Want to be more agile? Give me the data now!

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What’s the best way to use customer data to enhance your company’s agility?

Many companies are pursuing sophisticated data analytics to quantify customer opinions, tailor offers, optimize pricing, and the like.

I’m all for that.

But it takes time – I’ve seen companies spend months developing a strategy to collect, manage, secure, analyze and use the customer data they collect.

My definition of agility is the ability to spot and quickly capture the new opportunities being created by market change.

One of the best things companies can do to strengthen this muscle immediately is to speed the flow of raw customer data into the hands of the “doers” in their ranks.

Automaker Nissan provides a great example.

Nissan’s marketing function responds on a continuous basis to comments customers make on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets.  They not only respond, they feed that information immediately to the relevant dealer, engineering group, manufacturing plant or customer service rep.

These are the folks on the ground that can fix the customer’s problem, or take advantage of the new opportunity quickly.

By establishing this fast-feedback loop, Nissan has become remarkably responsive to the market, and everyone in the company—not just marketing—has become more aware of evolving customer needs.

What can we learn from the Nissan example?

That the faster you can get data on customer problems, behaviors, emotions, etc. into the hands of the people who can respond, the more agile your company will be.

The data need not be perfectly “packaged” to be useful. In fact, raw data can be the best and most actionable. What’s raw data?

  • Complaints in the customer’s own words
  • A photo of a product failure, emailed from a customer
  • An product enhancement idea, fresh from a customer’s mind
  • Ideas customers have shared online for how to use your product most effectively in their particular use case, application or industry
  • A customer’s “work around” to a problem they experienced with your product
  • All the online, mobile and social data that gets generated every day

Speeding up the flow of customer data to R&D, manufacturing, customer service, sales and other functions not only increases the chance that you’ll fix customer problems fast, it’s also a great motivator. If I’m buried in the bowels of the company, and I “hear” an actual customer talking to me, I want to help.

So, increasing the velocity of customer data is one of the best ways to engage employees’ hearts, minds and hands in improving customer value.

Sure, you run the risk of overloading employees with too much data. Sure, the data might be messy or anecdotal.  But it’s real, and just might be something you can act on—today—to solve a customer’s problem. And that’s a good thing.

Amanda Setili is author of The Agility Advantage: How to Identify and Act on Opportunities in a Fast-Changing World (learn more) and managing partner of strategy consulting firm Setili & Associates, whose clients include Coca-Cola, Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, and Walmart. She previously held positions with Global Food Exchange, McKinsey & Company, Asia Connect, in Malaysia , and Kimberly-Clark. Setili is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Harvard Business School and has taught as an adjunct professor at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. She lives in Atlanta, GA.

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