Insights Aren't Enough
In This Issue
Anyone who has done any sort of data collection or analysis in the business world has almost certainly been asked to produce insights. "We're looking for insightful data," is a typical statement I hear from clients on a regular basis.
But for some reason, people don't talk much about getting useful data. There's an implicit assumption that "insightful data" and "useful data" are the same thing.
They aren't, and it's important to understand why.
- "Insightful" data yields new knowledge or understanding about something. It tells you something you didn't already know.
- "Useful" data can be applied towards achieving some goal. It moves you closer to your business objective.
Data can be either "insightful" or "useful," or both, or neither. Insightfulness and usefulness are completely different things.
For example, if you discover as part of your customer research that a surprisingly high percentage of your customers are left-handed, that may be insightful but it's probably not useful (unless you're planning to market specifically to southpaws).
Or if your survey data shows that some of your customer service reps have consistently higher customer satisfaction than others, that's very useful information, but it's probably not insightful (you probably expected some reps to score higher than others).
The best data is both insightful and useful, but that's rare. Most companies have enough of an understanding of how their business works that true insights are unusual, and true insights which can be immediately applied towards a business goal are even less common.
And of course data which is neither useful nor insightful serves no purpose (but is distressingly common).
When it comes down to useful data vs. insightful data, I tend to prefer usefulness over insightfulness. Data which is useful, even if it doesn't reveal any new insights, still helps advance the goals of the company. That's not to imply that insights have no value: even a useless insight can be filed away in case it becomes important in the future.
But whether you're looking for insights or usefulness, remember that they are not the same thing.
Think about what happens to a piece of glass when you hit it too hard: it shatters into a million pieces. We say that glass is brittle because it breaks before it bends.
Not all materials do this. Steel, for example, is likely to bend (maybe a lot) before it actually breaks. This is why we build bridges out of steel and not glass.
It's useful to apply the concept of brittleness to the world of business. Customer experiences, like bridges, are designed to handle a certain amount of strain before they start to fail.
When things start to go wrong, a brittle experience is likely to go catastrophically wrong for the customer or the company (or both). On the other hand, if the process is flexible enough to bend a bit and handle the unusual situation, it may not be that big of a deal.
For example, air travel today is very often a brittle experience. When everything goes well (as it usually does), you get to your destination on-time and with at least some dignity intact.
But if your travel plans go even slightly awry, the airline experience quickly goes from smooth to a stressful mess. A brief thunderstorm at your departure airport means there's a long line of planes waiting to take off, and you sit on the ground for an hour or two. That departure delay means you miss your connecting flight. The next flight to your destination is overbooked, so you wind up spending the night at your connecting city waiting for a flight with an open seat to take you to your destination.
What started out as a minor hiccup (the brief thunderstorm) quickly turned into a stressful multi-day experience because the system was too overloaded and too inflexible to handle even minor disruptions without it spiraling out of control. That's brittle: small problems become big problems and the whole thing goes very wrong for some passengers.
It's worth examining all elements of the customer experience under the lens of brittleness. Of course we expect that most of the time things will go smoothly for most customers, so the "normal" experience needs the most attention. But even the best-designed system won't be able to handle every situation.
So what happens when a customer has a problem? Are you flexible enough to deal with it gracefully? Or does the customer experience shatter like glass?