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Data Analytics in the World of Agility

Leia em Português


Key Takeaways

  • As we struggle to handle the enormous amount of data we collect, maybe some rethinking is needed
  • With all the big data we might have, we should not lose the essential focus: our real customer
  • It is getting increasingly critical to view our customer as a human being, and not as a collection of analytics
  • The new kids on the block, the business anthropologists, are playing a key role in the business world
  • There are several examples in the industry where we can learn from the marriage of big-data analysis and business agility


Controlling and checking Google analytics is part of our daily work; it gives us a lot of practical information on what is happening around our business/customer/organization … but does it show us what our customer feels? That is what this article is about! Inspired by my work and experience, I would like to encourage you to look beyond the end of your nose and expand your view on what information we require in order to understand the most valuable thing we have: our customer!

I was traveling from Germany to London on the German railway to meet a customer (of course, after switching trains in Bruxelles for the Eurostar). It was a bit cumbersome to get onto the train in the first place, as the sequence of wagons announced at the station did not match the sequence of wagons on the arriving train, so I was quite irritated that I had to run up and down the platform trying to solve the challenge. A sweaty, annoyed Almudena did manage to find the right wagon (good thing that I was wearing sneakers!).

Right after the train started off, a lady came up to me. She was running a customer survey regarding user experience when travelling on the German railways. What a great opportunity to communicate my displeasure!

The survey began; I received a printed list of questions with numbered multiple-choice answers. All I was expected to do was answer with a certain number (the answer) when she mentioned a concrete number (the question). So the conversation went as follows:

-    Lady: ‘Number 1’
-    Me: ‘Number 4’
-    Lady: ‘Number 2 ‘
-    Me: ‘Number 10’

There was no room for opinions, feedback, proposed solutions…actually, there was not even a conversation! Needless to say, I quit the survey, and was even more upset than before.

It was of no relief to me the fact that this lady was simply fulfilling her job as a subcontractor of the German railways; nobody asked her to empathize with the customer, she was "only" supposed to collect data.

It reminded me of a similar experience I had one month before, when my bank called me on the phone for a customer survey; I always try to be a kind customer, and I am happy to give feedback, as it is my job to nurture a feedback culture within the companies I work with.

Unfortunately, it was not even my bank the one who called me up; it was a subcontractor who had a set of fixed questions they wanted to run through, showing very little interest in whatever I wanted to express.

And for me, it was not relevant to confirm whether the bank employees offer me coffee or tea whenever I am on the bank premises (one of questions, actually); there were other aspects I would have liked to bring up … but there were no questions on their list that addressed my concerns.

In the world of Agility, where is the marriage of big-data analysis and business agility taking place? As we hear the buzzword "customer centric" daily, how can we bring it together with the thriving kingdom of data analytics?

The Era of Data-Driven Business Development

It was not long ago that The Economist published an impacting article, "The world's most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data"- the oil of the digital era- in which it the dangers of the fast-growing, data-driven industry were pointed out. Data, for the first time, were the new petrol!  And "Data-driven business development" became the new keyword. Surely, we have been collecting huge amounts of "big data" for many years, driving numerous business analysists to desperation, as in most cases we have more data than we can effectively handle when it comes to identifying market trends. Far more important is, up to what point is the data-driven industry really finding out what our customer really wants? The reality is that today we have enough data available to support any assumption or hypothesis you might have.

Now, when the digital transformation conquered most industrial sectors, supported by thriving opportunities for big-data technology, we all expected to see a radical change in related markets. We assumed a strong impact on customer behaviour due to digitalization, and counted on the metamorphosis of the customer’s needs. We did manage to boost online business, digitalizing customer experience and even reducing human error…but, did the customer really "change"? … only to a certain extent.

If we take a look at the recent research published from the Consumer Insights Survey 2019 in Newspaper Expansion, which was conducted by PwC in 27 countries involving more than 21.000 customer surveys, we see that the trend is not what was forecasted. This study shows that the so-called "apocalypse of retail"- the expression used to describe the way growing online sales seem to threaten traditional brick-and-mortar businesses- is not justified. Quite a few customers still do want to buy from brick-and-mortar stores, so there is a need to expand on the answer to the question, "What does our customer really want?" and go for a wide variety of customer experiences!

We currently see a shift in the business behaviour. At some point in the last few years, we realized that all that data we have collected and plan to collect will not provide all the answers to our business development needs on their own.

New slogans have been popping up, such as: "delight your customer" and "do you know your customer?", where we see a strong orientation towards the consumer, not only as a client or as someone consuming our services, but also as a person, as a human being.

Understanding the Anthropological Side of Businesses

As a business consultant, last year I joined an international fashion retailer in Barcelona; the challenge we were facing was to prioritize Scrum teams’ backlog when developing the digital portal, due to the wide variety of stakeholders the teams had. And this is where I met Pat. What really surprised me about Pat was her educational backlog; she is sociologist and anthropologist, and currently a PhD candidate investigating digital identity. Even more impressive to me was to observe the crucial role Pat was playing.  As member of a Product Management Team, she could establish different perspectives when setting priorities for the retail digital portal development; that is, ensuring that we were understanding our client. Simple. Powerful.

By introducing business anthropology, the world has begun to recognize that business is not just an economic endeavour but is also an activity that has a human angle. Today, this anthropologic approach is crucial for a wide variety of sectors, but specially for agile marketing; mass production-oriented advertising is not going to get us any further. Agility is about being adaptative, customer oriented, and reacting to feedback…yes, it is customer-centric! For true agile marketing we need to take a deep dive into who our customer is and get to know them personally!

That is exactly where the methodology of Design Thinking begins: empathising with your consumer, sitting together with him, observing his needs before even the customer himself knows what he wants. What your client says that he wants and what he really needs are not necessarily the same thing, and this is what our customer journey should pay attention to.

In April 2019 at the CMS Innovation Finance Congress in Barcelona, a conference focused on retail banking, the company invited to the podium discussion was not a data analysis enterprise, but an anthropologic consultancy company, "The Walker Research Society". What is driving the industry to draw upon sociologists and anthropologists in order to identify what the needs of the customer are?

We clearly observe a fundamental shift in the way that we want to interact with our customer; for example, if we observe digital banking services, where a wide variety of banks offer quite similar services online, how can a digital bank connect with their customers in a unique way?

"We live in a culture based on numbers, which brings us to continuously drift away from reality. Numbers don’t always tell us the whole story"; this is the vision of David del Amo Garcia, researcher and anthropologist, as he presented at his talk at the Repsol Digital Design Aperitivos.

What makes a difference between the competitors, and not only in the banking sector, is the so-called customer intimacy. We definitely have a dire need to connect with our clients in a unique manner, and big data analysis is not always the solution! Insights into personality, needs and drives of a customer cannot be based on standard surveys and statistics.  

Lean enterprises have so far understood that we need a wide variety of perspectives; coming back to my experience when travelling by train to Bruxelles, it is not enough to go up to a customer in a train and ask a bunch of predefined questions! Maybe we need to sit down with this customer and ask this person about her feelings and motivation when travelling by train. For example, travelling by train instead of plane for me was an environmentally friendly decision, and I was really proud of myself! Unfortunately, this information got lost…

Certainly, numbers are important and do have a lot of value, but due to the complexity of our customers, we need to invite different views in order to understand our clients. For most of the current products on the market and the ones to come, a "one-size-fits-all" approach no longer applies.

A learning process is required in order to expand on different points of view when observing a customer, and this is already being introduced in the education sector; at Deusto Business School within the Master in Business Innovation (MBI) for example, 15 students travel every year to Florence in order to learn from artistic work. You do learn in a very different way listening to the voice of Lorenzo de Medici (1449-1492).

It is not a data-driven, but a data-inspired industry that we are heading for today, brought together with a wide variety of perspectives, if we want to see our customer as a human being and not just a consumer of mass-production. What we need is a healthy mix of big-data analysis, ethnographical research, anthropological views, and continuous education to expand the vision on our business!

The digital industry has learned this lesson, and you can already find ethnographic observation in many sectors, which is near to becoming a market standard already. Let’s take for example the company REWE Digital in Köln (Germany), where any member of the Scrum teams can sign up for a one-day ride with one of the delivery trucks: this way, the REWE Digital employees designing the web portal for online shopping themselves experience the customer journey they are offering to their clients!

Is it all about customer-centric business, or is there any data left? Within the retail industry, we can already find excellent examples where both data analytics and customer empathy are integrated. Our digital data today allow us to create a customer intimacy combined with real-time automation, also called "Real time customer behaviour analytics". This can be seen for example, in the case where a customer, who according to our data, belongs to the 35-45-year old female Spanish European customer segment, has bought a product from a certain fashion retailer; after landing on the new loyalty card page she does not sign up after 15 minutes spent on the page, the customer-centric sales team gives this customer a call to find out what she needs and how can they help them.

Moving in the Right Direction

Now, where do we get started? What are the first steps to move towards a more customer-centric business?

Maybe we can start by questioning what you think your business is, and even more important, questioning what you think your customer wants!

Let’s begin with three simple steps:

  • Ask yourself why are consumers really buying your product?
  • Also ask your customer personally why he/she is really buying your product?
  • Finally, ask a wider forum what makes a difference when it comes to your product, compared to your competitors?

As management expert Barry O’Reilly says, "Think big, but start small".  What we have done for example in one of the IT companies I work with in Barcelona is simple, but powerful: we just sent one employee to a customer to talk to them. To just talk, informally. And please, do not send a commercial director; when I say send an employee to sit with a customer and informally hear how they speak about the product, I mean an engineer, or any regular employee. This should of course always happen on a voluntary basis; don’t send anybody to a customer in connection to any KPIs.

And then see what happens!

Customer intimacy is not a hype anymore; it is reality. This is the real challenge right in front of us!

About the Author

Almudena Rodriguez Pardo, born in Bilbao (Spain). Rodriguez Pardo was involved in the telecommunication sector for 22 years, where she gained a strong technical background. Moreover, Rodriguez Pardo was highly involved in the Agile transformation and DevOps deployment at Ericsson and worked as an Agile and DevOps consultant for Ericsson customers. She is a well-known public speaker with international reputation at Agile and DevOps conferences. Rodriguez Pardo is currently partner at the international company Rodriguez Pardo & Assocs, working as Business Agility Consultant and Agile expert, supporting organizations worldwide.

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