CDPa Founder Gurmeet Singh has forged a formidable reputation as a remarkable digital transformation leader over more than two decades, and in 2021, he joined Big Lots Stores as Executive Vice President, Chief Technology and Chief Information Officer. Over this two-part interview, we spoke with Gurmeet about the ways in which organizations reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic, challenges in scaling customer-centricity, and new approaches that could be on the horizon for customer-obsessed organizations.
CDPa: What changes did organizations make to their customer data strategies as a result of the pandemic? We know there was widespread, dramatic digital transformation in the early months of COVID-19 — which aspects of that transformation made the biggest impact?
Singh: The pandemic forced companies to do what they should be doing anyway, i.e., use data to build a better understanding of customers. During the pandemic, as customers overwhelmingly adopted digital channels, the amount of data increased significantly. Customers were looking for brands to ‘make it easy to do business with them’ across all aspects – from searching, transacting, support, and new experiences.
People talk about digital transformation and data, but it’s customer obsession that matters and should drive the data initiatives.
As a result companies adopted digital and data strategies that could scale. They understood that it’s not so much about customer data, it’s about the customer experiences. Were you following the customer? Were you making it easy for the customer to do business with you? Were you being “customer obsessed?” People talk about digital transformation and data, but it’s customer obsession that matters and should drive the data initiatives. By that I mean understanding the customer and designing experiences to meet the customer where they want to meet you. The data and the Customer Data Platform (CDP) enable this for you and cloud technologies help you scale this ambition.
CDPa: The conversation around data has become more active — have you noticed any changes in the way these executives are talking about data?
Singh: Previously, when executives talked about data, they were primarily talking about reporting and/or using data in marketing. You need to think about data like a seven-layer cake, and reporting/marketing use cases as the icing on that cake. In addition to reporting and typical use cases on marketing, I now see executives talk about data in every part of their business – supply chain visibility, forecasting, inventory management, Customer 360, Operations 360, etc. In addition to these use cases they are also talking about data governance and data quality. The volume, velocity, variety of data, as well as the veracity of the data and elements of security and privacy. Customers are going digital and they’re expecting more from brands; namely to make it easy for them to do business.
The biggest innovation over the last two years was spurred by personalization, with companies understanding consumer habits and being able to quickly pivot on the consumer side and the operational side.
CDPa: What are you most excited about that you see on the horizon for customer data and customer-centricity?
Singh: Customer-centricity is the key word. Customers are generating a lot of data – in the digital world and in the physical world (with digital footprints). The data should be used for building personalized and new experiences for the customers and the feedback from those interactions continuously fed back to the data engine (or CDP) like a continuous factory. I am excited about new experiences – both digital and physical – that are being enabled by data, new technologies that are enabling us to capture and enrich the data, and cloud technologies that enable us to scale.
I am looking forward to more innovations around edge computing with 5G for hyper-personalized experiences, Blockchain-based technologies for secure data sharing, and smart contracts to enable customers to have data ownership.
For more insights on the customer experience and creating customer-centric processes across an organization, stay tuned for part two of our interview with Big Lots Stores’ EVP, CIO, and CTO Gurmeet Singh.
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 Ph.D. 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.