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So what has politics and marketing have in common?

The last couple of months have been fascinating for me. There’s been so much learning both through the change in my role and through experiences I’ve gone through that made me genuinely believe that one of the core competitive differentiators in the digital age will be customer service and experience! Common sense? Perhaps…perhaps not?

Thailand is a fascinating place. Beautiful people, an amazing culture, unbelievable food and an environment where new and old world co-exist. And I am really grateful to be here. But like in any transition, it can get chaotic, super busy and phenomenally challenging. And I’ve had my few challenges thru this transition with service providers in recent months including a card that shut my account down, and sent the debt collector to collect money from me! What an experience that was and is…and it got me thinking. In the era of big data – wouldn’t a company with such a huge brand name know their customer whose been with them for a long time a lot better? Interestingly enough…no! Well, at least not from my experience.

There is a tremendous amount of talk around big data. Tremendous amount of talk on solutions relating to big data and how organizations can get organized to collect disparate data and analyze them for insights. All true. That said, I believe many are forgetting that technology is a mere enabler. Technology can’t get the job done without the right human intervention, guidance, rules, policies, etc…. Technology needs a companion. A companion by the name of common sense! And according to Lori Borgman in an article dated 15th of March 1998, had died. I argue it’s not dead but clearly there isn’t much in abundance. But apart from common sense, to be fair, there is a tremendous amount of data and a wide variety of sources such data come from. Trying to make sense of such data to enable business performance and great customer service is not easy. Marketers will need to determine how to influence a traditional business culture and ensure their organizations increase the focus on the science of marketing. In addition, marketers will increasingly need to understand technology or have some form of analytics skills. And to add to that, business leaders need to make big data analytics a core part that drives business decisions, marketing strategies and tradeoffs that are make to optimize scarce resource. In the era where consumers have the power, brands have the ability thru the digital  to gain some control back thru the use of big data analytics. More and more – IT and Marketing need to converge to leverage what the power of big data can do for businesses.

As we participate and grow in the digital era, we need to remember that we are dealing with human beings and not robots. And with human beings, there needs to be a human touch that makes sense. A touch where someone can have a rationale conversation and a great experience can be delivered. A touch where the competition can’t easily replicate as customer service takes time to build and it’s ingrained in the culture of the organization. A touch where customer service can be a competitive advantage and where the brand experience can transcend continents. What a brand stands for and the reputation is has earned in one continent – doesn’t guarantee the same in another. In fact, it raises expectations in the other continent and hence the bar is raised! Technology can help enable, empower and effect a great customer experience!

The era of Big Data presents organizations of all sizes and disciplines with a tremendous opportunity to understand their customers much better. It provides them with the ability to differentiate themselves in the conversations they can have with the consumer. It provides them with the ability to deliver relevant experiences and touch in a deliberate fashion that they could never do so in the past. But to win the consumer, you need to win the heart, even in the Digital Age. And to win the heart, you can’t only do that using technology alone. In a recent Times article, the issue talked about how President Obama’s election strategy, how he leveraged big data to understand the voters and how that than led to the campaign he launched – through both digital and non-digital means. Only then I realized that marketing and politics actually had something in common! But in order to win the hearts and minds of people, you need more than technology. You need people. You need to listen. You need common sense. And my worry is sometimes we become so dependent on automation we lose the basic elements of common sense.

So on my little saga, I reached out to the company in order for them to retract the letter they had sent me with their demand for payment. The letter had a figure that was incorrect. And the sum in question was an extremely small amount which eventually got established as an error. Apparently, it was system generated based on policy including handing it over to the debt collector! Till date, the letter hasn’t been retracted. I am patiently waiting for them to revert back to my lawyer.  My card has been reactivated. I didn’t hear back from the debt collector after the very first call I received where I highlighted to the individual that the claim didn’t make sense. This is my second such incident with a global brand that brings with them a global promise in customer service despite all the availability of years of customer data in their possession. All in all, a disappointing customer experience despite a more than 6 figure spending history with the card!

Technology for the sake of technology will not yield a good outcome. Technology needs to enable a great campaign and a great customer experience. Your brand is not what you think it is. Your brand is what the consumer says. We all know that…well not all. And if you have a brand promise and a brand experience in one part of the world that’s outstanding, be very careful – you’ll need to earn it in other parts of the world. Different cultures, different mental models and a different way of life exist across the world. Customer Service, in my opinion, is probably one of the most under-rated business strategies today. In the Information Age, human beings still want brands to win their hearts and their minds. Sometimes, it’s not rocket science. Sometimes, honestly – it’s just common sense. And common sense will be needed for a long time to come even through this Digital Revolution!

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