Listening and learning - The intelligence of data

4th Oct 2007

Exactly 10 years ago I was running a marketing database project. My employer had spent large sums of money collecting data into a data warehouse, only to belatedly realise that the benefit lay in accessing the data for use in real business situations – and that we were unable to do. I was handed the poisoned chalice of harvesting the marketing benefits.

Aiding me in this task were two ladies whose dedication to the finest details of compiling useful data was legendary. As serendipity would have it I met one again this week for the first time since we successfully completed our project. So I dedicate this feature to Kate Lennard and Debbie Atherton in the hope that I can pass on the wisdom we acquired about turning data into intelligence.

Listening and learning

Many commentators talk about customer engagement as if it was a single state. It isn’t - it’s the process of building up a relationship. You can engage someone in a conversation and as the relationship develops, and you learn more, you may eventually engage in a partnership. Along the way there are many other stages of engagement, all facilitated by the great ‘selling’ art of listening and learning.

In the corporate context 'listening and learning' means collecting data and turning it into actionable insight - a process fraught with difficulty as all those still seeking a single view of the customer know only too well. Drowning in data in a desert of insight is unfortunately an all too familiar experience. And worse still are the crocodiles that lurk in the waters - frustrated customers who give false data, or sign up to preference schemes to keep organisations at bay. 14.8 million UK numbers are now registered with the telephone preference scheme alone.

Customers should not be blamed for this. They feel hunted by junk mail, intrusive cold calling and fatuous communications at every turn. Everyone wants their data - particularly the commoditised list brokers seeking competitive advantage - their renewal dates, their family interests and their lifestyles. But few see it used to give them back value. So they sign up to preference schemes, deregister from the electoral roll and refuse to opt-in to e-mail as they update their anti-spam filters.

The UK Government is threatening to up the ante with even more intrusive surveillance – only this week an Act went through parliament to allow over 600 public organisations to access our mobile and landline call logs, which telecom companies are now obliged to keep for a year. And so the situation can only get worse.

Customers know their data is valuable and they are beginning to trade in it. Open ID’s, where customers keep their own ID and data for online access and personal databanks (see Company relationship management), are slowly emerging.

CRM has always been about delivering personal propositions (now known as 'customer experience') at the centre of information-led relationship building (now known as 'customer engagement'). So let’s take a deeper look at listening and learning.

Part two, getting permission to engage, click here.


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