Its The Little Things That Matter

Do we really need big data?

I hate to ask this question since I make my living writing about the value of data analysis and how foolish executives are for ignoring this treasure trove of consumer information. It’s kind of like biting the hand that feeds you.

But in the push for big data are we ignoring the little encounters? The issue came up recently in an interview with Michael O’Leary, the abrasive chief executive of Ryanair who once threatened to shoot any management consultant that showed up at his door. This attitude seems to have rubbed off on employees. If any of you have flown Ryanair you know what I mean. It’s cheap, but customer service was virtually non-existent with flight crews that gave new meaning to the word “surly.” So much for the friendly skies.

Things have changed for the better and the reason is not reams of customer complaints or lengthy analyses, but O’Leary being accosted by irate customers at McDonald’s when he was trying to have a meal with his kids.

I sometimes wonder, as do others in the industry, whether information provided by new technology is too much of a 30,000-foot view and whether retailers are getting further away from their customers, rather than closer. Data is interesting and necessary but colorless. You want to know how you’re doing? Ask a mother with a toddler in her cart what you can do better, or that stay-at-home dad who’s taking over the grocery shopping or those millennials whose lives are being so well-chronicled these days.

The lesson here is that close encounters are sometimes the best kind.

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