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Beyond big data: get intimate with your customers

Technology & Data

Beyond big data: get intimate with your customers


In a world where we’ve never had more customer data at our fingertips, businesses still aren’t getting it right. Pip Stocks recommends trading your customer data program for a customer intimacy program.

For years now we’ve heard that big data equals power. Cross-industry surveys suggest that brands of all shapes and sizes have hopped on the big data bandwagon, with the big data market set to be valued at $46 billion by 2018. So why does it fall short in delivering true customer insights? I believe it’s a combination of the limitations of the big data process, and an over-reliance on data to drive decision-making.


Data’s biggest limitations: How we collect it and how we interpret it

pip stocksA 2015 PwC and Iron Mountain report titled ‘How organisations can unlock value and insight from the information they hold’ found a consistent lack of focus when it comes to organisational investment in the right analytical talent, tools, information-led solutions and value-driven information strategies. The same study found that 43% of companies surveyed obtained little tangible benefit from their information, while 23% said they derived ‘no benefit whatsoever’ from their information assets.

Pretty damning when you consider that 92% of marketers in a British ‘Data Driven Marketing’ report published in March listed data management as a top priority for 2017. So if the data is there, why isn’t it more effective?

Big data by its very nature is vast in collection. It does not account for nuance or deeper detail, making it a great way to sweep and look for patterns or consistent issues but not so great when it comes to understanding the detail of your customer experience. The approach to collecting big data can also hinder its outcomes – the way a question is worded, the environment the experience occurs in or just the customer’s personal background can all contribute to an unconscious bias in the way we source and analyse big data.


The importance of customer intimacy

It’s all too common for businesses to invest in segmentation studies or employ third parties to do their customer research for them – but this misses the crucial opportunities that hearing from your customer directly delivers. While big data is a powerful tool as part of your customer experience strategy, smart companies are starting to figure out that data alone isn’t a sufficient source of customer intelligence.

We tend to think our customers are like us. It’s not until we see our ‘tribes’ and feel their pain points do we truly understand them. Even the most sophisticated AI is yet to nail how to unpack the ‘why’ behind customer thinking or the context that informs their attitudes.

For example, in our three years helping Best & Less understand their tribes, we were able to unearth many growth opportunities by putting customer intimacy front and centre in their business culture. My favourite was the expansion of their underwear category; the customer we recommended focusing on was called Amy and central to her being was an uncomfortableness with her current shape, look and body.  She had lost the confidence to wear fashion and in fact, she used ‘fashion’ to fit in, not stand out.

But she was able to express herself in two ways:  dressing her children in clothes she would love to wear and buying fun, fashionable underwear.  B&L went from just stocking large ‘old lady pants’ to building a new intimates range and merchandising story. Without this granular and intimate knowledge of ‘Amy’ we wouldn’t have been able to identify a new growth opportunity for the brand.


How to get closer to your tribe

To get to these granular insights, take an approach that inverts the big data advantages; instead of a ‘customer data program’ think of this as your ‘customer intimacy program’.

You don’t need a huge group of people to make this happen – just some small representatives from within your key customers and your teams (from the board to the frontline staff) to be available and open to unpacking the customer experience together. Develop a program that has your teams spend time with the key customers, connecting with them in a physical setting and shadowing them as they experience your business highlights the small details that are lost in big data, and builds empathy for the business to better understand the consumer.

Prepare your teams to act as observers, watching and listening to the customer experience, then follow up the physical experience with opportunities for the teams to share their learnings and potentially bring new ideas based on their experience back to the wider group. That’s where the magic happens – in the tiny details that get lost in the everyday, that you wouldn’t notice unless you were the customer in that moment.

Growing teams that understand the real experience of their customers and build rapport with the key customer audience should be a crucial part of your growth strategy. A customer intimate team has the ability to empathize and therefore imagine what it is like to be your customer’s shoes. You are no longer selling; simply connecting.


Pip Stocks is CEO and founder of BrandHook


Further reading

Image copyright: racorn / 123RF Stock Photo



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