The big data con in customer experience: What is important is the right data, usable data at the right time. When it comes to measuring what customers really think about your business, it’s actually small data that really counts’.

 If you want to understand what makes customer experiences special just think about why you remember particular experiences in a positive light, sometimes it is because it just did what you expected but there will usually be some small detail or details that made the difference. The phrase “it is the little things that count” are at the heart of most great experiences. Contrast that with the image conjured up by the phrase ‘big data’, that we now hear everyday that is held up by many (usually with a vested interest) as the answer to defining customer experiences. I seem to remember that a few years ago CRM systems were going to perform the same miracle – help you to understand, manage and even predict what your customer s needs, desires and behaviour would be.

The issue here is not the value of big data, in the right context what can be achieved can be truly amazing – crunching immense quantities of information to unravel science, to produce cures for diseases – the question is where is the value in terms of customer experience design and delivery.

Customer experience is a practical deliverable ‘thing’ it is not a theory that requires a proof, therefore ‘data’ is only valuable if it can be used to either to reinforce the value of an existing customer experience or if it can be used to underpin change that can be connected to an improvement in the value to the end customer and the company.

When I talk to businesses about what can be seen as a highly complex area that requires a high degree of technical expertise and insight to engage with I ask some simple questions. In effect a mini sense check that any Executive could understand the answers to: how much do you spend on collecting customer data…on storing customer data…on analyzing customer data? How do you create value from your customer data?

Occasionally there is a high level of understanding in terms of the answers but in most there is a knowledge gap and if you don’t know the answers how can you begin to understand the return on investment of your own ‘engagement with the great big data race?’

In my book on the customer experience I am challenging companies to think about these fundamentals, it is too easy to invest just to be part of the game.

Over the years I have not come across many companies of any scale that have a shortage of data about their customers and knowledge about what happens inside their business – indeed more than enough to be able to act and improve their existing experience with no further investment.



To illustrate this just consider how a short analysis of the data around customer complaints usually reveals themes and repeated issues. I have seen first hand how when a Bank opens a new customer account, history (data) tells them where the potential new customer will have problems, how that will prompt some degree of customer distress, in-bound calls and therefore cost – yet this is not acted upon and instead the response is to react when the problem – that is entirely predictable – manifests itself! There is no logic to this behavior using prior knowledge to make tiny changes to the experience makes both experiential and commercial sense, after all it is the little things that count!

So why do these changes not happen? It is not about the absence of big data it is in most cases about the disconnects inside the company, in effect the business logic is broken and that means a lack of a clear view on the ownership of the design and management of key customer experience.

You can have all the customer data in the world at your fingertips but if the customer experience does not have a strong voice in the Executive you will deliver nothing of consequence.


In my new book ‘The Customer Experience Book’ I begin to explore some of the reasons why customer experience initiatives so often fail to really crystallize in terms of their impact on both the culture and business results. But why….?

Well there are a number of factors that are slowing or acting as a drag on companies ambitions in the Customer Experience space. Whilst intuitively leaders know it is the right thing to do and indeed surveys going back to the early 2000’s have cited CE as a business critical if not THE critical driver that they need to rally around – it continues be hugely variable in terms of actual change achieved.

Let’s look at the business planning impacts – in short the world of financial and business planning has failed to adapt to the rise of Customer Experience – ask yourself the question do you have a line in the annual business plan, with $/£’s attached to it that is specifically headed Customer Experience as you do for Advertising, Marketing, Operations, IT, Finance and so on…my experience says most likely not. But you may well say we have it but it is distributed across various budget holders, that may be true but you will also know that in year it is then difficult to amalgamate those budgets behind a common CE theme. What happens then is that CE is seen as a Project often without a well defined outcome and budget has to be bid for and is an easy target for cuts when the inevitable half year review demands reductions in spend. On the flip side a CE team could be charged with reducing business costs as well as promoting and supporting revenue targets – but they have little or no direct influence over the budgets that could be impacted and come across the political fights that then ensue.

Let’s look at an example of how current thinking makes advances in Customer Experience more difficult than they should be – if there is no built in budget then the requirement is to bid for what might be viewed as discretionary spend and that can – depending on the business – mean writing a business case with a clear ROI.  The challenge that creates is that a ‘CE project’ is usually seen in isolation and the wider business impacts are harder to engage with. Let me give you an example of how that would come to life – if you took the Apple retail business and insisted that it MUST make a standalone return of X% and only give small weight to the potential for wider less tangible returns it would never have been born in it’s current format – effectively they changed the game in retailing tech products and how you measure tis value.  

Apple is not a retailer it does not have to make its profits from a retail format but could very easily have been constrained by ‘standard retail formulas’ and investment criteria.  We all know that the huge levels of staffing in the in Apple stores would not survive a standard retail approach – but instead the stores are seen as a key part of the Apple customer experience (remember the Brit who lasted just a few months as the Head of Retail after he decided to cut staffing levels to improve profitability and was ousted effectively by a social media storm of loyalist Apple protesters opposing the idea), it is an opportunity to engage with customers, to expose the nuances of the technology, to showcase the commitment to customers.

So when reviewing customer experience from a financial perspective you need to take a different view and use a different lens – in effect the Apple store is an extension or part of the brand/advertising budget and how often do you do an ROI assessment of those lines in the plan they are simply seen as business essentials!

So you might ask if we made the first move forward and committed to the addition of a CE line in the plan where would the cash come from and what might we do with the spend.  In terms of where does it come from it need not necessarily be incremental – look hard at taking a % of your existing Brand/Advertising/Marketing would it not make sense to ensure that what you are spending money on in terms of creating a customer expectation is delivered in order to crystallise the maximum return from that spend?  The Customer Experience budget should be used to ensure that the expectation created by the Brand team is turned into deliverable executions and in an ideal world will in time provide the Brand with stories based on real customer experiences that can become campaignable creative executions themselves.  That means designing key experiences, identifying what is needed in terms of ‘props’, ‘scripts’, training, recruiting, processes and motivating your team to deliver a consistently on brand experience.

Read more about this and other areas where you can think differently in the book 



On a recent visit to Majorca I was wandering the streets of the Capital Palma that is full of that uniquely European stylish shopping – as I approached one ‘shop’ at first glance it looked like a mid to high end home furnishing store (see the picture) but on closer inspection it was a BANK!  The layout was fresh and clean a Greeter was stood at the door armed with an iPad or similar and was directing ‘guests’ to the appropriate part of the bank, the staff were smart but casually dressed and the whole atmosphere was relaxed.  What a contrast to the traditional image of a bank and what an experience for customers and staff alike.

As high street branches of banks are continuing to be closed by increasingly cost conscious Bankers who see the high street as an expensive bricks and mortar option when the have the very tempting alternative of pushing us all on-line and reducing their ‘cost to serve’ …. this is a really good ‘counter’ strategy (pardon the pun).

Make the bank a destination, somewhere that you can forge strong personal relationships with customers, where you can project a brand that is contemporary and relevant not increasingly distant and divorced hiding behind the walls of faceless internet banking and remote Contact Centres.


Congratulations Activia, rather like my earlier post about Tiptree jams using their jam pot lids to add something to your day, they have invested in messages on the inside of there yogurt pot lids.

I always wonder how this Board room conversations goes when someone wants to invest in something that could be seen as frivolous and perhaps an ‘avoidable cost’ and yet it adds a certain something to the brand and the “experience” of something as basic as eating a yogurt.

Once again this, rather like the sign off on the lid below, made me was only for a moment but the world does feel a lot better when you are smiling and the association, however sub-conscious it might be, ticks my box 



As promised I am maintaining the theme of sport and experience and how by thinking from the customer perspective you can address a ‘business’ issue.  In this case the participation levels in golf have been falling and that means they need to attract more young people.

What do under 24 year olds need, accommodation that they won’t be able to afford that because the local hotels close to any tournament put their rates up sky high to profit/’eer’ from the event…. and access to the Tournament at a sensible price.

The event organisers and the governing body of the sport would appear to have co-operated to meet those twin needs and in doing so encourage more visits to the Tournament and thereby promote the sport.

How did that do it well they started to think differently and for a relatively small investment they secured a site near to the venue, walking distance, enough space to hold 500 under 25’s (that is the age limit) in 2/3/4 man tents all provided pitched and ready to be used FOR FREE for each of the 4 days of the event – tickets are just £30 for up to 21 year olds.  Even AirBnb was more expensive!

To extend the experience there is a golf chipping competition, a football pitch in the middle of the camp site and an indoor bar for food and drinks.

Of course the did not have to do this it needed to be imagined and then invested in to make it a reality – one that has also garnered many column inches of media coverage for free too.

Well done golf !!! 




For those of you interested in sport I am going to talk about how we can draw inspiration in terms of thinking differently with a couple of current examples over the next couple of blogs.

First the Tour De France an epic three week race across the countryside and mountains of France is in full swing.  The leading riders compete for the Yellow Jersey worn by the man that takes the least time to complete the race.

Chris Froome has won this race before and as I write this he leads again.  This lead has been created by thinking differently.  Twice in the past 4 days he has surprised his opposition by not doing what they expected.

First at the end of a tough climb just before the finish of a stage and as his close competitors relaxed given he had not as he usually does pushed them hard on the climb and broken away and safe in the knowledge they would all play by the unwritten rules and coast to the finish together – they took drinks sat back, then suddenly just as they crested the summit Froome was off …he was sprinting downhill to the finish.  No one expected this to happen and he pulled away before they could react.

Yesterday he did the same thing only this time on a flat stage where traditionally as the Leader he would sit in the pack and protect his lead on a relatively easy stage, just a few limiters form the finish that is exactly what was happening …suddenly he was part of a four man breakaway sprinting for the line – again everyone was taken by surprise had no time to react and he has taken another 12 seconds.

When you think differently in business you have the opportunity to both surprise and confuse your competitors and to create real advantage whether short term or long term.  How could you act differently and surprise your customers and/or competitors?




I have no problem with business silos, people of like skill sets sitting together often makes sense and if you just rename them as Centres of Excellence the feelings are very different.  See who language creates a mental picture that defines how we view something!  The problem is the need to have open channels of communication and the need to be able to communicate and collaborate for the benefit of the customer if missed and sub-optimal experiences and ultimately  business performance result.

Consider this simple example of internal barriers stopping simple improvements.

I was in a hotel (I have been in a lot over the years) and arrived late into my very nice room.  Now this had a small bar area complete with glasses and drinks you get the picture…what I actually wanted was a cup of tea (how very English) and I found the tea bags but could not find a cup.  I opened all the cupboards and drawers to no avail, at that time of my journey now 15 hours in I was beginning to hallucinate and in the end believed that actually this was such a trendy hotel that I was supposed to use a glass….great plan except that hot drinks and glasses are a tricky combination.

Next morning I awoke and decided to just check again and as I went through the drawers I heard a slight rattle and on investigation found the offending cups lurking in the deepest recesses of the drawer, hidden behind the plate of shortbread.

As I had stayed at the hotel before and got to know the Bar Manager (can’t imagine how that happened) I mentioned this to him and asked that perhaps they could put cups visible in future perhaps at the front of the drawer.  He assured me he would speak to House Keeping as it was not his department.  Over the next couple of days nothing changed so I approached my friendly Bar Manager again and he rather apologetically advised that as it was not their idea the House Keeping team refused to change the ‘process’ and it was now with more senior managers to debate,,,,you’ve guessed it nothing happened.

What was a simple improvement that would have benefited my fellow travellers never saw the light of day because of a ‘not invented here’ view between one team and another.  Of course I would have approached the House Keeping Manager in the first place but they are a bit like the scarlet pimpernel you can never find one when you need one. 




Here is an example of a Taxi firm thinking about how to make their experience stand out – the centre console has been filled with a range of ‘essentials’ for your 30 minute airport transfer from hand cream to deodorant…!  Not sure quite how they came to make the selection of what should be there personally I found the water the best bit 

The point is that the company has thought about making the journey more memorable for the passenger by enhancing the experience from a drive in a car to a full wash and brush up which might be incredibly useful if you are coming off a red eye flight and rushing to a meeting or maybe meeting long lost loved ones   I applaud the thinking!!