I don’t think I’m alone when I say my life has been completely altered by data.

When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is check my customers’ social media accounts. Are we seeing increased activity on LinkedIn? How’s that Facebook ad campaign rolling along?

From there, I turn on Spotify, which has created the perfect playlist for me by tracking my listening preferences. Around 10:00, I’ll check my Fitbit Charge to find some motivation deep within to get moving.

Data is what establishes strategies that pay off, what allows us to investigate the past to plan for the future, what creates targeted campaigns with the precision of a Japanese Ginsu blade, and what helps our clients crawl inside their customers’ brains.

But here’s a confession: I think the industry’s obsession with metrics, segmentation, and algorithms often leads in the wrong direction, one that pushes marketers further from the ultimate goal of building lasting and meaningful relationships with customers.

Big data will only take us so far, and at some point, a human perspective needs to join the effort. “Big Data and Beyond” – Tyler Douglas

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that collecting, analyzing and correlating relevant data is key to building strategies that work.

But what I worry about is our increasing dependence on computer-based algorithms to make decisions regarding carbon-based organisms. While the deep insights culled from data can help build bridges and foster connection, marketers often miss the forest for the trees. Data becomes the bottom line, a goal unto itself–and customers wind up as mere metrics.

Ultimately, we should aim for a strategy where the right usage of the right data at the right moments lets customers know they are really being understood. The key to real relationship-building is to strike a balance between people and metrics so that they work with and enhance, one another. Here’s what I’ve learned from my own experience:

“Realize that big data and analytics will only take you so far and that ‘soft’ data that comes from activities like customer immersion, observation and direct conversations is where many organisations will find the sort of insight that will really help them stand out.” Adrian Swinscoe

Use data as part of your strategy 
Many analytics tools today do little more than adding additional complexity to the already complex challenge of understanding your customers. Businesses are collecting hoards of customer data–but most of it is just extraneous noise.

This noise will only distract you from building genuine relationships with your customers. Sure, analytics shouldn’t go neglected. But when it comes to your business strategy, it should be just one small part of engaging with your customers.

Know that numbers don’t tell the whole story. 
According to a recent Adobe study, 64% of companies have separate teams for handling online and offline data. While it may seem like an efficient business strategy, this common practice fails to take into account a holistic picture of a customer.

Ultimately, the result of our dependence on data is that we make conclusions about our customers that simply aren’t true. While it’s important to understand customer behaviors and habits to create effective campaigns and strategies, we often mistake correlation with causation when we rely on data alone.

A few companies serve as good examples of more holistic approaches to customer data analysis. Vision Critical’s Sparq, for instance, asks customers for input so that they can create broader and more human customer profiles. Getting customer input is essential for learning about customer needs and preferences and marketing your products to them accordingly.

Customer survey tools like Surveymonkey also come in handy here, because they provide customer information that’s critical when it comes to engaging with your customers on a personal level. Don’t be afraid of bad customer reviews; just as positive reviews help us by telling us what aspects of our product to maintain and even enhance, negative responses guide us in changing our products or business strategy to better suit our customers.

For small and medium-sized businesses, reaching out to customers brings more value than just their data: It also shows that you care and, in doing so, encourages ongoing customer loyalty.

Big data is here to stay, as it should be. But let’s be realistic: It’s an important resource for anyone analyzing data, not a silver bullet.- Gary Marcus, NYT

Empower your decision makers
Harnessing data should make it easier for your teams to make timely decisions. But when teams are afraid to make moves until they have analyzed “the data”, they overlook opportunities for human-to-human interaction with customers.

Consider Zappos: They’re known for their acts of kindness, like sending down-in-the-dumps customers oversized flower bouquets. The alpha-bouquet–a bouquet and card that Zappos sent immediately to the grieving daughter of a deceased customer– was an impulse so raw and authentic that it couldn’t have been scripted. If that Zappos customer service rep had to stop to read “the data” before taking action, the world would have lost out on a perfect example of deepening connections with customers.

The idea of hyper-engaging one’s customers is becoming a trend, and other companies are jumping onboard. Optimove, for example, has a real-time hyper targeting tool that helps predict customer behavior by allowing teams to pre-craft those spur-of-the-moment experiences. The end result? Your customer feels personally engaged and understood.

In order to successfully grow your business, it’s important to put in the effort to deepen your understanding of your customers. When your customers feel that you, as a business, genuinely care about their needs, they’ll feel empowered–and will keep coming back.

Use interactions to make big data human
Just as it was worth investing in your data mining toolset, it’s worth investing in sales reps who will make customers feel valued and important.

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms are one tool that helps companies communicate more directly with customers. When sales and marketing teams have access to real-time customer data and updated product information, they can communicate with customers about their most relevant needs. Pepperi‘s mobile platform, for instance, enables salespeople to more easily address customer questions and concerns by providing them with full access to customer sales data, alongside a fully functional product e-catalog, even when they are on the road and offline.

Customer data is nothing without customer engagement. Whether you’re just starting your business or have been in the industry for years, it’s essential to interact with customers so that they feel empowered, appreciated, and committed to your brand. Otherwise, all you have is a lifeless pile of data points leading your efforts astray.

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