Ask Your Customer!


By Samuel Greengard

It's no bulletin that businesses spend countless dollars, yen and Euros in search of customer insights. CIOs are increasingly working with CMOs to better understand online behavior through cookies, beacons and clicks. Organizations are also turning to social media and historical data to better connect the digital dots and embrace customer experience management.

But there's another path to enlightenment that seemingly escapes a large chunk of businesses: asking customers directly about their online preferences. Facebook and other social media sites have started to do this. Facebook now lets you "Take a Survey to Improve the Newsfeed." It displays posts that could appear in your feed and asks you for your opinions. Presumably, this helps Facebook adjust its algorithm to better suit your desire for weather updates over cute cat pictures or cupcake recipes over political rants.

I'm not sure why so few retailers have adopted a similar approach. Why not ask customers to rate items and express their preferences while they're shopping online? Why not display a dress, gadgets, books and music categories and ask shoppers whether they are interested or disinterested in a particular item or a style? At the same time, why not ask what types of items customers would like to view in e-mails and at the Website? Click an "X" and make an undesirable item vanish or use a sliding scale or buttons to provide feedback.

This customer-centric approach could work across a wide swatch of products and industries. Toss in a $5 credit or free shipping for completing a survey and a fairly significant number of customers will provide feedback. They come out ahead by viewing items that are more relevant and the business wins by serving up products that people are more interested in purchasing.

This isn't to say that clickstream data and other tools should go away. They can also serve as a valuable tool. However, based on the marketing messages I'm receiving and what I'm sometimes forced to view at online merchants, I can safely say the current system is deeply flawed. Other than a few superstars in the retailing arena, the billions of dollars businesses spent to better understand customers through analytics and predictive analytics is one giant whiff.

Ask and you shall learn.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight.