When the concept of big data first infiltrated the marketing and CRM space, marketers across every industry rejoiced at the thought of having unprecedented access to minute details about their current and prospective customers. We reveled in the notion of mining this incredible treasure trove of information to uncover valuable insights that would help us hone our message, zero in on the right audience and, ultimately, grow sales and revenue.
Gaining this insider knowledge – VIP access to the needs, wants and desires of our target audience based on their broad scale behavior metrics – seemed almost too good to be true. And, with the promise of automation, we made plans to queue up marketing tactics like ads, e-mails and other communications based on this data, reducing the manual labor and guesswork involved in getting the right message to the right people.
Except, it wasn’t quite the panacea we’d hoped. Instead of expertly leveraging these valuable insights, we quickly found ourselves buried in an avalanche of information. With too much data and too few resources to properly analyze and extract the most valuable nuggets, it became more of a chore – and more expensive – than it was worth.
Adding to the problem, bombarding audiences with ads, offers, landing pages, e-mails and more based on what we think we know from big data has begun to feel disingenuous. In short: Our customers are on to us.
At first, they were flattered that we seemed to know exactly what they needed. When they received our “You may also like…” upsell suggestions via e-mail or saw our product ads based on their previous buys, they saw it as a nice touch and thought that surely we must care about them and value their business to take the time to stay in touch.
But then, something changed: Customers found out about the massive databases storing all of this intricate detail. No matter how hard we tried to humanize them, our auto-generated, scripted messages became passé. Those e-mails that appeared to be a warm welcome or thank you from the CEO were exposed as the bulk mail they truly are.
To be honest, this approach wasn’t really as effective as we’d hoped. Blasting those fake, automated messages was akin to throwing a dart at a wall blindfolded. It might get some response, but it was nearly impossible to know if you really hit the mark.
Worse yet, in customers’ minds, it gave the impression that we apparently didn’t really care about them at all – they were just one in many millions of database entries that we used to churn out spammy messages. When our audiences became a little unnerved by the Big Brother-ish feel of it all, they installed do not track add-ons to their browsers and locked down privacy settings on their devices to cut us off from gathering any more big data.
Clearly, it’s time for a reboot in the way we use big data to cultivate customer relationships. Rather than trying to pass off a barrage of generic communications predicated on this data as warm and fuzzy personalized messages, the best approach may be to separate the wheat from the chaff and focus personalization efforts where they will truly do the most good – with our most valuable customers.
One way is to begin by analyzing buyer behavior to identify our most valued, loyal customers – those who purchase more, most often and provide positive product reviews or recommendations on social media. Then, invest the time, effort and money to build genuine, personal relationships with these MVPs to ensure they feel valued and appreciated. Avoid sending them boilerplate e-mails, generic mailers and canned communications. Use a real human touch where the investment is warranted.
For average customers, stop trying to fool them with fake auto-responder e-mails that the CEO didn’t even know about, much less write. The truth is that these attempts to impersonate a human just ruin it for the rest of us who are working hard to cultivate real, personalized customer service. Even the most genuine e-mail, sent from an actual person, is now perceived as auto-generated, and quite frequently deleted by the recipient without a second thought.
To combat the misperception, CRM agents must now work even harder to prove they are real human beings by including detail, references and context only a real human would know. Of course, big data can also be helpful here, by giving us the information we need to get to know our customers before we even make contact. But, even this must be done carefully, to avoid scaring them off with too much information; otherwise, the specter of Big Brother begins to creep back into the mix.
Christopher Gooley is CEO and co-founder of Preact (www.preact.io).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi