Social data analysis seems to offer a gold plated way of ensuring the voice of the customer feeds into product development. However it may not always be such a good idea. A 2012 PWC study of over 1200 CEOs across 60 countries found that two-thirds of business leaders believed that incorporating the ‘voice of the customer’ in management decision-making is critical to business performance.

But a study  led by Prof. Johannes Hattula from Imperial College of London and reported by Which-50 earlier this year has rather set the cat amongst the pigeons. In a set of four quantitative experiments, Prof. Hattula and his colleagues challenged the idea that ‘think like the fish… be the fish…’ is the key to effective management decision making.

Which conventional wisdom suggests higher empathy should mean more accurate predictions of consumer preferences, it may not.


For instance three-quarters of participants in Prof. Hattula’s study were convinced that putting themselves into the customer’s shoes would make them less susceptible to projecting their own preferences onto customer decisions. The results of the research revealed precisely the opposite.

As reported at the time, “Across a range of experiments in which managers were challenged to get into the mind of the consumer under various scenarios, Prof. Hattula and his colleagues found that, irrespective of whether they were discussing product features or celebrity endorsement, trying to empathise with the customer ‘activated managers’ own consumer identities and thus their personal consumption preferences’.”

The bottom line: The more the study’s participants tried to get into the mind of the customer, the more their egos got in the way.


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