DX Leader profile of Cinny Little, senior analyst at Forrester

Forrester Research senior analyst Cinny Little is perfectly positioned to keep up with the ever-increasing speed at which both technology and customer behavior change. Before joining the industry analyst firm in 2015, she led digital customer endeavors including analytics and ecommerce at companies such as Boston Scientific, Linkage, MilliporeSigma and Pearson Education.

What you constantly have to do is keep one foot in the technology camp and the other foot in the customer experience and change camp,” Little said. “I’m clearly a believer in broad diversity in what you do in your career. I like to get a 360-degree view.”

As a senior analyst focused on working with customer insights professionals, Little helps Forrester clients think strategically about their customer data and how to then use the knowledge they gain to better serve customers and boost profitability.

Too Often DX Projects Forget the People

After receiving a master of music degree from New England Conservatory, Little began her working life as a performing musician, playing early classical music on her recorder. She was also working part-time as an editor in a small publishing house, which led her to want to learn more about business. Little consequently went back to school for an MBA and headed into the world of digital business.

Little has never had any regrets about her background in music. She believes her experiences in that world have proved to be “essential in business,” she said.

“[In the music world], you meet a team and you have to perform with them almost immediately with no background. You have one chance to do it right in front of an audience,” Little said. Substitute ‘stakeholders’ for ‘audience,’ and the same is often true in the business world, where the ability to work with anyone and quickly collaborate in a team are vital skills.

Over the course of her career, Little continues to be surprised by how often companies overlook one of the three vital ingredients needed to ensure successful digital experience projects.

“In the mix of people, process and technology, companies always struggle to equalize focus on the people part — the ways in which we have to change what we’re doing,” Little said. “They often focus on the shiny bauble, the technology part. Buy the technology, but do make the necessary changes to start doing things to take advantage of that technology.”

Little will be speaking at CMSWire’s Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit taking place Nov. 13 to 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. She will give a workshop titled “How to Drive Customer Engagement with the Data-Driven Measurement that Matters Most” on Nov. 13. We spoke with Little about customer insights metrics and why and how companies should consider implementing a customer insights center of excellence (CoE).

Making a Case for a Customer Insights Center of Excellence

CMSWire: When looking at customer engagement and customer insights, how should companies think about changing their approach towards digital metrics?

Little: Here’s the big picture re: digital metrics — companies are at all different levels of maturity. People struggle to measure across their silos, their organizational, channel, product or business areas, it can be really tough to do that. It’s incredibly important to work across those silos.

Our customers don’t care about our org chart or whether they’re using a mobile app or web, they want their experience to meet their expectation. 

CMSWire: Are there some measurements that companies should think about abandoning or refining because they’re not yielding actionable information?

Little: There are a lot of measurements that folks make in digital that really aren’t very interesting. Take page views, if you count them on their own, it usually tells us nothing. We only care about page views made by those customers we care about. Combine page views with some aspect of segmentation, other aspect of customers, then we can know if it’s meaningful. Then we can get to something we care about. 

The other effect working in silos can have is that it causes us to act too slowly on something which customers would expect us to act on immediately. For example, something as simplistic as page load time. That may have come out of the technology group which is doing an awesome job of managing your web app, but it’s not connected to the business side, customer insight or customer experience.

CMSWire: In your research, you make the case that companies should establish their own customer insights center of excellence (CoE). Why and how should an organization go about setting up such a CoE?

Little: At Forrester in some of our Business Technographics research, we’ve seen a significant increase in firms using this insights CoE model to drive customer obsession. It really is true — the model is helping.

The CoE is not an org chart per se, it’s an operating model. The approach is aligning around the metrics that matter most and the customer experience that feed into them and make sure you’re taking actions. Typically, it’s a hub-and-spoke model — a combination of some centralized resources with some sitting in business units.

There’s no one right way to do this. What’s important is that you get actions from all the investments you’re making in data, people and technology.

CMSWire: How should companies measure success of their customer insights CoE? 

Little: There are two approaches which may be useful but they’re not the be-all and the end-all. One approach is to measure stakeholder satisfaction in what the CoE is doing, so like you do with your customers. You can do this in hallway conversations with senior folks. So, you don’t want to send long surveys by email, instead, just ask them a few questions. Use the feedback to make improvements and then report back what you’ve done to the people you talked to.

The second approach is to actually track the usage of the CoE which can provide a sense of scope. Do be careful here since it’s very difficult to track usage to outcomes.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for companies on making a business case for investing in a CoE? How should they think about positioning the CoE?

Little: That’s the tough part, which people ask about all the time. At a high-level, there’s an aspect to making change which is table stakes. You have to get more value out of the investments you’re making and a CoE is a proven model. You may have to start small to go large, so with a very well executed CoE pilot. 

It can be simply one person going to his or her executive saying they see an opportunity to do this. The CoE could be in one very narrow area — email — or not so narrow — web. There can be multiple CoEs. The impetus can come from the top — we see that happen all the time in Forrester clients. Executives may not be using those words — ‘insights center of excellence’ — but it’s all about using data and insights to align around customer experience.

It’s critical that everyone understands the value of the CoE. An insights CoE as an operating model is a step along the road for legacy companies towards the digital natives. Digital natives like Amazon, Netflix and Stitch Fix have insights-driven businesses, they don’t have CoEs — it’s simply the way they operate.

CMSWire: Do you have a favorite piece of music and why is music so important to you?

Little: I have incredibly eclectic tastes in music. My background was in Renaissance and Baroque music but I also like many other kinds of music. 

For me, it’s not really about what’s my favorite piece of music, the value of music is that it’s a non-verbal thing. Yes, of course, it’s important to be able to talk about music and to describe it. The ultimate value of music is that the kind of communication it makes possible is implicitly non-verbal.

Tying music to the business world, I’m not suggesting that people sing when they make presentations to their executives, but to keep in mind that non-verbal communication is important.

Editor's note: Learn more about the DX Summit here.