Collecting Consumer Data: Is More Really Better?

The Verde Group - Customer Experience ResearchIt wasn’t too long ago that industry leaders would have scoffed at the idea of collecting too much customer data. In a rush toward realizing the value of big data and analytics, customer information was the key to higher revenue and increased market share, and more was better. Too much customer data? There was simply no such thing.

Times have changed
Today companies are experiencing firsthand the challenges associated with collecting, analyzing and actioning mountains of customer data. Big companies, especially when delivering an omni-channel experience in retail, collect data in many different ways — through various touchpoints, transactional data, marketing automation and primary research initiatives.

The challenge for these companies is how to bring all of this customer experience research and data together in a way that provides value and insights to the business.

Multiple stakeholders, multiple agendas
Consider call center teams, who collect and validate basic customer information, but can also confirm customer interest and readiness to purchase. Or social media engagement tracking, which tells companies how customers interact with their content and also provides a means to monitor brand image. Sales also collects client data (installed base, key customer contact, competitive information), especially in business to business (B2B) companies. Marketing has their own data points including website traffic, email open rates and communication preferences to name a few.

Often these and other groups within an organization will drive separate research initiatives to gather, analyze and action customer data, in many cases for their specific purposes and in isolation.

A significant expense
Collecting, housing, analyzing and actioning all that customer data is very expensive. With no centralized plan, companies can incur a considerable cost for overlapping initiatives. Even if separate groups share data, there’s bound to be overlap in the data collected, and each group will mine the data based on their unique requirements. The costs in dollars, time and resources add up quickly. Additionally, your company may be investing these resources into something that may or may not have a substantial impact on the customer experience and your business.

Lack of planning can drive lacklustre results
While it’s okay and often necessary to have individual customer initiatives, the absence of a centralized and coordinated plan often creates missed opportunities and confusion for companies. Inconsistent approach to research can yield conflicting insights and drive different action plans, and rather than improving the customer experience, they can confuse or even frustrate customers.

Organizations need to start with a company-wide understanding of their goals for increasing profitability and improving the customer experience and establish a consensus on how to target and measure progress against those goals. Without these two in place, they risk investing in initiatives that may have little to no impact on the customer and not meet revenue or market share targets.

Three ways to improve your customer data initiatives
How can businesses manage all this data and build a company-wide strategy that promotes collaboration, data-sharing, and the creation of common action plans? Here are four ways that organizations can get started:

  1. Establish common goals
    While each team will have unique requirements and metrics, it’s critical to establish common goals when it comes to customer engagement and the customer experience. These goals should align with the strategic vision for the company set out by the executive team.This helps to streamline the number of goals, creates clarity and also ensures executive support for the overall initiative. An effective way to determine those goals is by conducting strategic customer experience research — this helps clarify the current relationship between company and customer, and ultimately to refine and prioritize goals.
  2. Share data and minimize overlap
    Teams collecting data should work together to consolidate their efforts. Where possible, ‘no repeat data’ should be their mantra. Customer data must be centralized and fully accessible to the appropriate stakeholders.This includes defined business requirements – how to collect the data, when it should be collected and where it will be stored and how to access the data. Consistent screening questions across initiatives will enable cross-collaboration between studies.
  3. Collect the right data points
    Companies need to carefully examine the questions they’re asking their customers. Too often, in an effort to gauge customer satisfaction, they’ll ask customers about what they like, or what makes them happy. Many organizations invest a great deal of money and effort in measuring customer satisfaction and even pay bonuses based on the results.The problem is that customer happiness and satisfaction are very poor predictors of customer loyalty or future behavior. In fact, negative experiences are much more predictive of what a customer will do in the future. In fact, 60-80% of defecting customers categorize themselves as ‘satisfied’ on surveys conducted immediately before their departure. (source: Verde white paper).

    Another point to note is that attitudinal feedback (‘I’m angry’, or ‘I’m frustrated’) is much less valuable than experiential feedback (‘this is what happened’). It’s hard to do anything with the former, while the latter provides a precise readout of that particular customer experience.

Create common, actionable insights
With shared data and goals, companies can consolidate their findings and create actionable insights that are consistent across the organization. These can serve as a platform for individual functions to align behind broad initiatives based on the desired customer experience.

Michael Tropp is Vice President, Business Development at The Verde Group.

 

Start Small To Create a Company-wide View of the Customer

The Verde Group - Customer Insight

I’m sure you’ve heard the ancient parable about the blind men and the elephant.

It’s the story of a group of blind men who encounter an elephant for the first time. They all touch a different part of the animal, then draw different conclusions as to what they’ve experienced. In some versions of the story, the men violently disagree and almost come to blows. The moral of the story, of course, is that people often form different conclusions based on a partial view of the same information.

This is precisely the challenge many companies have when collecting, analyzing and actioning their customer data for customer insight. How best to link multiple sources of data to capture a complete, holistic picture of the customer experience?

Islands in The (Data) Stream
For many companies, views of the customer experience are functionally focused. For example, the team in charge of packaging design understands everything about the customer’s perception of their packaging. Sales knows about product features and benefits and is competition-savvy. Customer service is full of experts about everything that can go wrong with the product.

Often, especially in large organizations, each of these teams captures, prioritizes and actions different (and incomplete) data about the customer experience. However, customers don’t view each of these areas separately — their perception of their purchase experience and the company as a whole is much more holistic.

From a company-wide perspective, this functional approach is wildly inefficient. It’s hard to know what to prioritize and take action on if you’re only focused on your small area and can’t see the big picture. It can lead to competing (and sometimes conflicting) action plans, duplication of efforts, and resources spread too thin to be effective. 

More Than a Systems Issue
A common theme, again in large companies, is to put the problem down to deficiencies in systems. With the mountains of data collected and stored, the refrain goes, it must be a systems limitation that prevents customer data from being pulled together into a centralized view.

It’s true that it’s difficult to consolidate disparate data sources like customer service data, transactional data or product usage. Systems issues are real enough. However, even more than systems, this is a leadership issue. Leaders must embrace the need for a complete, ‘single source of truth’ for the customer, and acknowledge that it’s worth the time, money, and organizational disruption to do it. It’s a long-term initiative and not an easy call for leaders to make, given other more pressing, short-term issues.

It may be easier for startups to implement the ‘single customer view’ as a priority than for established businesses. It’s simpler for smaller companies to build from the ground up — to agree on what data should be collected and how it will be shared and actioned. Startup mode gives these companies the luxury of building systems around the process, rather than the other way around.

Look at how Netflix has leveraged their data gathering and their understanding of the customer experience. By collecting and analyzing user preference information, the company can recommend shows they ‘know’ you’ll like based on your previous viewing habits. Moreover, armed with a holistic view of their customers, they are creating bespoke programming that’s almost certain to be a hit with their target audience.

Starting Small The Best Approach
Ironically, the optimal solution to tackling a customer view that’s too narrow is one that involves starting small and staying focused. Remember the elephant? Not that you would, but if you had to eat him, ‘a bite at a time’ is the right approach. The same goes here.

The idea is straightforward — pull together cross-functional teams and build agreement on a small number of ‘must-have’ customer data fields that you think are the most important and impactful to your business. Next, brainstorm about the best way to collect that data if you aren’t already, determine how it can be easily shared and interpreted even if it is a manual process while gaining traction with leadership/ Once the organization begins to see that there is consistency in how teams are looking at the customer experience, it is time to leverage that data and build coordinated action plans from your findings.

Once the cross-functional team has had success with limited data streams, you may see a snowball effect. Perhaps you started with a Top 5 list of must-have customer data fields, but the team can now see gaps and opportunities that lead you to expand the initiative.

While the cost benefits of this approach can be substantial — less duplicated effort means a lower cost of data collection — the real benefits to the organization are far greater.

This focused, cross-functional approach yields a single ‘true picture’ of the customer,  supported across the enterprise. Stakeholders share data and analytics and execute universal programs and get-well plans. The company develops a greater understanding of the customer experience, and that understanding is the key to building deeper, more meaningful relationships with its customers.

Sarah Pierce is Senior Vice President at The Verde Group.