Yard signs

  • November 18, 2016
  • yardssignsIt’s been a rough couple of months and we should talk about something fun and not political, but CRM centric. I know! Let’s ask how the election influenced CRM. Seriously, there’s a nugget in there that ought to get us all thinking about business and keep your mind off that other stuff. Come on, it’ll be fun.

    I am not the only one who saw this but isn’t it amazing how the pollsters got the election prediction exactly wrong? How could that be? They used modern analytics, big data, and more buzzwords than a software salesman.

    It would be easy to say, as some have, that we need to look at our analytics packages with a degree of skepticism and do some careful recalibrating. But I say no, that’s not where we’re going to find answers. The answers reside in big data or more precisely almost-big-enough-data or almost-the-right-big-data.

    My colleague at the Enterprise Irregulars, Sameer Patel, pointed out, “Technology didn’t fail us. We ignored the technology and used phone polling. Our data science team here at Kahuna reminded me that phone polling response rates have dropped from 1/3 to as low as 1/20.”

    This implies that people who were targets of phone polls were either not interested in talking or possibly gave the answers that pollsters expected rather than saying what they really thought. The result could have easily been data that was in multiple ways not representative of the population. Clearly the results indicate something like this happened.

    It’s not just in politics that you see this phenomenon, it’s highly prevalent in business too and, as a matter of fact, the vendor community is contributing to the data dissonance as much as customers. As a researcher, I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to conduct a survey these days.

    Any survey results you see that quote a small population should make you skeptical. Getting a few hundred people to respond is so hard that you sometimes just have to take what you get and hope for the best. It’s no one’s fault. You are very busy and we create surveys with the ease of someone eating a bag of Doritos.

    Vendors don’t make things any easier when they conduct their own versions of the Net Promoter Score (NPS). The NPS methodology asks you to rate something on a scale of 1 to 10 with 9 or 10 being the key segment. So too many vendors browbeat customers into giving high scores and then publish the results as if the survey was impartial. Of course any sane customer will know the results are inaccurate based on just casual experience. Then vendors will wonder what’s wrong with the survey. But it’s not the survey, it’s a refusal to take in bad news.

    So here we are after many years of big data, still drowning in it and doing a mediocre job of turning it into usable information. It’s not our algorithms that are hurting us it’s our thumbs on the data scale that are turning our digital disruption into gibberish. I ran across a funny story recently in which a machine learning algorithm was trained to be racist just by following a certain person’s Twitter feed. All of this seems to reinforce the old IT adage of GIGO or garbage in, garbage out.


    There’s little point in spending big bucks on new digital analysis tools if we can’t bear the information it reveals. Make no mistake about it, that’s what we’re doing every time we browbeat customers into giving us rave reviews. With raves, we’re great and we don’t have to do the hard work of changing anything because, hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Right?

    As I wrote in one of my recent books if you want to know what your customers think, you have to ask them how they feel. Getting to the emotional core helps people to reveal much more than you’ll ever get by asking survey respondents to rate something on a scale of 0 to 10 because their answers often surprise even them. I know many good vendors that don’t want to hear this and they commission polls that provide quick snapshots of purely quantitative data that ultimately reveal nothing. You can still quantify the feelings ratings but it’s a little more work but for some tastes it’s less accurate. I disagree.

    But all this makes me think of election night listening to Chris Matthews on MSNBC discoursing on yard signs of all things. Matthews said that when you call people they might not tell you the truth about their beliefs or they might tell you what you want to hear instead. But a yard sign tells you exactly how someone feels because the act of putting one out says this is what I think and I am not ashamed to say it.

    To improve business and CRM we need to cultivate more yard signs.


    Published: 7 years ago