Never mind the coming data flood, are you using the data you have?

The headlines lately are all about Big Data. However, many organizations don’t execute on small data effectively. It always amazes me when I hear stories of how little value is placed on the mining and exploration of data, no matter the company or the industry. Worse yet, companies think they value it, but aren’t dedicating nearly enough resources to producing truly actionable intelligence from it.  This may be because the cost of housing data is really expensive, but shouldn’t you want a return on that investment aside from a data holding tank? It also could be that the wrong people are watching your data.

Undertaking a giant task of looking for stories in data is daunting, so start small. Look for things in the data that match your existing knowledge first. This will give you and those to whom you are providing data some comfort. Data is like a hiking trail, once you go down a path, keep going until the story in the data stops. By then, you should have many other connections to explore. In prior lives, I was always the data guy, no matter my official role. I would explore the data queries (searches) of those that came before me and puzzle together what I was looking for. Once I did that, I was off and running. There wasn’t a stock or purchasing optimization project I didn’t have the ability to gather data for. Mining the data for those projects gives you experience on finding other useful information. Most likely you have someone in your own organization that would like the opportunity to do this for you. Give them a couple hours to see what they can do.

Other considerations:

  • Everything is data: purchase orders, sales orders, parts returns, core returns, technician repair data, parts purchases, customer invoices, customer payments, warranty data, employee time off, fleet composition, etc. All of these sources have stories.
  • Data quality matters…a lot. If you are reporting on data that is garbage, it can do more harm than good. Audit the data that is input and make sure it is useful by standardizing inputs where possible.
  • Utilize subject matter experts for the data mining projects, NOT just database IT personnel unless they are the same people. A technical person without subject matter expertise can lead you in the wrong direction.
  • Ensure your reports give you the data you need and are easily accessible by everyone who needs them. If not, why not?
  • It is dangerous to have one person control all reporting or data.
  • Make time for implementing actionable data projects. Producing reports without a goal is a waste of time.
  • Internal staff who know what they are doing are 10 times more valuable than expensive reporting software systems with recognizable names. Listen to your staff.

The bottom line is data can be a nebulous and scary term. It makes people uncomfortable –sometimes because it can produce stories that defy an expected narrative. Don’t be afraid of it, using it effectively can head off problems before they make the light of day, help you stay more competitive, discover a customer’s unmet need and optimize products and processes. If these things aren’t happening at your organization, explore options to make your data usage more effective.

Trucks Parts & Service May 2017 Article by Lynn Buck

Are your automated systems customer friendly?

In the last couple months between work and personal business, I have needed to contact a number of companies for various things. This has meant interfacing with company voicemail and websites, with good and, unfortunately, far too many not so good experiences.

I am all in favor of automated voice systems/websites where you can access information you need as long as two requirements are met: 1) efficient (if you need to go through 10 levels of questions- probably not efficient) and 2) effective (if system cuts you off- probably not effective). When working correctly, it helps speed up results, allows you to access data 24/7 and you don’t have to play phone tag.  However, I think you should always have the option of speaking with someone in person.

Most good companies spend lots of time and money to ensure that people who interface with customers in person or over the telephone are trained on proper customer interactions including the most effective way to get the customer the information they need — be it to sell a part, resolve an issue or get them to the correct person to answer a question.

We all rely on some type of automated system to communicate with our customers. But, I am not sure we are spending enough time making sure they are working effectively and more importantly, not making customers upset. In part, I think those who set up these systems are not orientated to thinking about the customer experience.

I have interfaced with companies’ automated telephone systems that indicate they will take verbal or key punched answers to questions, only to find out that they do not take verbal responses and cut you off as you are key punching your responses.  I recently called someone back who had left me a message. I got their voicemail, left a message and then the system gave me a message that the person to whom I left a message no longer worked there! Really? – they just called me 20 minutes ago. Turned out the message was for the previous employee associated with that line.

The other day, I was logging into a website and needed to set up a password. I was prompted to have at least 8 characters, a combination of letters, numbers and a symbol in my password. I attempted the password several times and the system repeatedly told me my password did not meet the requirements. I assumed I had misread the instructions or fat fingered my password, but after trying again, it still didn’t work.  I called the company (waited 20 minutes), explained the situation, provided my proposed password and was told, “Oh, you can’t have three numbers in a row.”  I told him the instructions did not say that – he said, “Yes, we need to change that.” He stayed on the line as I attempted it again; still didn’t work. He then said, “I forgot, you can’t use ‘!’ as a symbol.” I replied, “The instructions did not give me any restrictions.” He said, “Yes we need to change that”. I wonder if they ever changed it.

Since most of us don’t typically ever use our own customer interface automated systems, they tend not to get the review they probably need. Do they operate the way they should? Are they helping or hurting our image with the customer? So, if you have never or not in a while called your company or attempted to use your company’s online systems, I would suggest you see how they work or don’t. Hopefully, you won’t be surprised.

- Truck Parts & Service April, 2017 Article by John Blodgett