The data and analytics talk that must stop

Photo: @insightwetrust via Twenty20
Jun 27, 2019
Gib Bassett

The other day I asked someone to describe their company’s approach to data and analytics — their strategy. They said, “I don’t know, but we are focused on providing an excellent experience for our customers.”

The silent thought bubble over my head read, respectfully: “That is what every company is trying to do.”

I then asked, “Can you describe how you deliver an excellent customer experience?”

They said, “We apply what we know about our customers to ensure that their experience is personalized, contextual and relevant.”

I then asked, “What do you understand about your customers? How do you know the experience is excellent? How do you improve both understanding and the experience?”

They said, “We segment customers in a few ways based on a few factors. At the end of the day it’s all about engagement, campaign performance and effect on sales.”

I then asked, “What about other elements of customer experience, that holistic view? Do you understand the impact your area has on others that effect CX?”

They said, “Hmm, I’m not sure, but we have a BI team that supports different areas of our business.” They think about CX from their POV alone.

This is the type of talk that must stop. Customer experience is so much more than a single area of business.

In retail, the term “omnichannel” is getting ditched in favor of “harmonized retail” as the industry comes to finally realize that it’s not about channels, but the overall experience, regardless of how a customer engages.

If you don’t think about CX in terms of how your business serves customers from initial consideration and engagement through the actual buying process and post purchase experience, your company is not going to do well. If your company does not have the supporting information architecture, executive and functional alignment, roadmap, use cases, test/learn, and crawl/walk/run plans defined, I fear for your future.

The person I spoke to should be able to articulate how their area fits into the overall picture and how the company manages, measures and improves the process. It goes without saying that most companies are not there yet.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think it’s possible to deliver a holistic CX considering information about the customer journey is often missing? What are the main barriers facing retailers and brands looking to improve the customer’s experience? 

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"A holistic customer experience is dependent on individual preferences, not the generalized preferences of a group of customers."
"The first question should be whether improving the customer experience actually matters."
"Solving the tediously old conversation of the “customer experience” has been stymied by the protocols of computer science decision tree-based solutions."

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14 Comments on "The data and analytics talk that must stop"

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Mark Ryski

It’s possible to improve CX, but it’s a journey not a destination. I agree with the argument that often data simply doesn’t exist to understand/measure the shopper journey, but increasingly it’s not about acquiring the data, rather the challenge is in analyzing it, extracting the key insights from it and then actioning it in a way that delivers a meaningful customer experience.

Retailers are awash in data – and lots of it is unstructured and unruly to work with. Even basic insights from store traffic and shopper conversion is substantially under-utilized by retailers. Retailers must get better at collecting data, analyzing and actioning it.

Dr. Stephen Needel

The first question should be whether improving the customer experience actually matters. I’ve argued here and in Greenbook posts that we might make much more of customer experience than is warranted. For the most part, we need to avoid a bad experience in CPG, not create good or great experiences. Even there, there are exceptions. The club stores (BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club) provide very poor customer experiences as we would commonly define it, yet they are packed with loyal shoppers.

Liz Adamson

This is an interesting argument. What makes bad vs good or great customer experience? I think most customers will value a handful of characteristics; value, selection, and convenience and will come back again and again if their expectations are met. So how do we identify and correct bad experiences where expectations are not met?

David Naumann
David Naumann
Vice President, Retail Marketing, enVista
26 days 6 hours ago

Delivering a holistic customer experience is much more than the example above about applying analytics to customer information to identify segments that drive campaigns. A holistic customer experience is dependent on individual preferences, not the generalized preferences of a group of customers.

The greatest challenge is aggregating data from multiple sources (CRM, POS, social media, etc.) on an individual. Another challenge is translating that into usable information for sales associates and marketing staff so that it can be truly personalize the experience for each customer. It is a tall order!

Ralph Jacobson

I couldn’t agree more, Gib! Whatever we call it, omnichannel, etc., I still default to what a great colleague, Patricia Waldron said: “The customer IS the channel!” If you can get all the silos in your organization to consistently talk with each other, then life will get infinitely better.

Adrian Weidmann

Data and analytics have become buzzwords by retailers, brands, and the vendors of the technology. All too often these technologies aggregate and visualize data on impressive dashboards and claim they are providing “actionable data” or improving the customer experience. Why then are we not seeing, hearing, or experiencing the results?

Customer experience is a personal journey. It evokes different responses from different people. While we can pontificate on what a “good” CX is, we can certainly agree on what is a “bad” experience. Retailers and brands alike should spend more time, energy, and resources to eliminate “bad” customer experiences.

I refer to and use data all the time, but my data analysis is used to provide recommendations and guidance to “move the needle.” Concentrate on using data to measure your efficacy and success of eliminating bad experiences — and less on measuring your customer.

Lee Peterson
CX is one of the new buzz terms. It was “omni-channel” a bit ago, “brand” before that. Kind of makes me chuckle a little as nine times out of 10, it’s just another way of gathering around a phrase that means “fundamentals.” A “customer experience” has been around since Roman markets, it’s just more complicated we say — but is it really? The simple key in both cases was/is to empathize with the customer at every touch point. Put yourself in their shoes or better yet, get out/in there and watch them at every touch point and if you’re any good, you’ll “get” what needs to be done pretty quick, no matter what you want to call it. Most buzz terms (including those listed above) are so nebulous they could mean 1,000 things, which makes them great consultant fodder. But in the end, it always boils down to basic fundamentals. Yes, even “AI”, another hot one. Looking forward to the next buzz term, I could use a good laugh.
Ananda Chakravarty
Unfortunately, we will practically never know everything about a customer. However, we can know relevant pieces to connect together concepts that matter. We have the capabilities to know enough about a customer to provide them improved experiences. Holistic experiences come from more than just prescience about the customer but also interaction with the customer — soliciting new and relevant information in the moment. The idea that we have to “stop” this talk about analytics because it’s not holistic enough is absurd. Not only do customers expect retailers to use the information they have, they are willing to provide more to improve their experiences. The holistic nature of data is important and the closer we get to it the better and more successful you’ll be, but you never abandon what you know already on that path. If a customer comes into your store, that data point alone speaks volumes and clearly qualifies the customer more than others. Data is supportive to understanding the customer even if incomplete. Holistic customer experience for retail is about understanding the… Read more »
Ricardo Belmar
As someone in retail I know once famously stated, “data without insight is just trivia.” Having data on your customer journey alone is not enough and doesn’t make you smart about your customer. Interpreting that data, and acting on it in a way that augments the customer experience is what makes a retailer smart. But that’s the tricky part, isn’t it? For many retailers, gaining the insight they need from interpreting the data is a hit or miss experiment unto itself. It’s not a black or white answer, it’s quite gray, and is an always evolving/moving target that’s very dependant on your retail segment and product categories. A great customer experience for a warehouse club is not going to be delivered the same or measured the same, as it would be for a specialty apparel retailer. Retail fundamentals on knowing your customer still apply and I often ask retailers, “when was the last time you shopped at your own store?” The answer is often quite shocking! I typically follow this up with “when was the… Read more »
Andrew Blatherwick
This problem in retail is not limited to the customer experience. That may be the most important and ultimately the differentiator between winners and losers, but it is not isolated to customer experience. Most retailers are still operating in silos and the departments do not communicate well and do not appreciate each other’s operations and drivers, resulting in inefficiencies and sub optimal performance. The supply chain should, after all these years, be one area that has become totally integrated, but it has not. You will get the same reaction that managers do not appreciate the impact their area of the business is having on other areas. If you ask supply chain execs how they impact the stores, very few will know or care. If you ask store execs the impact they are having on the supply chain you will get the same reaction. This systemic failure has to come down to the way the very top management structure the business, target individuals and manage them. You get the behavior you drive. If you don’t drive… Read more »
Bob Andersen

Data can help deliver a better CX. But it must be distilled. Which means some thinking is required. The software won’t do it for you. At Best Buy, after some research, I discovered their core customer base was males over 45. I relayed the intel to my fellow creatives and they replied “How would that change our messaging?” At the store level, our product signage was often very detailed and in a small font – hard for many of our older core customers to read. Eureka! They started making fonts larger on store signage. Simple fix for a better CX.

Cynthia Holcomb
It is pretty simple. Answer a couple of questions. 1. Do you know what you like? Yes. 2. Do you know what you don’t like? Yes. 3. Did you have to “think” about it? No! Why? Individual human sensory-preferences. This is how “you” know what you like without having to think. For instance, how long does it take you to pick one jacket out of a hundred jackets? one minute? Then you try it on. It must match your “unspoken” sensory preferences of how you like your jackets to fit, look and feel on your body. Otherwise, you don’t buy it. Simple, obvious to everyone who wears clothes. Same works for cars, shoes, homes, furniture, etc. Things we humans purchase are based on our own unique, individual sensory-preferences. Solving the tediously old conversation of the “customer experience” has been stymied by the protocols of computer science decision tree-based solutions, totally devoid of eliciting individual human preference intelligence. Data and analytics solve for explicit [customer journey] human behavior rather than implicit [invisible] human sensory-preference intelligence. The… Read more »
Cathy Hotka

I’ve been having this discussion with dozens of senior IT leaders over the past few months, and all say that this is a work in progress, and few claim that their company looks at the customer experience holistically. Efforts are sincere but siloed. We have a ways to go before anyone declares victory.

Paco Underhill

Collecting data in 2019 is easy; figuring out what to do with it is the hard part. Too many merchants and marketers look at the size of the pile and not the quality of the collect. In 30 + years of retail research we have learned to use as many “dip sticks” as possible. Observe in-store and online, talk to customers and non-customers, talk to staff and store managers — look and process census data, and be careful not to get lost in AI or bluetooth based data collecting. We are looking for a better mix of art and science, global and local.

"A holistic customer experience is dependent on individual preferences, not the generalized preferences of a group of customers."
"The first question should be whether improving the customer experience actually matters."
"Solving the tediously old conversation of the “customer experience” has been stymied by the protocols of computer science decision tree-based solutions."

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