Just Give Me a Sign
There is a very funny scene in an old Steve Martin movie The Man with Two Brains where our hero, Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, looks at a painting of his beloved, dead wife, Rebecca, and asks if she is happy with his feelings for the new love in his life, Dolores. An ethereal voice whispers noooooo, the painting begins to spin round, candlesticks burst into flames and an ungodly wind blows through the room. All the time the voice grows louder and then, when it all stops suddenly, a dishevelled Dr Hfuhruhurr says Just give me a sign … any sign … I’ll be looking out for it.
I saw a recent presentation from, err let’s say one of the big three global technology corporations, which reminded me of this scene. The presenter talked us through a scenario where a young man is presented an offer to use some loyalty points. In the world of #bigdata, the presenter, went on, we will know that he has been dating for a little over eighteen months so the offer will be personalised towards romantic destinations.
Using recent purchase history, presumably an engagement ring, the intent of the trip is determined and the couples experience is further customised. A taxi, rather than hire car, to their intimate dinner for two and at a restaurant that provides just the right setting for them rather than say, a young family or a solo business traveller. No piece of data or algorithm is left unturned to create the perfect weekend for our fictitious couple.
I am not sure I am ready to be second guessed about major life decisions by businesses that have yet to work out that googlemail.com and gmail.com is the same email suffix
I know, the presenter conceded at one point, some of you might be concerned that we are crossing ‘the creepy line’ here. And the room relaxed a little and listened intently to a world where algorithms applied to increasingly personal data ensured that each need was carefully met before the couple even realised for themselves that they needed it.
The story concluded with a marriage proposal and an assertion that all of this is possible in a world of big data, machine learning and predictive analytics.
Now, I welcome a world where cars are recalled before we experience a breakdown, where risk is assessed and mitigated and where fraudulent use of my credit card is spotted before any real damage is done to my own or my providers finances. All good.
However, when it comes predicting what we will want next, to second guessing us, I am not so sure. And here’s why.
based on their personalised marketing,this is what I think they actually know about me. They know my email address and that I buy mens clothes. And err, that’s it.
I am a man , no longer in the blush of youth. In spite of that, I maintain a distant interest in fashion. I care, actually very much, about the clothes I wear even if those around me might be surprised by that. I apply two universal rules. I don’t ever want to buy clothes that my Dad would wear and, even more importantly, that my Son would wear. I tend towards blues but don’t want it to be the only colour in my wardrobe and whilst the trend is towards slim fit trousers (pants for my US pals) I have to check the fit carefully because I have (let’s saystrong) calves. I very rarely wear knits, like jolly (but certainly not ‘humorous’) socks, prefer smart over casual, never go double-breasted and I almost always wear a collar particularly for dinner. As I say, older dude. I shop on-line, actually pretty frequently but I have to know the store well before I do because I have little time for the rigmarole that comes with returning parcels using a service that seems largely geared to those that live in 1975.
And Here is What You Really Know
I buy from what I believe to be pretty innovative retailers but, based on their personalised marketing, this is what I think they actually know about me. They know my email address and that I buy mens clothes.
They don’t even have a firm grasp on the email thing to be candid. I am not sure I am ready to be second guessed about major life decisions by businesses that have yet to work out that googlemail.com and gmail.com is the same email suffix and that offering me an item at a discounted prices makes any sense if they don’t have it left in my size.
I occasionally send an email or respond to a survey to grumble about an unhelpful web site or to call out a particularly helpful assistant that didn’t assume I was looking for everything in beige. However, according to Gartner, whilst 95% of businesses collect feedback only around 35% use the insight that they have collected. A tiny 10% improve their business with this information and only half of that small group circle back to the customer and tell them that they did so.
Our customers talk to each other on social platforms and they comment on their experience of our businesses in their own voice. Many also talk to us as directly. They leave reviews and some, though the rates are decreasing, respond to our surveys. More would answer our questions too, if they were asked thoughtfully and if we demonstrated that we did something with their feedback from time to time.
Surveillance and Second Guessing is Creepy. Listening is Human
Privacy is an important issue, I don’t mean to diminish it, but let’s forget where the creepy line is for now. Instead, why don’t we try something fundamentally human as businesses. Why don’t we try listening.
So my message to the CMO of those very large and resourceful businesses that currently have my tentative loyalty. Rather than looking for patterns, trends and algorithmic intent in data you have no place being you can read this blog, my tweets, my comments or even ask me what I like or what (to quote Spencer Trilby played by Charlton Heston in True Lies) blows my skirt up. And on that subject, I am not going to wade through 50 questions designed for your departmental silos. Let me tell you in my own words and in my own time.
Or you can continue to wait for a sign and risk me moving on to someone that listened.