Organizations and their Customers: The Big Disconnect

Gerry McGovern gives the keynote at a Content Strategy Forum in London.
Big data collection and analysis is a good marketing tool, but it cannot replace the art of listening to customers

By Christopher Biddle, President
Biddle Communications & Public Relations LLC

One of the wisest new age communicators I know is an Irish web-content wizard by the name of Gerry McGovern. I met him at one of his “killer content” seminars in NYC about ten years ago, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

If you haven’t heard of him, McGovern designs customer-focused, task-oriented websites for Fortune 100 companies and other corporate behemoths.

McGovern recently sent an email to his followers about what he calls the “The Organization Customer Disconnect.”

In it he raises a point so profoundly important, and so widely misunderstood, that it should be mandatory reading for any business or organization that wishes to thrive.

McGovern’s thesis is this: Even though marketers today collect and analyze scads of “big data” about customers’ buying habits, product preferences, online activities and God knows what else (I suspect they know how many trips we make to the toilet daily), this techno-knowledge does not give them empathy for their target, the human customer.

Empathy Lacking

Says McGovern: “The big thing missing in Big Data is empathy. There’s lots of data on customers, but real human, living customers are not to be found in data. The irony is that to create Big Data the customer needs to be interacting with technology instead of with an employee. In many organizations, fewer and fewer employees have direct interaction with customers.”

I would add one point to this observation. There are many organizations that don’t use big data well, if at all, to understand their customers. They, too, are often of touch with the very people on whom their success and survival depends.

It’s all too easy for organizations to see the world through the prism of their own immediate concerns and ego. This “organization-centric” point of view, painfully evident in customer communications, directly conflicts with their ability to be empathetic.

I have worked for many organizations over my 40-year career, most in the news or association industries, and I can assure you from personal experience that this is a common plague.

IBM-Econsultancy Study

McGovern references numerous studies to support his argument. These studies find that most customers believe they are misunderstood—or not listened to—by the very organizations that claim to understand them so well.

One such study, published this year by IBM and Econsultancy, “found that the ‘biggest takeaway was the disconnect between how marketers perceive the job they’re doing and how consumers perceive that job,’” says McGovern. While most brands in this one study felt they did a good job of understanding their customers, only 1 in 3 of those customers agreed.

Concludes McGovern: “Developing an understanding of and empathy for the customer is the single greatest challenge and opportunity that organizations face today… Customers are radically changing both in the way they think and in the tools they use. Many organizations will be left in the dust if they don’t quickly wake up and catch up.”

Biddle’s Bottom Line: Big data collection and analysis has its place, but it can never replace the art of truly listening to one’s customers.

About Chris Biddle

With 35 years of experience as a hands-on communicator and PR practitioner, President Christopher Biddle is well positioned to help New Jersey-based companies tell their stories and get the results they want. An exceptional writer and editor, Chris is also a strategic thinker who has a proven track record in his ability to conceive and execute goal-driven communications projects both large and small. Chris was Vice President in charge of Communications with the New Jersey Business & Industry Association from 1992 until his retirement in 2012. Contact: Website | More Posts

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