The ‘big data’ con in Customer Experience….


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‘The big data con in customer experience: What is important is the right data, usable data at the right time. When it comes to measuring what customers really think about your business, it’s actually small data that really counts’.

If you want to understand what makes customer experiences special just think about why you remember particular experiences in a positive light, sometimes it is because it just did what you expected but there will usually be some small detail or details that made the difference. The phrase “it is the little things that count” are at the heart of most great experiences. Contrast that with the image conjured up by the phrase ‘big data’, that we now hear everyday that is held up by many (usually with a vested interest) as the answer to defining customer experiences. I seem to remember that a few years ago CRM systems were going to perform the same miracle – help you to understand, manage and even predict what your customer s needs, desires and behaviour would be.

The issue here is not the value of big data, in the right context what can be achieved can be truly amazing – crunching immense quantities of information to unravel science, to produce cures for diseases – the question is where is the value in terms of customer experience design and delivery.

Customer experience is a practical deliverable ‘thing’ it is not a theory that requires a proof, therefore ‘data’ is only valuable if it can be used to either to reinforce the value of an existing customer experience or if it can be used to underpin change that can be connected to an improvement in the value to the end customer and the company.

When I talk to businesses about what can be seen as a highly complex area that requires a high degree of technical expertise and insight to engage with I ask some simple questions. In effect a mini sense check that any Executive could understand the answers to: how much do you spend on collecting customer data…on storing customer data…on analyzing customer data? How do you create value from your customer data?

Occasionally there is a high level of understanding in terms of the answers but in most there is a knowledge gap and if you don’t know the answers how can you begin to understand the return on investment of your own ‘engagement with the great big data race?’

In my book on the customer experience I am challenging companies to think about these fundamentals, it is too easy to invest just to be part of the game. Over the years I have not come across many companies of any scale that have a shortage of data about their customers and knowledge about what happens inside their business – indeed more than enough to be able to act and improve their existing experience with no further investment. Yet it remains relatively simple to secure often significant budgets to both obtain and then analyse external data with little regard to the return on that investment – it is seen as a cost of doing business?

To illustrate this just consider how a short analysis of the data around customer complaints usually reveals themes and repeated issues. I have seen first hand how when a Bank opens a new customer account, history (data) tells them where the potential new customer will have problems, how that will prompt some degree of customer distress, in-bound calls and therefore cost – yet this is not acted upon and instead the response is to react when the problem – that is entirely predictable – manifests itself! There is no logic to this behavior using prior knowledge to make tiny changes to the experience makes both experiential and commercial sense, after all it is the little things that count!

Th other problem is defining what ‘data’ is, in my world it is just a piece of information that can come form multiple sources but id=s often ‘observed data’ that means that it is not confined to data gathered from surveys, transactional information, ethnography and the like it actually means using a range of other insights to inform your experience design. So, as an example when a client first visits your offices they need to be able to find it easily and without stress – if that client turns up stressed and had difficulty finding you that is a piece of ‘observed data’ and you can use it to improve future experiences.

So why do these changes not happen? It is not about the absence of big data it is in most cases about the disconnects inside the company, in effect the business logic is broken and that means a lack of a clear view on the ownership of the design and management of key customer experience.

You can have all the customer data in the world at your fingertips but if the customer experience does not have a strong voice in the Executive you will deliver nothing of consequence in experiential terms.

The Customer Experience Book explores this and many more key issues in detail to provide practical guidance and helps to engage with improving experiences and commercial results.

Alan Pennington
Currently Chairman of Acme Group the first company to combine customer experience design and award winning creative and advertising company and Non Executive Director of SuiteCX the leading CX software company, he was prior to its sale Managing Director and co-founder of Mulberry Consulting the Number One CE business globally and Executive Chair of 'Experience by Design' a South African based venture.


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