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Active listening to data: Disrupting the way we look at disruption

Some time ago I attended a business conference where the company brought together their top leadership team, their best-in-class middle-management, a panel of external experts and some guest customers. What a wonderful couple of days those were! After the event, I felt empowered by the words of the leaders, I felt inspired by the best-practices presented by the management, I felt energized by the external key-note speeches and I felt disrupted by the insights from my interactions with the customers! – Yes, disrupted!

Some days passed and there I found myself again in a meeting room where people were turning their heads to me every time a tech-buzzword popped up: digital activities, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and disruption. Hold on a second! – I thought to myself. The moment the weight of the accountability for disruption fell upon me, I couldn’t help but think of the discussions I had had with customers some days earlier. And just like that, I realized that there was scope for me to shape the way people perceive the role of a digital manager in a context where disruption is not just a trend, but a surviving mechanism to strive in business.

The Disruptors and the Agents of Disruption

Here’s the thing: whereas digital and IT guys like me do deploy technology aiming at redefining businesses and creating competitive advantage in a disruptive manner, the fact is that the real disruptive element out there is called the customer. They are the ones demanding change. They are the ones who decide whether or not to adopt the technologies chosen for their journeys. They are the ones evolving and adapting quickly to fast-paced digital landscapes. They are the ones who will either not react or stop reacting if their customer experience is not delivered the way they want it, when and where they want it. Customers – they are the ones! They are the disruptors!

So what does that imply for us digital strategists? We use technology as a steering tool to drive our customers through journeys we design towards behaviors we define – But this is not all! Our role also encompasses customer behavior management, for we must deep-dive on how our target groups react and respond to every aspect of their experience. And we do so by listening to them and making sure that every touchpoint in the journeys we defined are powered by content, channels and experiences they have chosen. Once again, it is customers who create disruption and it is up to us marketers to deliver the transformation that follows by reacting to it.

And this the differential principle between successful disruptive marketing and failed attempts of going disruptive. While the former reacts to the disruption sparkled by the demand from customers, the latter stumbles on the pitfall I like to call “disruption in a box”, which is nothing else but attempts to be disruptive by going window shopping for innovation before assessing customers’ needs first. Markets have shown that even the most skilled digital experts and the most advanced IT infrastructures are in for big trouble if teams fail to deliver what their customers really want. But then here’s where technology enables disruption at its best: it provides the toolbox to help companies listen. This toolbox is called data, analytics and insights. And this is how the path from disruption to transformation is paved: with data-driven decision making.

The Emotional Component of Data

Now back to the beginning of this article, if asked why I felt disrupted by the customers at that conference I mentioned, the answer is the “cherry on top” of this matter, and what I call the emotional component of data. During one-on-one interactions with the guest customers, I asked them about some of the touchpoints they have in their customer journeys with the company. Their body language and facial expressions, an emotional and very granular customer behavior type of data, disagreed with the insights I had at hand based on the data we had available. This made me raise a flag about a possible pain point.

And this is the beauty of going the extra mile and being out there in the field actually listening to customers and putting ourselves in their shoes. This allows us marketers to generate a type of qualitative data which includes an emotional component that technology is not yet fully able to interpret. The insights gathered from those interactions disrupted my status-quo. Again I repeat, it all started with the customers.

In follow-up, all I did was get back to my data and rephrase the questions I asked. In doing so, the disruption became an opportunity for transformation, for it was the emotional component of data that forced me to trigger an analytical skill I did not even know I had: active listening to data, whereby I paraphrase and reflect back on what my insights tell me.

For instance: If my data reveals that ‘the click-through-rate (CTR) of a particular email campaign is 3%, and 40% out of these are first-time clickers (1.2% out of the total)’, I rephrase and re-query my data as follows: ‘Approximately 2 in 5  people who reacted to my email campaign have done so for the first time. By asking the data even further, I discover that 15% of the total campaign population had never reacted to any campaigns at all. Thus, had I sent out this message only to this segment of the total, I would have reached a CTR of 8% instead (meaning 1.2%  out of the 15% of the total).’ And the conversation with my data continues. This leads to further questions: “The content of my campaign may be of particular interest for those who had never interacted with us before” which also means that “the content may not be relevant for people with whom we had already started our virtual conversation with and we should split these campaigns in two”. – From customer behavior through satisfaction towards content performance. Active listening to data can take us all the way to digital marketing excellence.

There you go! Once the questions asked changed, the answers shined new light on some possible customer satisfaction metrics. That’s when I began to find agreement between what my data says and the frown I had observed on my customers’ face when I met them in person. It almost felt like being able to see data frown at me this time. 🙂 So that’s it! The bottom-line here is clear: listen actively to your customer. . . and to your data. And remember that sometimes it is easy to overlook the fact that customers are people with emotions just like us – so let’s not take these cues for granted!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to comment and/or share! Cheers!

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