While checking emails the other day, I came across a new message from a reputable professional business organization to whom I subscribe in order to receive product updates and fresh developments in my industry.
The organization, an American company wanted to wish me a happy thanksgiving as the United States embarks on their version of the annual ham and turkey-fest. At first, I didn’t think any more about their note after reading it. I skimmed through it really but I was pleased that they took the time to extend this nicety to me. I appreciated it. It reminded me of another example of how to build stronger community relations with subscribers. They took the time to touch base with me. They didn’t have to. But they did. Cool.
But they messed up a little and missed one hell of an opportunity. To be fair, I messed up a little too. This experience, however, sparked a desire for me to write about the treatment of data, analysis of information and reach out programs.
I am a Canadian, living in Canada, working for a Canadian organization. My side company is also Canadian. I do not have any American businesses.
My question was: “Where was my message of goodwill when I celebrated my thanksgiving here in Canada back in October?” I shook my head a little.
To assess the potential factors contributing to this phenomena, I called up the web site of this American company and logged in to check my profile settings. Email address with “.ca” domain? Check. Organization with the word “Canada” in it? Check. City set to “Ottawa”? Check. Country? Oops. Nothing there. Darn. Could this be why I, as a Canadian living in Canada, got their American-flavoured message? Maybe. I don’t know. I am not the data analyst for that company. I am not blaming them, pointing fingers at any body or being negative. I goofed by failing to provide what I now consider a valuable piece of information. Period. I like to think that I contributed to this company’s missed opportunity. How are they supposed to know which country I live in based on my profile settings? They can’t. They didn’t have this information. Or at least with the existing information in their system they couldn’t decipher my country. Or could they?
However, I asked myself these two questions: “If I was in their shoes, what would I have done different? Would I, as their database administrator have even known that I was Canadian and don’t celebrate thanksgiving in November, but in October up here in the Great White North?” Granted, I acknowledge that they may have limited resources to plan specific messages for specific times of year and therefore have constraints on customizing outreach messages to specific subscribers. But really, if I were their CEO and I received feedback about this missed opportunity about communicating the right messages at the right time for the right reasons to the right people on the other side of the border, I would have been very concerned at best, livid at worst. Call a data meeting, let’s go and fix this, eh!
So I wanted to use this event to explore the concept of data mining and using existing data, regardless of gaps to “go deep” to yield actionable results that lead to better decisions. I could complain and rant but I prefer to use these things as motivation to find opportunities for improvement in life, and business.
In my opinion, in most cases you can’t rely on just one column in a database to mould your reach out activities. I acknowledge that in my case having a value for “Canada” in the country field of my profile would have been a factor to making a very simple decision to send me a message back in October. I would have even been OK with any decision by this company to not communicate their message to me in November because they didn’t have this value. I can only presume that they only extracted email addresses of active subscribers who granted permission to allow messages to be blasted to them! This is the factor, I think that could be construed as a mess up.
So what are the opportunities that could have been addressed?
Not to put too much of fine point on it, check the process for extracting data out of the user profile database for supporting programs like mass email blasts. What’s the goal of the message? What values are extracted to support the action to get the message out? If the sole inputs into making this decision are email address and other variables like status of account and permission to contact subscribers, I believe this data led to a decision that was, well, wrong.
So let’s build the data mining concept from here using a fictional dialogue to conceptualize how to possibly handle missing data that guide behaviours and improve the process.
Manager: “Which profiles are US and which ones are Canada? Should we send a thanksgiving message in November to our Canadian friends? When is the Canadian thanksgiving anyway?”
Staff member: “October.”
Manager: “Ah, OK. Don’t send the message to colleagues with Canada in the country field.”
Database administrator: “But what if they don’t have a country identified?”
Manager: “They all should have a country in their profile. Hmm. Check their email domain. If it has .ca in it, assume they are in Canada.”
Staff member: “Really? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous and misleading. Don’t Canadians and other non-US internet users have email accounts from the likes of Gmail and Hotmail which are US-based and do not reflect where they live?”
Manager: “Yes, good point. Then let’s reduce the risk and only send our message to users who have US in the country component of their profile.”
Database administrator: “OK. But maybe we should also issue an alert in the coming days to our subscribers to verify and update their profile details. Maybe we can ask the developers to make the country field mandatory so when our users decide to update their profile as a result of that notice, they are forced to enter one if it’s empty. Perhaps we can also disable accounts that have not been accessed over the past two years, with a notice to users first though.”
Manager: “Yes. Good point. Make it so. Do all of that stuff. And let’s setup regular reports so we can monitor data better.”
While this bit of script won’t ignite a desire to make a Hollywood film, the dialogue serves as an example where opportunity for improvement could be driven by analytical-type conversations. The dialogue presented is by no means truly analytical in nature. But you get the drift.
I also wonder why subscribers need to complain or provide feedback first in order to prompt change. Yes, those types of enquiries are valuable and are still required to assess the need for doing things differently and driving activities to make things better. Innovative, analytical and change-driven business cultures don’t sit back and wait for customer feedback only. They just assess things naturally and use feedback proactively rather than reactively. In this case, I assume there was a push to get a message out and someone either forgot to ask good questions about cultural sensitivities and the like or there was just too much pressure to deliver something. Often the mentality is to get a message out, and deal with issues later…if they arise. Old school.
Based on well-designed reports, deeper questions asked of upper management and operational staff can be answered. I am sure many companies now operate using analytics embedded in their core culture. Some companies are working to get to that level. Some aspire to become analytical. Do all businesses need to be analytical? Probably not. But if your business involves sending out messages to clients on a regular basis, those activities might inspire a need to investigate the analytical side of things. There is help for considering and assessing a change.
Resources are limited and we can only achieve so many things with those resources. Thinking analytically first is harder than it seems especially in business cultures not akin to having to think analytically, even strategically across divisions and business lines. After all, there is staff who are responsible for strategy and business analytics as part of their day jobs. Even so, it takes time, commitment and resources to shift to an analytical business culture. But with insights into data becoming increasing available and easier to get to through new tools, it could be time to rethink and shift tactics about how data is managed, consumed, analyzed and actioned. It’s a lot of work. Yields and returns can be phenomenal though.
Let me leave you with this scenario. Imagine sending a presumably innocent business message out to recipients; a message that is viewed and taken as counter, or perhaps insensitive to political, economic, social and cultural factors in some business societies. Some actions could have dire business consequences and I will leave an analysis of those for another story.
The message I got was a small hiccup and I won’t complain. I will just go into my profile and update my country code, hoping that in the future my profile will be used analytically next time. I will use the experience of my recent event as input into my business analytics stories. If I get other messages again like the one I received recently, so be it. It isn’t the end of the world or a sign of the apocalypse. I would have liked to have received a tailored message back in October. A Canadian turkey is no different from an American turkey. We just have parties and meals around the celebrity of said turkey’s at different times of the year.
Other folks might not respond or react so objectively, though.
The message was innocent. The gesture was genuine. I appreciate the folks at the American company reaching out to me. If they aspire to be analytical or not, it’s not for me to say or force upon them. They take actions as they fit. It’s their business. It’s their corporate data.
Remember though, a good experience may be spread to a couple of friends, colleagues and associates. A bad experience may be told to tens, even hundreds of people depending on the motivation of the individual receiving an potentially insensitive email. Forget that it was delivered with the most innocent of intent. Pressing a little button labelled “Send” with alleged little analytical thought put into the activity leading up to the effort could have repercussions later on.
I would enjoy hearing from you about any experience you had with alleged untimely or insensitive business email messages sent to you.
In the meantime, America, have a Happy Thanksgiving. I wish all my friends and colleagues in the USA all the best.