Reflecting on 2013 (as one does on the last the day of the year …), I’m struck by how much I seem to be living in two parallel universes: a promised land of appropriately targeted marketing, personalized offerings, courteous and efficient customer service, timely and accurate information – you get the picture; and the real world, in which the gap between the promise and what’s being delivered seems, if anything, to be widening.

Admittedly, my research focus on business intelligence, analytics and big data no doubt heightens my awareness, as I’m forever looking for signs that the technologies that are available have actually been deployed. Sadly, a lot of the time I find that even companies with flagship projects involving advanced analytics manage to undo much of the good work by falling down on something very basic, such as getting my name right, or knowing which products I’ve actually purchased.

In case my point needs proving, I’ll start by taking a light-hearted look at a few examples of what I’m talking about, before suggesting a few New Year’s resolutions to all those companies whose claims about customer-centricity and superior service are being contradicted by reality:

  • The major UK retailer which keeps addressing me as “Mr”, has repeatedly assured me that the matter has been addressed, and which resorts to offering me flowers when I point out – again – that all my mailings are still addressed to “Mr Bennett”. Almost enough to give me an identity crisis.
  • The global bank whose customer I’ve been since 1997, but which I’ve been unable to convince for a number of years now that there is only one Martha Bennett. Definitely enough to give me an identity crisis!
  • The well-known US retailer which proudly told conference delegates about how it is using analytics to get a better understanding of its customers, but which keeps bombarding me with undifferentiated and untargeted emails, even though it knows who I am, and has my shopping history.  Or maybe one of those alter egos has kids?!
  • The airline which sends me emails about my “next flight”, when in fact said flight is a month away, and my real ‘next’ flight is that evening, with a bunch more (all logged in its frequent flyer program) between now and the journey about which it’s emailing me. And which keeps asking me to confirm my cell phone number, even though it’s not changed in the 15+ years I’ve been a frequent flyer with it. There’s more, but let’s just say that its attempts at mass personalization have got stuck at the ‘mass’ bit ….
  • And for good measure, a recent bizarre occurrence: my partner bought gift vouchers online from a well-known brand as a present for his sister; a few days after Christmas, he received a request from the company to write reviews of the items “you recently purchased”, all neatly listed, and all women’s clothing. As far as I know, he resisted the temptation to post his comments about fit and color.
  • To finish off, a little dig at all the companies selling analytics solutions but which don’t seem to do even the most basic analytics on the data they capture through their web sites: even though I always declare who I am and who I work for when requesting information or sign up for a download, I unfailingly get contacted by a salesperson who is equally unfailingly disappointed about the duff lead he or she has been given. And it’s not just tech companies – I was amused by the anecdote of a social media company which helped a tweeter with a technical problem, and followed up with a marketing email, inviting him to consider using Twitter to increase awareness of his company – the individual has been a prolific tweeter for years, and works for one of the world’s best-known technology vendors.         

To be fair, these may all be comparatively minor things, and most of the examples I gave are personal. Nevertheless, in all the discussions I’ve had about the topic, in both private and professional settings, we end up agreeing that it’s precisely those small things that can make the difference between trusting a company and recommending it to others and – well – not doing so.

So here’s my proposed New Year’s resolutions list for those who really are serious about being customer-centric:

  • Prioritize projects focused on data quality and data access. These ‘behind-the-scenes’ initiatives may not elicit the excitement and interest of the latest funky app, but they’ll do a lot more to ensure long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty. Having the right data available at the right time (whether it’s to a person, or another system), appropriately governed, isn’t just the foundation for that elusive ‘360 degree view of the customer’ – it’s essential to gain and keep customers’ trust.Yes, of course we all know that. And yet, many organizations continue to fall at this hurdle.
  • Make more use of the data you’ve already got. This includes not only the data about your customers, their purchases and interaction history, but also what you know about them through the way in which they use your website, the time of day they send you emails, and so on. Making better use of your data can be as simple as the setting of a flag (to ensure to don’t keep asking for information you’ve already got), or it can be a sophisticated analysis of  customers’ purchasing and online behavior patterns aimed at truly personalizing the offers and services provided to them.
  • Be mindful of personal preferences and privacy concerns. Having just advocated making more use of the data you’ve already got, I hasten to add that this obviously has to be done in accordance with any applicable data privacy legislation. And it goes further than that: even when you’re capturing and using data in a perfectly legal manner, you may want to be more transparent about what data you’re capturing, how you’re using it, and what’s in it for me if I allow you to capture and use it. This of course gets us into a whole new topic for discussion, so with that, I’ll sign off and wish you

All the Very Best for 2014.