Understanding the customer disconnect plaguing brands

We sat down with Mark Lummas, Vice President of Customer Success at mTab, to discuss the recent Harvard Business Review study entitled Beyond Big Data: Why Small Data Integration Is the Key to CXM Success. The study surveyed over 600 executives from around the globe, many from companies that have $5+ billion in revenue and at least 1,000 employees.

Mark Lummas

Among the primary findings were that, while 85 percent of respondents say that integrating customer data from dispersed sources leads to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, only 23 percent say they have a strong understanding of their customers.

Mark has extensive experience providing market research best practice insight and customer intelligence strategies to leading automotive brands including Nissan, Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai. This experience is invaluable to the brands he provides advisory and guidance to.

Q: Mark, to start off with, based on the Harvard Business Review findings there seems to be a major data disconnect within many companies. Do you find this is often the case with brands?

Lummas: “Yes, when many companies are starting the process to devise a data-driven strategy for their organization, they don’t necessarily lack data sources, but often lack data control. Typically, they have many datasets spread out across the organization, whether their systems generate them or they’ve been acquired from third parties, but they are often each an island that stands alone. One team, or even one individual, may know that it’s there and uses it, but there is usually no efficient method to unify these islands so that the data can be integrated and everyone can gain access to them all.

“This is typically the type of challenge we are tasked with resolving. So, yes, the leadership in most companies understand that integrating their fragmented data sources will help drive customer understanding, and hence, satisfaction, retention and loyalty. However, I think they sometimes overlook the fact that this blended insight will also enhance decision-making and drive strategies across the organization to improve customer experience. The reason being that everyone on every team is now using the same data environment of evidence to drive experiences that motivate the customer. So, the findings of 85 percent of executives valuing integrated customer data, yet only 23 percent actually achieving it doesn’t surprise me based on what we often see.”

Q: The report tries to differentiate between the insight and value of big data and small data. What do you find as the differences between the two?

Lummas: “Big data has been the rage in the latter part of the last decade or so. Basically, companies have a tremendous amount of data being generated from a wide variety of systems which is a result of the evolving ‘digital age.’ As daunting as it can be, companies have largely tried reigning in their ‘big data’ to get a handle on extracting insights from it. However, small data, like customer surveys, focus groups, panels and interviews help to illustrate the shifts and evolution with the customer journey. This has been particularly valuable with the COVID issue in helping brands understand how isolation has impacted the behavior and attitudes of consumers and the ensuing effect it is having on their own products and brands.  

“So, both ‘big’ and ‘small data’ are important dimensions to get control of in order to gain a holistic view of the customer. Being able to overlay these dispersed data types across each other to see the customer’s story in a visual manner is where the organization starts to gain traction to really begin performing with their customer experiences and engagements.”

Q: Why do you think only 15 percent of executives rank their organizations as very effective when it comes to integrating big and small data to gain a holistic understanding of their customers?

Lummas: “A lot of the issue around becoming a genuine data-driven customer-centric organization is basically getting the entire company-wide operation in sync. This can really be a very daunting task. It’s also often a situation where there may not be an owner or champion who is driving the enterprise towards achieving this, and with so many fragmented datasets across a myriad of systems and owners, the initiative can seem too massive and complex to get control of.

“A lot of times we see companies that have a visionary team in either Market Research or Customer Experience or Marketing focused on organizing, synthesizing and democratizing this fractured data so it can be effectively explored across the organization. It’s not necessarily difficult to achieve once you have a customer experience insights solution and we see many leading brands who quickly evolve into genuine data-driven customer-centric operations once they get a strategic handle on their data. The good news is that the technology can do most of the heavy lifting to unlock the value within all that data.” 

Q: What do you see as the next step for brands to elevate the experiences they deliver to customers?

Lummas: “Democratizing the data across the entire organization has been a massive step for brands. However, a game-changer that is already in development is allowing each team to take the steering wheel with self-service controls to conduct their own specific analysis and to visualize those results. This step will really empower every team to dig into the data for their specific challenges and needs and develop strategies and plans that align experiences to the needs, preferences and attitudes of the customer.

“This will tie action to the insight, which will essentially supercharge the decision-making and strategy development of each individual group across Customer Experience, Marketing, Sales, Product Development, Customer Service and right up into the C-Suite. The possibilities unlocked with these types of capabilities are creating real excitement across companies.”

Mark Lummas serves as Vice President of Customer Success at mTab. He has extensive expertise providing market research best practice insight and customer intelligence strategies to leading companies with a strong focus on leading automotive brands including Nissan, Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai.