Use this when you need to get to know your customers better.

The business press is awash with stories of the promise and possibilities of ‘big data’ and what we can learn from the huge amount of data that exists about our customers not just within our company walls but also out on the internet and in the world of social media.

But, we need to remember that data is only data however big it is and it is analysis that identifies things like trends, groupings and statistically significant events. Therefore, it’s important to remember that ‘big data’ is just that….lots of data…. and the thing that counts is what we do with the data.

However, big data insight into customers behaviour can be good but sometimes the answers are right in front of you…….and more often than not they’ll usually in the hands of your customers.

As Dave Carroll of “United Breaks Guitars” Video fame says[1]:

“there are no statistically insignificant portions of your customer base anymore”

Big data insight into customers behaviour can be good but often immersion and observation are better.

Insight in action

A great example of this comes from Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco’s, who is widely credited with turning Tesco’s from Britain’s third biggest supermarket into the world’s fourth biggest food retailer in just over a decade[2]. Prior to stepping down in 2010, he was a great fan of spending time talking to and observing customers. In fact, he reputedly spent up to 40% of his time talking to customers and in store.

Commentators have suggested[3] that his successors deviated from this type of approach and leadership and this, in large part, lead to many of Tesco’s problems in 2014 and 2015.

Imagine the sort of insight that you could develop if you adopted Leahy’s approach on a regular basis?

Moreover, imagine the impact on your customers and your staff if you kept showing up.

The Financial Times in 2010[4] wrote that the impact on Tesco’s staff was:

“Sir Terry conveyed a sense of direction to his workforce and convinced them – by the amount of time he spent on the shop floor and listening to customers – that he understood people’s jobs and cared about what they were doing.”

How to use it 

In 1931, Alfred Korzybski, the Polish American scientist and philosopher famously remarked that “the map is not the territory”. What he meant by his remark is that people often confuse models of reality with reality itself. The same can be said of data and insights from data about customers….they are only representations of reality. They can be useful but we should be careful not to rely solely on them. We should also spare a little time for the human insights that can be gained by spending more time as a customer of your own business and with and observing your customers.

If you want to boost your own personal insight into your own customers then make time to spend more time:

  • Being your own customer;
  • Serving your own customers;
  • Talking, listening and learning from the people that serve your customers;
  • Watching your customers in real time in your own business; and
  • Watching your customers interact and transact in real time with other businesses.

Do that and you’ll get real and practical insights much faster than you will get using any other method. Yes, you could contract that out to an agency to conduct a mystery shopping exercise and you could delegate it to one of your team to do too. But, beware. Do that and you’ll lose the emotional insight that you’ll get from doing it yourself too.

[1] http://www.customerthink.com/interview/inside_scoop_with_dave_carroll

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/7812463/Surprise-as-Sir-Terry-Leahy-resigns-from-Tesco.html

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/extesco-chief-terry-leahy-blames-woes-on-successor-philip-clarkes-weak-strategy-9834535.html

[4] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/7d099a7c-7d5e-11df-a0f5-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz1Roay3aWr

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

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