort requires a mix of skills – from technical to creative and artistic. On the relatively rare occasions that businesses really do this, it’s incredibly successful. For customer experience leaders, storytelling like this is a great opportunity to engage employees around the company and get their buy-in to a Voice of the Customer program. What makes the storytelling even more compelling is that the stories told can be of real customers and real situations – without a pie chart in sight!

Still skeptical of how this can work? Take a look at the work of Hans Rosling, renowned statistics guru and global health expert. At a TED conference ten years ago, “The Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen,” Hans used world health and economic data to dispel myths about the developing and the developed world. This data was sitting there, publicly available, but no one could see the story. It took a data journalist to bring the story to life and show us the world had changed. Ten years on, we could all still learn from this.

*All trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Net Promoter, Net Promoter Score, and NPS are trademarks of Satmetrix, Inc., Bain & Company, Inc., and Fred Reichheld.

Phil Durand
Phil has worked in customer experience measurement for twenty years. In his role at Confirmit, he works closely with customers to help define and design global Voice of the Customer programs that deliver business change.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here