In the first installment of this two-part interview, Big Lots EVP, CIO, and CTO Gurmeet Singh reflected on how brands used customer data to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our conversation continues with a larger look at where customer-centricity will go in the coming years, including the ways brands can apply these tools across an entire organization — not just sales and marketing.
CDPa: You mentioned that you’re excited to see how companies grow and evolve to use more customer data in their everyday operations. What are the challenges brands face when they want to make that vision a reality?
Singh: The biggest challenge is to take this from concept to action, or in other words, from proof of concept to value at scale. To do this requires a solid trifecta of: organizational readiness in the form of data-driven use cases and the knowledge to know when and how to use that data; talent in the form of accomplished data scientists and engineers; and a solid infrastructure stack that can unlock your data with cloud services able to ingest and process it at speed. You take all of this and convert it into experiences. Those are the pieces where I feel that many companies are still at an early stage — they don’t yet live in a data-driven ecosystem.
CDPa: Are there any other elements that you think are needed for customer-centricity?
Singh: The first thing is understanding what customer-centricity means in your context. There must be an obsession for the customer and how data can drive experiences — everything should flow from there. Additionally, the customers live beyond your “closed system;” the ability to use data to understand these customers beyond your borders is key to customer-centricity.
This is all about deeply understanding the customer.
CDPa: What is so difficult about second-party data? What technology is missing?
Singh: The problem is that companies are solving for second-party data in their own silo. What is needed is the stitching of a big picture across first, second, and third-party data. The difficulty is the lack of technology to share data across boundaries in a secure, privacy-certified, and value-exchanging manner. There are data marketplaces, but that is still not the final answer.
CDPa: We know the impact customer data can have on sales and marketing. Are there other areas of the business that can be changed due to an increased use of data?
Singh: Every aspect of the business should be leveraging customer data and data in general. As I mentioned earlier, organizational buy-in and developing data-value use cases across the entire organization is key to success. For example, loyalty programs. These are an extension of marketing because you’re trying to drive customer engagement, and data drives personalization to enhance this engagement. I’ve seen personalized promotions across loyalty programs lead to huge lifts in engagement. Another use case is leveraging data to drive enhanced e-commerce. Consumers are less forgiving online than they are in a physical store. If they don’t find what they’re looking for online, they’re just one click or tap away from another store. So how do you use personalization to present what they want at the right moment? How do you ensure product availability? Using data to deliver those experiences is critical. It’s about using data across the business — data to drive supply chain efficiencies and visibility, to drive better merchandising forecasting, to understand and predict customer behavior.
Another area where we could use more customer data is in choosing what products to carry. Brands have hardly scratched the surface here. How do we make merchandising teams more data-aware? They could begin using it predictively, asking what products they should carry, or what combination of factors helps them get the right product in the market.
This is all about deeply understanding the customer. If you understand the customer, then it’s easy to work your way back and answer all these questions.
We’re grateful to Gurmeet Singh for the generosity and expertise he shared in this interview series. In our next CDPa blog post, we’ll take a deeper look at how organizations can apply customer-centricity in new areas, offering practical insights into the concepts Gurmeet touched on in this interview.
Gurmeet Singh Bio:
Gurmeet is a digital transformational leader with extensive experience of driving digital/tech/data transformations across retail, financial services, and technology companies. Currently Gurmeet is the EVP, Chief Technology & Information Officer at Big Lots, where he is leading transformation of retail technology to enable next generation experiences and deliver on growth. Key focus areas around supply chain, omnichannel, data and cybersecurity.
Prior to joining Big Lots, Gurmeet led digital, tech, data, and AI transformations at various companies globally, including AFG, 7-Eleven, Capital One, Intuit and FedEx. He also served as an advisor to companies driving digital in his roles at BCG and McKinsey & Co.
Gurmeet sits on the board of directors at Focus Brands, LLC (a Roark Capital portfolio company). He holds a PhD in engineering from Rice University and an undergraduate degree in engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. He has traveled to 35+ countries and loves adventure and exploring.