October 2018 | Strategy
Six years ago, Forbes ran an article titled “Is It Possible to Gather Too Much Customer Data? No!” As the discipline of customer analytics grew, though, minds changed. Earlier this year, Forbes ran “Why Too Much Data Is a Problem and How to Prevent It.”
It’s no wonder that marketers and their organizations are confused. A new study by IDG Research finds that a majority of CIOs will increase spending on analytics over the next year, but most companies are using only a fraction of the data they collect, according to McKinsey. They want more data, even as they fail to mine what they already have.
Miers-Busch, W’1885 Professor and Professor of Marketing Raghuram Iyengar, who directs Wharton’s Customer Analytics program, says a reason for the disconnect is a failure to link data to business decisions. “Numbers by themselves are not where the real value lies,” he explains. “Business leaders need to know what they want from their data, and have an analytics team in place that can help them find it. The goal should be to create data-driven insights and use them to improve decisions across the organization. In sum, think carefully about the business decisions and the ‘so-what.’”
Dr. Crystal Bray, Senior Data Scientist at a leading specialty retailer of men's tailored clothing and formal wear in the U.S. and Canada agrees, saying the effort needs to be company-wide. “You are moving into a new world when you’re building an analytics capability. You need infrastructure, and you need to model. There has to be a training effort with all stakeholders — the organization needs to be educated about what kinds of data we have, what we need, and what we can do with it.”
Dr. Bray, who attended the Wharton program earlier this year, says part of her job is to get that message across, which can be challenging in a legacy company. “People have a sense of how to do their jobs based on their gut — they know what they need to do. But I tell them I can make your gut 10 times better.”
“When you add data to your inherent sense of how to get the job done,” she continues, “you are 10 times as effective. But it takes someone who understands both sides to make that happen. Merchants have been around for millennia. People know how to sell things, and that shows that gut works. But when you pair it with data, you get exponential returns. Gut is not wrong — it’s just slow.”
Customer Analytics helps participants make the connection between the numbers and the narrative, making it easier for them to help others understand the data they are collecting and the kinds of business outcomes they can improve with that data’s use.
Dr. Bray says the program has helped her begin to address a key challenge. “We have a transformation team in place that is focused on creating a better customer experience. They know we have a lot of data on our customers, but they need to know how to make sense of it. How can we use it to make sure we are reaching our goals, and planning inventory better? They know they can use data to make better decisions, but we have to bring it together for them.”
When she got back to work, she shared some of what she learned with her manager. “He said the program had already paid for itself several times over. It’s easy to see the ROI. I attended many training programs as a consultant. I had coaching on soft skills, hard skills, time management. But this program was by far the best. There was a lot of communication and opportunities for networking. The way it was structured, and the interactions with the rest of the class and the professors made it a unique experience.”
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