A short cautionary tale about the misuse of customer data

This is a short story about surveying your customers and how extrapolating too far and too fast from a limited data set can damage your relationships with your customers.

Before Christmas I attended a London and the South East Contact Centre Forum event entitled: Is your contact centre ready for the future?

At the event, an analyst from Gartner, let’s call him Mike for the sake of this post, shared a personal story about what happened when he recently called his bank’s customer service facilities.

He started his story by saying that if he was to rank his relationship with his bank he would rate it, on average, as 5 out of 10.

On this occasion, when he called the bank, his call was answered quickly and his problem was solved without much fuss. So, at the end of the call, when asked to rated his experience he rated his experience as 9 out of 10. A near perfect result.

What happened next is the most interesting bit.

As a result of his rating of his recent call, the bank started sending messages to Mike believing that he is now ‘9 out of 10’ customer, happy with his bank and is primed to recommend the bank to his friends, family and all people in between.

However, there is a problem with this. Mike, by his own admission, is still, on average, a ‘5 out of 10’ customer when it comes to how he feels about his bank. And, the more messages that he receives from his bank about how he is a ‘9 out of 10’ sort of guy, the more that they annoy him.

Don’t get me wrong. Surveying your customers and asking them to rate their experience with you is a good thing and a great way to gauge how you are doing. And, it’s always exciting to achieve scores like 9 out of 10 when you are trying to deliver great customer and a great customer experience. But, we have to be careful not to jump to any conclusions when we achieve a big jump in positive customer feedback and we must remember to look at the result in it’s wider context. Extrapolating a view of your customer based on one data point is dangerous, can back-fire and do more harm than good to your relationship with your customer.

Relationships can change dramatically overnight, as a result of one new experience, but it doesn’t happen very often. Therefore, we need to be careful with the use and interpretation of data.


This post was originally published on my Forbes.com column.


Photo Credit: C_Knaus via Compfight cc

10 comments On A short cautionary tale about the misuse of customer data

  • Adrian,

    As ever you are polite to a fault. This is a great story of why some corporates need to be banned from metrics. Their mechanistic view of human behaviour is either grossly lazy or frighteningly naive. Either way, it is time we started to migrate from these first generation metrics to more insightful ways to understand the real state of customer sentiment. Is ‘Emotional Autism’ EQ’s shadow state?

    • Hi Martin,
      I think my Mum would be proud of how polite I try to be 😉

      However, I think you make a good point. Might be time that some of these firms have their toys taken off them until they start to learn how to use them properly.


  • Adrian – good points. There is true difference between a transaction and the overall relationship. Context is key.

    • Stan,
      I think you hit the nail on the head. However, I often wonder if things like this often point to bigger issues….issues like ….how much do they really care and think about their customers. Or, is it all just ‘window-dressing’?


  • Adrian,

    I know comments should be insightful and add to the conversation. I’m afraid this one won’t be.



  • Adrian,

    This calls to mind a couple things:

    – the importance of delivering consistent experiences
    – transactional relationships are very different from trusted relationships
    – the importance of having a single view of the customer, one that ties together all of his feedback
    – the pitfalls of automating marketing analysis and messages rather than personalizing the message and the experience to the individual, and
    – the downside of focusing on the metric rather than the experience.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Annette 🙂

  • Hello Adrian,

    What this story discloses for me is that which lies at the heart of just about every Customer program that I have encountered: how to leverage the resource called ‘Customer’ in order to generate higher revenues, margins, profits for those who own-manage the company.

    Behind the ‘relationship’ rhetoric and ‘customer-centric’ programmes lies an extractive-transactional way of being. I have yet to encounter marketing, sales, and strategic folks who actually think of, speak of, relate to customers, as fellow human beings.

    All the best

    • Maz,
      You point to an important issue that is a struggle for many firms ….how to serve whilst also generating sales and growth.

      Personally, I believe that if we serve and focus on truly serving then, assuming that we have a good product/service, sales and growth will follow.


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