I like to read what the most important brands in Spain share on social media. I’m curious about how big companies extend their culture to the online world. I often find that digital refreshes the image I had of those brands. In more than one occasion, it improves it. I must admit that there is a long list of brands that do it  badly to very badly in the offline world, but in the online their performance is from good to very good. Actually, this post is not intended to analyse the level of consistency of the brands in the off and online worlds.  It seeks to understand another aspect. Almost all these great brands that operate in Spain mention, write or share content about Big Data and personalization in their digital accounts. These are two issues that today are hotter than ever, and their development will determine, to a large extent, the success or failure of brands in the immediate future.

If data is the black gold of the digital era, putting it into value for the customer is the diamond. If the information does not render a benefit for the person who generates it, we will face a complex scenario both for brands and customers. If you work honestly, benefits both tangible and intangible will be substantial. Eight out of ten executives in Spain consider that Big Data is “very important” or “extremely important”, according to Accenture. In order to elaborate further, I want to share some examples in which Big Data and personalization cross my path as a user of some of those brands.

 

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I‘ve had a bank account in La Caixa / CaixaBank for many years. And they have all my data: the transactions I do, (that is, what I spend in), transfers, payments with cards, ATM withdrawals, deposits, and all the bank etcetera you can think of. A few days ago I received a call from the bank in the morning. As I was in a meeting and could not take the call, I called back at noon. “Thank you for getting back to us,” a very polite voice said. “Hello,” I said, “Since you called me several times, I wondered if there was any problem …”. “No, don’t worry. Actually, I called because the bank is offering a very interesting offer.” The very interesting offer was a TV, Samsung, I believe, with a super flat or curved screen and several inches big, (I can’t remember how many). I was stunned. The caller sounded older and very polite, and I felt bad about hanging up, so I kept listening. “It’s a great opportunity because you can buy it in several instalments and it is a very good TV …” The man had enough attitude, but I wondered what he was thinking: he, someone who was probably closer to retirement than at the beginning of his career, having to call the customers from his bank to offer them televisions. I thanked him very much for his time and information and he bid me farewell with a politeness and gentlemanliness from bygone days.  As I was finishing the call I was beside myself, I couldn’t believe it. The call from the bank was neither to offer a line of credit to internationalize my business or a loan to grow my business, nor an offer to diversify my portfolio, or whatever banking etcetera you can think of. They called me to offer me a TV. If they had applied the Big data they talk about so much and the personalization they advertise so much, the three of us -the gentleman who called me, the bank and me- wouldn’t have wasted valuable minutes of our lives. What’s more, the bank’s reputation in terms of the relationship with the customer (me, in this case) is not only impaired as a result, it’s slowly falling apart. Because deep down, what the bank conveys is that it’s only interested in meeting its own business goals, not mine. They are not even interested in shared goals. If they really put the information I generate into value and gave it a reasonable treatment, personalization surely would lead us to do more and better things together. Meanwhile, the win-win concept has not arrived to my bank yet.

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Example number two. I have Movistar adsl, television, mobile phone, landlines, I think I have almost everything Movistar. I live just 30 kilometres from Madrid and the adsl I have has an upload speed that is less than 500 kb (not megabites, kb) and a download speed of about 800 kb. In both cases they don’t even reach a megabyte. Let me say it again: 2016, 30 km from Madrid, Europe, adsl fails to reach a speed of one megabyte. Of course the contract that you pay is for up to 6 megabytes. I can’t tell you that they lied to me because they didn’t lie to me, but to pay for an adsl service that does not reach a megabyte the same price as those who get 10 or 20 or 200 megabytes is a bit cruel. But I must admit that Movistar heard my complaints and sent someone over more than once to review the situation and to apologize because the high-speed fibre does not get to our area yet, for reasons beyond us, but when it comes, it will be fantastic. And so we’ve had almost 6 years of “rural” adsl so far. At around the same time, our mobile phones’ permanence clause expired so I called Movistar to see my options for renewal. They answered my call as if I was a Martian calling from another planet. You feel as if switching to another operator is not the best option, it’s the only one. But before that, I wondered more than once that since there’s so much Big Data and so much future based on personalization, why doesn’t Movistar get a message saying something like: “Customer Andy Stalman is finishing his contract with us. He has mobile, landline, adsl, TV, etc. it would be advisable to hold him. ” But I wake up from my fantasy world and I find out that any competing operator who doesn’t know me nor my data or background is offering me a better deal. It’s funny because few companies have more data from its customers than Movistar. And if they put it into value, it must be essentially for them, because I don’t see them putting it into value for their customers. But hey,  every time I travel they send me a text message to offer travel insurance. But never to offer anything that is really useful, thinking about what I use or need.

After trying unsuccessfully to”connect”with Movistar offline several times, I resorted to Movistar’s social networks online. The social media team at Movistar is extraordinary. But everything ends when they have to transfer the “issue” to the sales team, and at that moment my admiration falls apart. It seems that neither personalization nor data are important: “This is our offer”, they say, no matter how much you consume, how long you’ve been a customer, how much you’ve been paying, etc. And you see that they give you the same offer that is published everywhere and that it’s not a “personalized” offer. And so I start to give up as I read on Twitter about the importance for brands of a good implementation of Big Data and specially, personalization. And I remember that someone once told me that a loyal customer is 10 times more profitable than a new customer. Why do people don’t take care of what they have?

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Third example. I fly a lot. My work takes me to many places. Iberia and its subsidiaries are almost my weekly means of transportation. This week, while flying from Stockholm to Madrid, the purser of the flight, iPad in hand, came to greet me very politely. It was the second time in 4 years that they “personalized” the flight offline. But there is a giant gap online: Iberia has been doing a fantastic job in social media for years. But its website is not up to it. It seems that they don’t register my activity nor my travels, my destinations, or my interests; let’s just say, they register almost nothing. And it’s a shame. I was thinking about how much Iberia would win with a customer like me if they had an interface and a system similar to Amazon. I mention Amazon because they know how to make customers feel unique and feel that they know and understand them. And if Iberia has that same system, it doesn’t show, and worst, they don’t let it show.

I have been travelling to the same destinations for years, rather frequently to some of them. I never received an email, tweet, email, letter or anything related to my most frequent destinations with offers, promotions, or simply, information. I think of all the Big Data I offer to Iberia and wonder what they do with so much data if they don’t apply it. The true value of the data is to apply it to the small details in the relationship with the customer. Thus, gaining in loyalty, respect and customers engaging in positive word of mouth, which is good for the brand. But they don’t apply it. And what is personalization?  You know when you check in and you always choose an aisle seat? Wouldn’t it be great if the airline, by default, always offered you an aisle seat? It’s a very basic example and easy to understand for everyone.

I mention these three examples because they are three of the major “Spanish” brands. They are three of the biggest companies, and two of them are in a clear dominant position in their specific sectors. But these situations I describe also happen to me with Repsol, McDonald’s, Aena, Renfe, Banco Popular, Adif, Línea Directa, Iberdrola, with almost all the companies with which I interact periodically. Someone could say, “Why would they want to improve the service and the relationship with the client if  you still use them regularly?”. And up to a certain point it’s cruel that things are that way, but they are. But what if they realized it’s good business to treat their customers well, serve them, pamper them, hear them?. Then they would do it, even if it were only for business. And the privileged position they enjoy would be more profitable and we would all be happier.

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Lucy, from the cafeteria in front of my office, knows it. And every day her “algorithm” works perfectly. Juan, the guy from the restaurant I visit regularly, also knows it and his “CRM” is magnificent. Their Big Data is everything for them because for a small business there is nothing more powerful than establishing strong links with their customers. Links that are “personal” increase loyalty and therefore, revenue. You don’t have to be big to use this mix of data + personalization, rather, you have to be small.

Clearly, these examples are small details for many CEOs. Small details are precisely the foundation of any big brand. The gap between the internal and external perceptions is growing bigger despite new technologies. In the United States the company Pragmetrix found out that 80% of CEOs believe their company provides a superior customer experience and that only 8% of their customers agree.

I think the Big data + personalization phenomenon is irreversible and that all companies will have to learn how to put information into value, all the while trying not to break user privacy laws (a utopia?). Most of all, it’s all about transforming the data into shared value, both for the company and the client, not only for the company. If both benefit from it, everybody wins.

Every time I make a purchase, I make a call or take a trip, I think about how much more benefit CaixaBank, Movistar, Iberia and me could get, but I keep seeing brands benefiting without (apparently) caring about making customers benefit too.

I hope that in the near future, all this becomes a bad memory from a recent past. And that this present time, in which the on and off fuse with each other, brings about a new scenario in the brand-customer relationship. A scenario in which everybody wins.

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