By Jon Walkenford,
Managing Director, Data Management at Clarity Insights. Jon brings more than 20 years of Data & Analytics consulting experience developing and implementing a variety of end-to-end information management solutions. He is a recognized subject matter expert in the design and implementation of solution architectures, data architecture, data resource management, metadata design and implementation.

Why data governance sets your vision on the customer-centric long game

Remember how relatable that Staples ad was a few years back? So relatable, in fact, it has become imbedded into popular culture as a reference for convenience:

People want the Easy Button.

Tapping into a universal human truth, the sentiment resonates for many aspects of technology implementation. A silver bullet, others may call it: businesses, much like consumers, expect immediate solutions when it comes to everyday challenges. These tendencies creep into logic and set expectations for more complex, multifaceted transformation, as well.

And while human behavior shows that small, yet specific markers of progress can go far to retain motivation toward long-term goals, updates behind the scenes that enable milestone achievement often go unnoticed and, as a result, are under-supported. We can’t keep pressing the Easy Button, creating numerous short bursts of dopamine only to realize we’ve now broken it altogether. Then what’s left for teams to harness?

The reality is a lot grittier. Take, for example, customer engagement. There are so many components to a well-laid customer engagement strategy, but the temptation to push for a one-and-done solution means that executives may lose interest and initiatives may lose steam when the realities of maintenance and ongoing oversight are required (and not conveyed up front). 

I had a conversation with some peers not too long ago, getting excited about the outcomes of an end-to-end customer engagement strategy; a 360-degree customer view. Things that feel deeply human at a service level — understanding the pain of a change in schedule, anticipating alternative needs and accompanying options, compensating for delays, innately perceiving preferences without being explicitly told, helping facilitate planning to make the most of a series of events and interdependencies connected to a single experience; in short, what makes a brand customer-obsessed — are all underpinned by data moves. To work in harmony, decisions must be made about how a data ecosystem can support the big dreams and bold outcomes that visionary companies seek. 

It’s possible, with the right components. The tricky part? There is no such thing as the Easy Button. If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re selling you something (a spin off the quote from The Princess Bride); something that’s doomed to fail. 

I’ve been working in this field for a long time, and the initiatives that fail are the ones that forget the following things: 

Think solutions versus tools. A shiny new tool can be a false Easy Button in disguise. Whether tools like CRM or BI solutions or even AI/ML, the tendency to buy tools promising quick fixes can do a lot of damage to your systems when considered in a vacuum to other data streams. If data governance, data quality, privacy/security, enterprise lifecycle data management (EDLM) and master data management (MDM) aren’t taken into consideration holistically at the point of purchase, these investments will be less effective.

Keep in mind what comes with growth. With how fast things change in today’s on-demand world and the pace of new data created, what’s done today on a project basis should augment broader data governance practices: because what’s merely a consideration now — (What happens when a customer falls outside of the current rules? Who is responsible for new customer profiles, new product types, and more? What happens down the line when new applications are introduced into a sequence?) — is an eventuality, in some form. Create systems that have staying power, while they’re being developed — not after the fact.

Don’t underestimate the behavioral elements of change management. The reason why an Easy Button is so appealing? It’s motivating. Like a Pavlovian response, even simply the idea of pulling the trigger can provide a sense of comfort. But customer engagement — and the systems that run it — aren’t a sprint, nor are they ever truly “complete”. Changing rules and responsibilities to be more efficient may ruffle feathers, and steady, gradual progress may produce less fanfare than major checkpoints. Forge on, and provide new incentives to trigger rewards and fuel positive response from your team. 

Process matters as much as technology. Often, clients come our way with a very specific problem in mind: recent acquisitions have shed light on inconsistencies in compiling and consolidating customer data, CRMs have merged, or other customer interactions have gone awry or aren’t possible because of limitations in their current data management. While the tools have gotten more sophisticated over time (see above caveat), it’s a lack of understanding of the process that makes most projects stumble. And while MDM projects can successfully zero in on customer or product-specific challenges, due diligence is necessary (and time-intensive) to evaluate systems as a whole: viewing a more complex data chain much like a product chain, understanding the source and associated activities and touchpoints tied to different incoming data. 

Measure, measure, measure. We may search in vain for the technology innovation equivalent of an Easy Button, but we won’t falter if we instead can apply the same enthusiasm to steady, ongoing efforts that support the same wow-worthy outcomes. When we set the right milestones, we can trick ourselves into thinking we’re pressing numerous, consecutive Easy Buttons by breaking down the complicated maneuvers and measuring progress at important checkpoints. Define ROI clearly through the lens of improved efficiency, cost savings, revenue gains, risk mitigation or regulatory compliance. Don’t lose sight of these targets as you move along: We’re not checking boxes, we’re validating purpose. 

Stakeholders must remain committed to the end result for checkpoints to maintain momentum: to both remain funded and properly staffed, while also addressing morale and visibility. This should be set top down: Executives, take note. 

Motivated to make customer engagement a long-game differentiator for your organization, propelled by smart data governance? Let’s talk.


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