CEO Blog



Following the herd

Anne Marie Forsyth, CEO, CCA
20/10/2017

At the foot of our garden under a tree, yesterday I discovered a carefully collated assortment of toys, mangled old objects, missing slippers and a few footballs. It's the work of Ted my industrious border collie who doesn't have any sheep to herd, poor lamb, so will instead herd his possessions, ducks in the pond, and even humans if we stray too far from each other for his liking.

According to a report in The Times on Monday, 'Why it pays to shop like a statistician', it seems we humans like to be part of a herd, much more comfortable doing what others do, believing what the majority think, and buying according to what the majority view is. The example given was Amazon star ratings where consumers are comforted by a large number of ratings even where the rating is slightly lower than a product with just a few reviews. Tali Sharot, a neuroscientist from LSE, illustrates this well in her excellent Ted talk, 'Why do babies love iPhones?'  She describes how she laid out an assortment of items to see which would appeal to her one year old including food and shiny toys. Her iPhone was on a table and not part of the experiment, but interestingly the baby was obsessed by this rather than anything else. There was no obvious appeal except she had seen her mum use it all the time and was simply practicing learned behaviour - you use this, there must be a value.

Tali goes on to explain that following someone else’s choices is usually harmless, however it could also have serious consequences. Around 10 percent of kidney donations in the US go unused every year. If a donation is declined by a certain patient, due to a medical condition or perhaps religious beliefs — the next patient on the waiting list can be told that the organ was declined but not told why. The next patient then often assumes the organ is faulty and may pass up the chance to enhance their lives. This can have a chain reaction effect from the original rejection.

In today's always on world, people frequently use online ratings to make purchasing decisions.These ratings are in a sense the new 'guide for living', but are they reliable? We assume online rankings reflect the opinions of many independent users. But when you rate restaurants or a product on Amazon, you’re often not starting with a blank slate; instead you work with existing ratings, which of course can influence your own.

All of this makes understanding what we actually think of things complicated, and explains why most organisations are trying to find the silver bullet measurement which reflects what our experience has been. It's even more complicated when we try to 'herd' the views of consumers who leave a trail through traditional channels and new ones like social feeds, YouTube, Instagram, webchat etc.

Statistics can oversimplify and present a paradox as to what the truth is. In the news yesterday it was claimed that delays in roads due to blocked motorways cost an astronomical £9billion annually. And yet Highways England claim a success rate of 97% in terms of traffic flowing well on British motorways in the same time period. The truth is that 3% of a huge number is in itself a huge number, yet so often organisations attempt to use these stats as a collective justification whilst at an individual level we may have serious grievances. This explains why some organisations face huge levels of customer disquiet on social feeds, and may even be flatlining in sales, whilst at the same time meeting target satisfaction levels set at say, 90%.

Our industry is fixated with metrics and stats and as we enter a new world where much of this is predetermined by powerful algorithms, there is an urgent need to understand what the figures are actually telling us and to have a built-in agility to respond quickly.

We are delighted to welcome Dr Liberty Vittert at our forthcoming Annual Convention on 15 & 16 November, to help us make sense of this and help us not only understand, but help influence which measures we should be adopting as we enter a new era. A must-attend event for anyone interested in ‘The Changing Face of Customer Experience’.

And who knows I might just find a job for the bored Ted.