Data and stories: the perfect combination to drive change

One of the most powerful ways to make change happen is to combine solid data with real stories about the people who make up that data.

Jessica Shortall gave an excellent presentation at the 2017 Webdagene Customer Experience conference in Oslo about using data and stories to change attitudes in Texas. In recent years, Texas politicians have drafted a whole range of anti-LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) proposals.

Jessica worked to try and stop as much of this stuff becoming law as possible. She worked with others to assemble data to show that anti-LGBT laws were bad for business. She helped found a business pressure group to make this point. Texas prides itself on being a business-friendly state, so having businesses tell politicians that LGBT bigotry was bad for business had more of a chance of having an impact than moral arguments about basic human decency.

Data on its own is not enough. Hundreds of LGBT people presented their stories of being bullied, intimidated and worse. Emotion and logic are a powerful combination.

Many organizations bully and exploit their customers with unnecessary bureaucracy, manipulative pricing, false promises, coercive contracts, sub-standard support. Many other organizations mistreat customers simply through negligence and a lack of awareness of their actions.

One of the main motivations for customer mistreatment is the belief that it’s good business. However, the data increasingly show that customers today are simply no longer willing to accept such mistreatment. Customers are becoming more demanding and less loyal. Customer culture is transforming far faster than organization culture.

One of the best ways I’ve found to get management to truly realize that they must begin to shift their culture and thinking is to provide them with a combination of data and stories.

Much of my work involves observing how people behave on the Web. I’m always looking for these teaching moments, where a pattern of human behavior emerges. Then I try to put a video together of 3-5 people illustrating this pattern. I then present this to management, saying something like: “I want you to watch these patients fail at this point because the form you are asking them to fill is too complicated.” When they see patient after patient fail, that has an emotional impact.

You then follow up with the data, saying that these people we have just watched reflect a 22% abandonment rate, and a 19% error rate of those who do actually attempt to fill in the form. These abandonment and error rates result in 4,000 support calls a month, with each error taking an average of 10 minutes of staff time to correct.

It’s not enough to have data on customer behavior. You need to connect this data with other data within the organization that ideally is connected to a cost or revenue stream.

Humans think logically (at least part of the time) and act emotionally. Build your logical argument through data and your momentum for change through emotional stories of real people and the real experiences they are having.