Guests – Robert Bates, Head of Decision Sciences, Currys & Chris Parker, Insights Director, Gymshark

Plus Scott Castle, VP/GM, Internal Analytics in Products, Sisense

Host: Natalie Cramp, Profusion CEO

When – Tuesday 02 Nov 13.00 GMT

Big thanks to our partners at Sisense and to Scott Castle in particular, and special thanks to our webinar guests Chris Parker of Gymshark and Robert Bates of Currys (the business formerly known as Dixons Carphone Warehouse) who provided a fascinating overview of the role of data in their businesses.

We touched on a number of subjects close to Profusion’s heart – not least the challenge of data literacy, so critical to cascading data to the front line and empowering decision making at all levels.

At the heart of this session was the relationship between traditional sources of insight and the growing role of data and augmented analytics. Of course this isn’t and should never be an either/or. Both have profoundly important roles to play in sustaining and growing a successful business.


Decision problems

Robert Bates set the scene for us, arguing that businesses today don’t have a data problem per se, they have more data than they know what to do with, the issue they have is a decisioning problem.

Understanding the importance of the relationship between business stakeholders and analytics, Currys have identified the critical importance of data translators and are investing in their capacity to translate business questions into the analytics space alongside an increased focus on systems thinking.

We have spoken before of the need for actionable insights – Robert added to that with reference to the levers that a business can pull, emphasising that we need to focus our analytical efforts on the things that we can change – using the levers in our organisational arsenal.

Both lines of thought only emphasise the importance of aligning and embedding data analytics in the organisational context, understanding the nature of the system/s in play and the constraints and possibilities for action.

A really interesting insight from Scott was the fact that, as Gartner report, only 30% of employees within organisations are touched by data analytics. If we are to move forward effectively that needs to change, we need to get data to the frontline to effectively support decision making, including among customer support and service personnel.

Effectively the brain’s trust at the centre of the organisation must be complemented by effective processes for disseminating data to where it can make the most positive impact.


Why augmented analytics?

The promise of augmented analytics as elucidated by Scott Castle, is to help businesses to shift the Business Intelligence lens from a rearview, retrospective, what just happened, approach, to a forward-facing function, anticipating future changes and trends and enabling the business to respond.

Augmented analytics is increasingly critical to success due to the sheer volume of data now being handled. Using automated data ingestion and ML and AI techniques to surface patterns in the data will enable you to move faster and more effectively than human operators possibly can.

Augmented analytics promises to accelerate decision making by transforming raw data and rapidly surfacing exceptions, anomalies, outliers and trends  through the use of ML and statistical techniques.

The approach and decisions made on the back of such insights is what will set businesses apart.


Abstracting ourselves to death?

One of the concerns surrounding this level of automation is whether we risk abstracting people out of the equation, of dehumanising our brands and businesses, of losing sight of the end customer in all their messy, glorious, infuriating, human complexity?

Scott made two very good points in response to that question, the first is especially important in the context of cascading data to the frontline of customer service and support.

In that scenario the aggregate, quantitative view surfaced by augmented analytics can be used to enrich and inform individual (qualitative) customer conversations by contextualising their circumstances and experiences against the wider dataset, moving us forward from empathy (not that empathy should be taken for granted) to a data-informed dialogue.


Getting the balance right

The second point sat well with the wider discussion as to the relationship between research and data.

For Scott it is critical that analysts and marketers don’t get too comfortable with the view from their best and most engaged customers but rather work to reach those prospects who may have dropped out of the process, or lapsed customers, to gain alternative perspectives and insights.

For Robert at Currys, this is consistent with an approach that seeks to fill the gaps in our understanding by reaching out to external, alternative data sources beyond our proprietary holdings. That could require primary research, access to external datasets, horizon scanning (trends) or similar.

Most important here is the appreciation that our data does not always hold all of the answers and we must be willing to go elsewhere to develop our understanding.

Chris at Gymshark was very clear that in his view data is fantastic in addressing the here and now with real-time data flows critical to dynamic optimisation. However, when it comes to brand building and story-telling, real-time data is far from the vital ingredient. What is needed here are direct stakeholder conversations, with a skilled researcher able to elicit deeper insights into motivations and needs.

There is also a concern that with a singular focus on data we will only ever cater to the mainstream, the norms, the status quo. That is the nature of patterns of course. If we are to reach out to outsiders or to think about what comes next we need a more finely hewn lens, we need to dig into the experiences of minority audiences – especially critical in terms of inclusion.

The vexed question of intuition

Inevitably we come to the relationship between data and intuition. Chris of Gymshark explained how his business works to combine these two approaches under the umbrella of ‘focused intuition’, something akin to the famous Netflix mantra of ‘informed intuition’, and an approach that helps the business to retain its entrepreneurial culture, and edge, by encouraging people to find the human moments of truth that can then be optimised at scale by leveraging data analytics.

Within this approach data is used to effectively create shortlists of possible actions, to set parameters rather than prescriptions for decision making, enabling intuition to inform the final course of action.

For Robert at Currys retaining at least this level of intuition ‘is what keeps us creative’ while explaining that this speaks to the ‘dark arts’ of retail which has always combined analytics with experience, instinct and intuition. These are the elements that truly differentiate businesses, that can add that touch of sparkle that makes them stand out from the crowd.

As we know this is exactly the challenge now being discussed across the CX field, when everyone is optimising to the same standards of CX how do we differentiate our propositions, how do we cut through to the consumer and earn their business, perhaps even their loyalty?

Robert went on to make a very powerful point – why is it that we are so keen to allow machine learning and other AI techniques to learn from their experience and to follow their informed instincts, but we want to deny human agents the same capacity?


Wrapping up

In summary this was a really interesting discussion, massively benefiting from the frontline retail experience of Chris and Robert complemented by the analytical insights and expertise provided by Scott at Sisense. If you’ve not yet listened to the webinar you can access the recording on-demand here. Trust me we’ve barely scratched the surface of the discussion here.

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