Get the Most Out of Your Customer Data by Closing the Messy Middle

In the latest installment of the “Data Unlocked” series of podcasts, Simon Data co-founder and CEO Jason Davis chats with customer experience advisor Adrian Swinscoe about “The Messy Middle” of data. After, they go on to discuss how cleaning up your data issues is the only way to get the most out of your customer data.  


 “The idea of the messy middle came from a conversation I had with Michael Ramsey of ServiceNow. We realized the messy middle is not something exclusive to customer service. We tend to look at things from the exterior but don’t necessarily think deeply about how we do things. So that research doesn’t surprise me.

-Adrian Swinscoe

Davis led off the conversation with the highlights of a recent survey conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Simon Data that polled 465 marketing professionals. The study showed that 90% of marketers say they have adequate capabilities to drive marketing outcomes. Yet, those same respondents said they had real challenges hitting these objectives. So, what does that disparity mean?

Both Swinscoe and Davis believe it comes down to three key issues around data. These issues center around data unification, data application, and data paralysis.

1. Data Unification

Davis and Swinscoe look at the disconnect between organizations’ design, operations, and customer data usage. “I approach things in how they’re connected and how they work together,” says Swinscoe. “The problem is that’s not necessarily how we’ve grown and developed organizations. We’ve developed organizations along functional lines.”

Now that modern business operates more customer-focused and data-driven, companies are pushing those initiatives into the existing process-driven framework. However, the results don’t always add up. “You’re not organizing yourself on a purely supply-and-demand basis. You’re not organizing yourself to respond to demand as it presents itself,” he says. “And what we end up doing is the square peg and round hole thing, and we’ve been doing that for decades.

2. Data Application

Davis says he has witnessed a significant divide between data operations and data analytics, especially when it comes to customer marketing. “Great marketing starts with the customer. You have to be in a place where you understand the customer,” he says. “Our core thesis is moving data functions into business functions. Technology is a part of this, but it starts with wanting to have an analytically oriented marketing team, and that starts with organizational design.”

However, the lingering skills gap also drives that divide, says Swinscoe. “There’s a lack of capability in organizations around data science and data analytics and, more importantly, around data-driven decision making at a leadership level,” he says. “We can and need to give people access to tools to generate their hypotheses and better understand what their customers are doing.”

3. Data Paralysis

Another trend Davis noted is that many companies focus on first-party data, which can lead to near-paralysis when making decisions.

Swinscoe quoted philosopher and engineer Alfred Korzybski, who once said, ” The map is not the territory.” He explained how people rely on data and believe it represents an accurate picture of all facets of their customers. This reliance on that singular focus prevents them from realizing what is happening with their customers.

“Two different customers can do the same thing but be very different individuals,” he says. “Only when you understand that can you put into place the right strategies and tactics to deliver the experiences that will lead to the best outcomes for your business.”

Davis agreed with that view. “Data isn’t reality,” he said. “Data describes reality. You need to be thinking about the customer and the experience. There are some things you can measure and some things you can never measure.”

Then, he described the need to reflect on the emotions and experiences of the customers and consider the data as a point of triangulation into that complete view. While it is essential to have the right data, it’s even more critical to fully understand where the customer is and when they have a great experience. “Personalization needs to start with the person,” he said.

Gain Momentum with Customer Data

Customer data can certainly drive those efforts, especially when used effectively. “Leveraging data in modern organizations provides a mechanism for learning and working toward common goals,” said Davis.

“I truly believe there are only two physical states,” said Swinscoe. “Those are inertia and momentum. And our role is about, ‘How do we create momentum?’ We don’t need to be going one hundred miles an hour. We could be only going two mph. But it’s important to move. Success begets success.”

When it comes to closing that gap in the messy middle and closing the gaps between people, processes, and systems, Davis and Swinscoe agree. Therefore, it is more effective to start small, get it done right, and then scale up from there. “When that works from top-down,” says Swinscoe, “you can build a tremendous amount of momentum.”

Putting customer data to work can help marketing teams achieve that level of momentum. Comprehensive and accurate customer data profiles to solidify and unify modern marketing efforts can help make that “messy middle” a bit less messy.

Listen to the entire  Data Unlocked Podcast on Spotify to hear the rest of Davis and Swinscoe’s discussion about the messy middle of data. Also, hear more on how companies can best work to close organizational gaps. And follow the podcast on LinkedIn to get the latest news and behind-the-scenes tips from business leaders.

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