Who’s Hiding Behind Your Data?

Tina Nayak
Today, we often look at data as a primary success factor. We equate data to growth. But the precision with which startups are able to execute on their data analytics usually comes later in their lifecycle, when they have more mature processes and tools.

Data is critical. But what we all forget is that the data we stare at every day is nothing but real users hiding behind those numbers. Data is always an abstraction of those real users. So the next time you’re so focused on looking at sophisticated reports, think about the human emotion behind that data.

When you properly understand your users, you can confidently build the right product or take the right decision at the right time. It’s just that simple!

Essentially, there are two fundamental pillars of growth – data and your users. A startup’s success depends on how well we nail these two. Once you get a good understanding of both, you can pretty much answer any question with ease.

Data on it’s own can never really be a holistic indicator of true insights for meaningful user decisions.

While data is extremely meaningful and valuable, what your data doesn’t always tell you is, why.

In this essay, I aim to remind you of the common yet unnoticed mistakes we all tend to make with data repeatedly and how we can improve on them with just a little empathy.

#1. Data is over-indexed

Don’t get me wrong, I love data. It’s a gold mine. Businesses often bank on data as their ladder to success. Except that it takes a real goldsmith to handle the goldmine that is data. When you have data by your side, you pretty much have the power to influence any decision.

But what one must keep in mind is that, with this power also comes a lot of responsibility.

In one of the previous companies I worked for, a senior data analysts laptop cover flashed a sticker that read:

“If you torture data long enough it will confess to anything.”
-Ronald H. Coase, renowned British Economist
It was a reminder to those who came to him desperately seeking answers to questions around engagement drops or falling conversion rates; ‘Be careful what you ask for. You have a responsibility. Are you seeking the truth or looking for skewed validations?’

Skewed validations are something to watch out for. Far too many times, I’ve encountered team members from all levels looking to find data to support their hypothesis, no matter what the truth of the user actually is. Qualitative data was never consulted or appreciated.

I often found myself in shock. Isn’t that the obvious thing to do – to get user input as early as possible? Apparently, it isn’t. Alex Turnbull, the CEO, and Founder at Groove, agrees:
“Instead of digging in and talking to our customers and getting qualitative feedback, we — I — simply made bad decisions because I was stressed that the numbers weren’t looking so good.”
The risk here lies in getting obsessed with supporting arguments, self-promotions, and recognitions instead of chasing what matters, i.e., what is good for your users and as a result the company’s growth.

Data has immense power. Use it with caution. Not just yourself but also ruthlessly questions and look beyond the data that is brought to you.
#2 Build data empathy into your decisions

When you step into a startup, you are likely to see employees stare at sophisticated data dashboards made in Tableau or Power BI. On a smaller scale perhaps a simple dashboard on Google sheets. 

“84% of customers say being treated like a person, not a number, is very important to winning their business.”
The truth is that the data dashboards we stare at every day are nothing but real users, humans like you and me. Whether it’s Google Analytics, or performance metrics or user behaviour tools like Amplitude, Mixpanel, they are in essence thousands of user interactions & touchpoints hiding behind those numbers.

Let’s say you see a cluster of data representing say failed transactions; what could that be telling you about the user? Several inferences, but the most prominent one that I’ve seen is this – a frustrated customer who saw value in your product and didn’t get to buy it. It’s also likely she will nor recommend you to her friends or not come back.

Here’s another example,

What can an increase in conversions imply?
It not only means that your campaign or funnel is working well, but it also means that your user is perhaps happy and excited about using your product and if all goes well will be happy to share with her network.
Ultimately for the ones who truly win the customer are the ones who will pick up the phone and talk to them.
A simple empathetic question like this can open a treasure of insights and possibly product of experience improvements – ‘I understand that your transaction failed. It must have been frustrating, we are here to fix it. How may we help? What problems did you face?’

Consequently, also remember to get feedback from happy customers. They will tell you all the things you are doing right. Those validations are powerful and will point you in the direction of your next growth opportunity.

Your dashboard, your funnel metrics, all of it, are real human interactions waiting to tell you more.

#3 Understanding your users not only improves a data point, but it can also impacts your entire business (your entire dashboard)
Users are the heart of our business. It is in our interest to spend time with them and get to know them in great depth. The more we know them the more we understand their problems and the better we are able to cater to their unmet needs. According to the State of the Connected Customer report by Salesforce Research2, 76% of consumers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

When we understand our users deeply, we improve our bottom line consistently and repeatedly.

Why? Because you focus on delivering value every single time.

When we make it our priority and a habit to understand our users and deliver value what do you think might happen?

Business metrics will improve and so will the bottom line.

User empathy will translate into our metrics, and the results will be evident. Here are some examples of data with empathy
When your users enjoy your interactions. Engagement will increase.

Your user will want to hear more from you. Why? Because you bring value. Your open and response rates will go up

  • When you build trust with your users, they will reward you. Your sales, subscriptions will go up. Even better they will tell more people. Your product adoption will go up.

  • When you build a consistent and trusted experience, you make it harder for your user to leave. Your retention rate and churn improves

  • Talking to your users will inform you of what they want to hear and where you can target more customers. Key channels are found that you can use to boost your conversion.

  • You will find hidden insights that will give you a significant edge over your competitors.

  • And the biggest benefit of all, you will never run out of actionable ideas. You will have a continuous flow of new product ideas and relevant and more meaningful problems to solve and eventually monetize.

  • Your users will share different ways you can improve your current product and user journeys. That way you can launch and scale only what’s meaningful and not something that was born in the confines of a conference room (or Zoom call).

#4 Data empathy is a sure path to earning customer trust
73% of customers say trust in companies matters more than it did a year ago.
Right at the beginning, I told you the Golden formula for success; Data+ user. Let’s take a look at the data that the customer has provided about themselves. Consequently, this is what comes out of direct interaction with the users:

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away is this – ‘When you talk to your users you are ahead of the game because you are in touch with the core of your business i.e. the main person you are really solving for – your end-user.

I truly hope that as you read this post, you’re inspired to learn more about your users and customers through real, meaningful interactions, and hopefully, not sitting in a corner or on a bean bag and trying to wonder what your user really wants?

It’s imperative to be aware and remind us often that, the data that we see, measure and most of all interpret has biases (or in some cases vested interests) inbuilt in them.

Businesses that are connected to their users are also teams that find a higher purpose and are far more vested in the company’s progress.
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