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Why data mining resembles handing a child a scalpel.

by Michael Maoz  |  January 6, 2015  |  1 Comment

One of the recurring jokes that gets a laugh regardless of the times heard is from George Carlin: “I put a dollar in a change machine. Nothing changed.” With advanced data mining tools, that could be your best outcome, versus things getting worse. Here in the United States we have just passed through the storm that is known as the “Holiday Season.” It is a six week period during which $600 billion in retail sales are recorded, along with spikes in travel, movie going, restaurant visits, and media consumption. The US is the Goldilocks of world buyers: they spent 5% more this year, versus the EU area that spent about 1.5% more and the Chinese who spent 11% more.

Here is an interesting experience: throughout all of that shopping, car leasing, travelling, hotel stays, automobile rentals, and restaurant experiences, not one company managed to extend me or anyone I know a relevant offer that exhibited even the most rudimentary level of data mining. I am not talking about the level of skill that Colin Kaepernick needs to hit Michael Crabtree on a cross-pattern in heavy traffic during a blitz. No: most of what we experienced was below what a clerk in Chor Bazaar, Mumbai could muster just by reading your body language. Some choice examples: checking into the hotel in Delray Beach, where we stayed using ‘award points’ and being seen as thieves stealing rooms from the paying customers. Not being recognized as having moved from no status to silver, then gold, and then platinum. Or the car rental explaining why I need three types of coverage that they should by now, after 12 years a customer, understand that I have. Or the restaurant where we book the same table every year at the same time of year, but they have never once reached out. Or the car lease with an automobile dealer that has 18 years of service history and could easily obtain complementary data about the driver, yet displays not a scintilla of insight about preferences.

So where is all of this data mining prowess hidden? Is it in a back office filled with amazingly talented data crunchers, people who are brilliant but not necessarily will tuned to the nuances of real customer behaviors, or the real behavior of receptionists and sales people and counter workers and IVRs? The technology is maturing at places like IBM, Microsoft, Interactions, nextIT, BeyondVerbal, or with Google Now, but the issue is: who in the enterprise can take the best in data mining and apply it to the AI engines, assemble them, define the business rules, and get them to work in an integrative manner across engagement channels?

Oh, and all of this without changing your internal organizational structures. Right now IT and the lines of business are essentially Blefuscu and Lilliput, and who has time to solve their quarrels? So look at the great companies who have harmonized teams, or are in the process of, in the name of customer experience. Folks like Unilever and Globe Telecom in the Philippines, Carrefour, Lego and Disney and T-Mobile. All visionary, all pushing the envelope to change on behalf of customers and shareholders alike. There is a lot to learn from their willingness to try new things out.

Until we get our process houses in order, hide the scalpels. W are just creating even better ways to hurt yourselves, faster. Change happens when it happens, not when it is talked about. Who are you seeing within your organization as appointed by the CEO to execute, on a corporate level, strategy to improve the customer process?


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Michael Maoz
VP Distinguished Analyst
13 years at Gartner
26 years IT industry

Michael Maoz is a research vice president and distinguished analyst in Gartner Research. His research focuses on CRM and customer-centric Web strategies. Mr. Maoz is the research leader for both the customer service and support strategies area and customer-centric Web… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Why data mining resembles handing a child a scalpel.

  1. […] IT and lines of business are working together, data mining’s impact will continue to be limited. Why data mining resembles handing a child a scalpel (Gartner […]

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