CHICAGO — CMSWire's DX Summit opened at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel here on a humbling note. After leading the 400 plus audience in a round of applause for the Chicago Cubs' historic win, Brice Dunwoodie, the founder and CEO of Simpler Media Group — sponsor of the conference — reminded the audience that "in the age of big data we got it big time wrong."

He was referencing, of course, the result of the US presidential election and the massive failure of most pollsters, analysts and analytical models to predict the winner.

Lost in Echo Chambers 

One reason for the failure was the disconnect — a lack of empathy Dunwoodie called it — between pollsters and voters. Unfortunately, Dunwoodie said, "it is all too easy for companies to make the same mistake in their pursuit of customer excellence. We all tend to have our own echo chambers, getting the same feedback from teammates and colleagues, reading the same blogs and books, attending the same conferences."

Unless it's DX Summit you are attending, of course. 

Because as the morning wore on, speaker after speaker drove home this point in various ways. The digital experience space is still in its early days, with many companies still feeling their way. 

Few have strategic plans for DX in place, even few are considering the ramifications of compliance and globalization.

Instead the majority of companies of moving forward on an ad hoc basis, perhaps confused about the tech course they must take, and making certain assumptions about their customers. For these companies, a course correction is necessary.

Focus on the Customer

Or possibly just a reminder that the customer is the one who should be setting the agenda.

In his keynote presentation, Gerry McGovern, CEO of the Ireland-based Customer Carewords, advised audience members to huddle with their teams every morning and repeat five times, "We are not the center of the universe." Digital marketers tend to think that their needs and tastes are a reflection of all needs and tastes, he said. In case they didn’t get the memo — they're not.

None of this is meant to sound harsh, though. Rather, the speakers were urging the industry not to fall victim to the same tunnel vision that doomed Hillary Clinton's Presidential campaign. Don't rely on just a few curated sources of data. Go out there and talk to the voters, or in the DX Summit audience's case, the customers. Don't jump to conclusions from the raw data — test your theories. Step back and look at the big picture. And never, ever believe that your customers revolve around you.

So Much Raw Data

It is understandable why these fundamentals may be getting lost, according to Cinny Little, senior analyst at Forrester  and one of the speakers on the morning's first roundtable. There is a tsunami of data is out there, which is confusing in itself. "It is getting harder and harder to figure out what matters the most — which is the customer's perspective of us," she said.

And strangely enough, even when companies are able to ingest their raw data, they then immediately move to turn it into actionable insights — without testing if their assumptions are true, Dan Moriarty, digital director of the Chicago Bulls, another panelist, said. Where did all the curious marketers go? he wonders. "Companies will just immediately jump from raw data to actionable insights. This is unfortunate because it is so easy to test these insights first. The technology is far better than human capital in this respect."

"You have to test it, you have to be able to analyze it and you can't do that when it is siloed and in siloed applications."

Learning Opportunities

Yes, the siloed data problem still exists even after all these years and it affects not just DX but almost every aspect of a company's operation. For DX, though, siloed data means not being able to react in real time to opportunities, Moriarty said.

Listen to the Ecosystem

Another point that gets lost sometimes — and this one is a bit more nuanced — is that customer experience management is not just about surveying the customer, Diane Magers, chairman of the Board of the Customer Experience Professionals Association said during her presentation. "It is about understanding the entire customer ecosystem."

That understanding is the first stop on becoming a change agent. The last stop? CX has become so baked in the organization that it is now a catalyst for how the company creates value.

Earning Trust

Companies need to get a handle on these concepts because there are challenges ahead that require planning. Data privacy is becoming more important in the US and it is a matter of regulatory compliance in Europe, Elie Auvray, co-founder of Jahia Solutions Group and one of the panel speakers. "Project managers have a lot of great tools at their disposal to mine customer data but what they need to do is stop and ask themselves what level of data sharing did the customer actually agree to?"

But why bother, especially in the US where data sharing and privacy policies are not as rigid? "You cannot have customer trust if you are not transparent in what you are doing," Auvray said. And if companies need any more incentive: "The more transparent you are, the quality of data you get is better."

To be sure this is a fine line for both customer and company, finding a balance between sharing just enough data and becoming too intrusive. But if the customer understands exactly what you are doing with the data, then he will be loyal, he will trust you, Auvray said.

Compliance Matters

This is not to say it is the Wild West for US digital marketers. The legal environment and compliance issues matter, for some companies more than others granted, but they do matter, panelist Kristina Podnar, Digital Governance Advisor said. Storing customer data where it can be easily hacked is an example that comes immediately to mind. Not only could that violate state or regulatory laws but it wrecks a relationship with a customer if their data gets stolen.

Unfortunately too many marketing technology platforms are cloud based, Jahia’s Auvray said. "These vendors weren’t thinking about the regulatory issues so they just went ahead and put the data in the cloud."

Marketers will have to give greater consideration to this issue in the future, Auvray predicted. And never mind the regulatory aspect — it is also surely what their customers would want.