Archive for January, 2014|Monthly archive page

6 Big Data Mistakes

Big Data is all the rage across many enterprises.   The potential payoffs are compelling.  For example, research out of MIT found that firms leveraging Big Data  achieve, on average, 5-6% greater productivity and profitability than their peers.  McKinsey calls Big Data a game changer for sales and marketing along with other areas of the business. But like anything else, getting the most out of data means knowing what not to do. Companies looking to extract value from their terabytes of data should make sure they avoid the following 6 mistakes.

Boiling the ocean

Big Data can be big work. It is easy to burn through a lot of time and cost finding insights that don’t materially address major business challenges like getting closer to customers or improving operational performance. One way to ensure value is to ask research questions whose answers will directly impact key corporate goals. This focused method also enables your company to ‘learn as they go’ and develop quick wins that justify further effort and investment.

Only considering data in silos

In many organizations, the majority of data resides in functional areas or business units — not in an enterprise-data warehouse. Only analyzing siloed data reduces your chances of finding key insight that can affect a company because you are limiting the number of variables and quantity of data under consideration.  However, bridging these silos is easier said than done; organizational and data issues may hinder an enterprise-wide data mining effort. In other cases, managers often limit their analysis to existing digital data. This approach could miss out on insights that are discovered when analog data (such as social feedback and qualitative research) is ‘datafied.’

Ignoring bias

There are good reasons why Big Data resembles science. The analytics can be challenging and methodological errors are not uncommon. “There is significant risk of the analytics being wrong,” says Neil Seeman, founder & CEO of global online data collection firm, The RIWI Corporation. “Systematic bias can easily slip into enormous data sets. Or, not understanding unknown bias in the data set results in false conclusions. Case in point was the early analysis of large HIV data sets; this did not consider the influence of intravenous drug use.”

Focusing on cause instead of correlation

Understanding precise cause and effect is difficult and impractical. What’s more actionable is uncovering correlations — patterns and associations that help predict what will happen next time. Managers should be mindful of looking for and expecting data perfection. For example, the shelf life of market-based insights could be measured in days or even hours. Often it is better to quickly make decisions with 80% confidence in the data than to wait for perfection farther out in the future.

Disregarding qualitative knowledge

Data analytics can deliver many insights but it often cannot tell the entire story. Take the drivers of consumer behaviour as an example. It is difficult to comprehend what drives action without looking at qualitative research tools like behavioural psychology or anthropology as well as expert opinion. These tools should be used to fill in knowledge gaps.

Forgetting about instinct and creativity

At a certain point in the future, the leaders in each sector will have comparable Big Data capabilities and access to the same data. To wit, the Open Data movement is making terabytes of the same data available to everyone. Like other innovations, the greatest returns will flow to those who use the tools and methodologies in the most creative way. As well, management instinct will continue to play a key role in setting Big Data priorities and figuring out how to combine disparate information into more powerful conclusions.

A dangerous assumption made by some companies is to think your entire team should be made up only of credentialed “data science” experts. According to Seeman, “Experience in this fledgling field of data science often eclipses the value of fancy degrees from prestigious universities. What are needed are curiosity seekers with demonstrable experience in pattern recognition and exploiting data for real value. In my case, everything I learned about Big Data came through experimentation, failure, and asking really dumb questions — through efforts to solve the problem of how to collect a unique data stream from every country and territory in the world.”

Big Data is still in its infancy. The first cases studies are still being written. Of course, success will be a product of a strong top-down mandate, having sufficient resources and working with competent partners. At the same time, managers should be mindful of hamstringing themselves by not following a common-sense and continuous-learning approach to project design and implementation.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


Creating great customer experiences

Creating great customer experiences — what leaders like Disney, Zappos and Nordstrom do on a consistent basis — is one of the few areas left for companies to differentiate and generate good margins. Making it happen, however, is easier said than done; fundamentally, it is a people issue.  How do you get employees to go beyond the call of duty to regularly exceed customer expectations? By empowering them to develop emotional connections with each customer.

A great client experience can happen wherever an organization interacts with a customer. And, it is not limited to face-to-face interactions or front-line staff.  Zappos, an online retailer, provides great experiences through call centres and online dealings. A great customer experience is hard to pin down because the definition of “great” and “experience” are tough to define.

“Clients see good service as table stakes,” says Kathy Kenny, assistant vice-president of product management information delivery at investment-servicing company CIBC Mellon. “They expect us to consistently go above and beyond, anticipate their needs and turn every request into a value-added interaction.”

In general, a wonderful experience has many elements including proactively solving a customer’s problem, delivering unique value and exceeding their expectations.

Here’s an example. A modestly sized client of a private bank was on vacation during a massive rainstorm that had pummeled the city. On his own accord, a representative of the bank did a drive-by of the house and found a large tree was poised to fall on it. The bank employee, on his own, engaged a tree service to fix the problem, informing the client after he returned home. The employee didn’t consult a script or seek advice from a manager. He went the extra mile because it came naturally to him and that was the organizational expectation. The bank’s management believes creating these kinds of experiences — and not financial returns — is the key reason why it enjoys virtually 100% client retention even with above-average management fees.

The difference between a successful transaction and a great experience is the presence of an emotional connection — a happy, content and trusting feeling — between the parties. These connections should occur across the entire customer journey — not just at selected touch points. Research, cited in the Harvard Business Review, found emotionally engaged customers are typically three times more likely to recommend a product and to remain brand loyal (though this is debatable). How do you develop customer-pleasing staff?

Hire for attitude

Emotionally engaging and passionate workers do not materialize out of thin air; they emerge through a strong recruiting process that provides a regular stream of suitable employees. Experiential leaders like Apple and Southwest Airlines use psychological testing and group interviews to see how people treat each other and communicate.

Set lofty expectations, and reinforce them

Management should set high expectations for how they want their customers treated. However, employees won’t take care of customers if they are not trusted, treated with respect or listened to through formal and informal mechanisms. Importantly, management also needs to regularly and visibly reinforce these expectations and positive behaviors.

Encourage emotional connectedness

Despite advances in technology, engaging customers and solving their problems is still largely undertaken through personal contact. Emotion is the grease that more easily facilitates this interaction. Staff members have many ways to introduce emotion including taking ownership of issues (rather than blaming others), displaying empathy, being proactive and always exhibiting good interpersonal habits (e.g., shaking hands, keeping eye contact, and being active listeners).  Organizations should also look toincorporate tenets of behavioural psychology in their service models.

Get out of the way

When people have clear expectations and are trusted to do their jobs, they feel valued and empowered.  As a result, they are more likely to connect emotionally with the customer.  Rules and metrics are helpful but can be detrimental, especially if they stifle creativity and skew behavior.

Capture and share best practices

Great experiences often arise from creative problem solving at the front lines.  These learnings should be captured and shared to improve overall corporate performance.

Of course, motivated employees need supporting technology and operational systems to fulfill their promise. In some cases, companies may need to redesign their service models. However, these can only go so far in delighting customers and producing an experiential advantage. However, firms need to empower motivated front-line staff so they can emotionally connect with customers at every touch point to achieve this end.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.

Play games, learn more

A revolution is quietly impacting the way organizations educate students and workers. Gamification is increasingly being integrated into curriculums and courses. Incorporating game play produces a better educational experience by adding realism, fostering competition and delivering quicker progress feedback.   The value for the organization and worker is compelling:  improved problem solving and collaboration skills, higher learner engagement and greater knowledge retention.  Organizations should consider how best to leverage Gamification methods into their most important training regimes.

Gamification programs blend the principles of video game play, social networking, data analytics and behavioural psychology into a formidable platform for inciting change and engagement. Organizational training and education is a natural place to include gaming.  The teaching/learning process is often dull, data starved and overly mechanical, which depresses student engagement and makes the linking of training results to business value difficult.   Gamification accelerates learning by  leveraging the power of digital technology and intrinsic motivators such as: providing instantaneous feedback (mastery), egging on the competition (social interaction), and rewarding even tiny steps of progress (recognition).

“The basic structure of video games — having to master one level before moving to another, repeating an action numerous times, and receiving feedback in the form of results about what works and what doesn’t — mirrors how skills are developed in real life,” says David Maddocks, president of WorkSmart Education.  “The added benefit for the workplace of using games is that employees practice in a safe situation and not on live customers.”

Incorporating gaming principles has helped companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Nike and Samsung foster richer consumer-brand interactions, improve operational productivity and drive higher levels of employee engagement over the past few years. Corporate training is not far behind on the curve  Few companies have done more to incorporate Gamification into learning than SAP, one of the world’s largest software firms.

It is not easy for a sales rep to keep up to date on the ever-changing mobile offerings and technical considerations of a large, dynamic company like SAP (and then effectively leverage this knowledge in front of clients). That’s where the Roadwarrior game comes in. This game instructs sales reps through a simulated customer meeting on how to respond to the buyer’s question and what information to provide. Providing information on the customer and their needs helps the sales rep design a unique technical and business solution. By properly preparing for meetings and correctly answering clients’ questions, sales reps can move up a ladder, unlocking levels and earning points and badges on a leaderboard.

Once all customer meetings in one level have been completed, the user proceeds to the next level with new customers and requirements. This allows sales reps to gather cross-technology knowledge and to practice multi-level selling. Players can also challenge other players to uncover the best answers for difficult question. Training engagement is enhanced by the use of intrinsic motivators such as team and peer-based competition, regular socializing that foster an esprit de corps and the growing confidence that comes from handling increasingly difficult client questions and situations.

New hire orientation

Rocketeer is an ingenious idea tool to convey important corporate information.  Developed in 2011, this little flash game  welcomes SAP employees when they visit their corporate landing page.  By controlling the speed and angle of the rocket, users can navigate the rocket past obstacles, which are nothing more than signs showing key SAP factoids and news. The further you can fly the rocket without hitting any of the signs, the more you learn about SAP. Rocketeer generates more engagement and information retention than merely reading off a long list of facts.

Closer to home

Some Canadian organizations are already using gamification techniques to improve their educational experience and learning outcomes.  The York School, a leading independent school in Toronto (disclosure:  my child attends the school), is integrating game playing in the teaching of Math and Science.  According to Justin Medved, head of Learning, Innovation & Technology, “These tools give teachers unprecedented insight into the learning process while at the same time engaging students in a fun and familiar way.  The data collected through game playing is allowing us to tailor our teaching to respond to individual student needs in a way previously not possible.”   At the other end of the learning spectrum is the Canadian Military. The National Post reported that they are using popular video games like Call of Duty and specialized video simulations to enhance ordinary training. In addition to creating customizable, ‘real world’ environments, games have the important benefit of being able to train more soldiers at lower cost — and much lower risk of accidents.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.