Even as someone with a jaundice-eyed look at the use of data and analytics in business, I can’t help but think that the introductory message on Vodafone’s help line just couldn’t be worse.
Calling today to solve a small problem with the new account, I am accosted by the “perky British ‘It Girl'” voice. She’s enthusing that the new Samsung smartphone is about to be released. But Vodafone already knows who I am — they can detect that from the cellphone I am calling from. They also know my account information. Certainly they know that I just signed an 18 month contract for an iPhone. Why should I care about a Samsung phone?
The answer is that I shouldn’t — and they know it. In their dunderhead minds, this was probably just an advertising deal in which they agreed to bombard callers to the service line with the advert in return for some dosh. But it doesn’t seem very cost effective. Why not use the moment to call to my attention something that I might actually be interested in buying. Instead, Vodafone is “training” me to ignore their marketing messages, since they are not relevant.
So Vodafone gets some short term lucre, but annoys its customers and creates psychological incentives to disregard its adverts, creating longer term harm.
What is most pathetic about this is that it need not happen. Who is to say that there ought be one advert for all callers? Wouldn’t segmentation make more sense, and have six or thirty or two hundred different messages?
It underscores that the entities most teeming with data can be the stupidest at using it.
Grrr… I’m still on hold!
If there ever was a case for basic analytics and personalization, this is it. For such a smart machine in so many ways, my iPad couldn’t be dumber when it comes to its recommendations.
The app store and newsstand apparently think it’s OK to make recommendations of items that I already own. On the newsstand, it foists ads for The Economist — seemingly unaware that I already have it on the device, and that I’m a full subscriber. Being bombarded with a useless ad might seem to only cost me something (ie, my attention), but it costs Apple something too: an occasion to show me something relevant, like a subscription offer to The Atlantic or The New York Review of Books, which I may indeed want.
The app store is just as bad. One day I buy an app, and the next day the app store still tries to recommend it to me. It does this even though it actually knows that I already own it, considering that it marks “installed” in the box where the price usually is.
Are we so inured to information-technology not working that we fail to care when it confirms our presumption? There are two reasons why Apple’s failure to incorporate users’ information into what it recommends is more than just sloppy system design.
First, Apple’s brand promises a premium service and excellent design. Steve Jobs built the company’s reputation on that and trounced rivals. The lack of personalization leads Apple to fall short of the standard it sets for itself.
Second, Apple’s ignorance hurts us both. The company’s fortunes are tied to software and services atop the device. So it effectively forgoes revenue opportunities whenever it tries to sell me something that I already have. Yet as a customer, the irrelevant ads in effect “train” me to give Apple less of my attention when I interact with the service, since I don’t expect the ads to be as useful.
Ultimately, the problem underscores that many people may want personalization and targeted advertising when it brings them value. For the owner of an iPad who wants to cut through the chaff and add functionality to the device, Apple’s use of my data is useful to me. The episode shows that customers can be just as angry when the expectation of personalization falls short, as when it creepily happens when one doesn’t expect it.