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Gartner Application Strategies Summit 2016, Day Two: Businesses Should Be More Thoughtful with Data
Using data is one thing; using it gracefully is another.
Posted Dec 8, 2016
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LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday, day two of Gartner’s Applications Strategies and Solution Summit at Caesars Palace, analysts urged attendees to collect and leverage data responsibly, and exercise good judgement with it, to inform company interactions with customers.

In his keynote, Frank Buytendijk, a vice president and fellow at Gartner Research, encouraged firms to resist what has become an almost dogmatic emphasis on being data-driven. "If we focus on the data running the business, we run the risk of making bad decisions that will lead to negative business outcomes," Buytendjik said. For one thing, he pointed out that when looking only at hard data and numbers to make inferences, we run the risk of conflating correlation and causation and assuming that one thing happened because of another, possibly unrelated factor. While data may be usefully processed to optimize certain experiences—such as helping customers to find the cheapest plane tickets online—some are simply too complex, too infinite in their possibilities, to automate, and in certain instances companies are better off dealing with challenges manually as they come up.

In a similar vein, Jim Davies, a research director at Gartner, warned attendees in his breakout session about the ways in which data can be misused in a "creepy" manner that might turn customers off. One way to repel customers is by engaging them in intimate conversations that draw from details they might not have known a company had access to, and in so doing cause customers to feel their privacy has been invaded. For instance, if a flight attendant begins talking to a passenger about their mutual hometown without gleaning that information from the source, the customer might be put off.

The problem, however, is that the line between "creepy" and "personal" is often a fine one, and it’s hard for companies to know when they are crossing the bounds of what is acceptable. For instance, Davies cited the example of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, which experimented with the idea of using LinkedIn and Facebook profile information to determine passenger seating that aligns with their interests or professions. While the intentions were good, not all were enthused by the prospect of giving their details to total strangers.

While the line between creepy and personal can be thin, Davies provided a few guidelines. He suggested (1) only using information customers have shared; (2) asking for feedback on your personalization approach; (3) not trying to personalize sensitive situations concerning, for example, a customer's health issues or finances; (4) considering personification vs. personlization strategies; and (5) training personnel on how to use the info responsibly in their customer interactions.

In a breakout session on customer journey mapping, Magnus Revang, a research director at Gartner, suggested that while the collection of hard (quantitative) data is useful, it should be combined with observational (qualitative) data that is gathered firsthand, through interviews and the like. "We have so many assumptions about our customers that are wrong, and those need to be challenged," Revang emphasized. He recommended testing those assumptions to see if they hold true and adjusting experiences according to findings gleaned through in-depth research.

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