Better Every Day: It’s all about the data

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I was watching a story on the news recently about a high-end retailer and their efforts to capture in-store customer behavior data. The retailer used the data to improve the customer experience by recommending relevant products based on those behaviors.

Here’s how the story went: Ceiling-mounted video cameras scan customers as they walk in the store and quickly identify them using facial recognition technology. Additional cameras are positioned in each of the various departments. As the now-identified customer makes their way to the different areas of the store, the cameras capture the type and brand of items in which the customer shows interest. For example, if the customer walks into the Louis Vuitton boutique inside the store, the cameras see that the customer admires various Louis Vuitton items.

In this scenario, the on-premise data captured by store cameras are especially powerful when consolidated with other captured data, such as the customer’s online browsing history. With all this data, the retailer can market specific items of interest to customers in micro-targeted social media, direct mail and email campaigns.

This is just one use case from a single retailer. You know as well as I do that data has become one of the most valuable assets for today’s marketers. Companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple are capturing incredible amounts of data on each and every one of us. This article isn’t intended to bemoan the vast amounts of data collected on just about everyone, but rather to ask the question as accounting firms, “What are we missing in our own practices?”

If data is really that valuable (and it apparently is), what opportunities are we missing by not paying attention to all the data that passes through our firms? I believe there is a difference between capturing data to enhance the client experience inside an organization and capturing data to sell to others without the consent or complete awareness of the client. I’m definitely not advocating the latter.

Consider for a moment the uncaptured data in our heads about our clients that serves no applied purpose. Things like:

  • Does this client have a retirement plan or a buy/sell agreement?
  • Does the client use QuickBooks Online, Zoom, Slack or other helpful technologies?
  • Does the client have payroll services, at any level?
  • Is the client set up as an LLC or corporation?
  • What interest rate are they paying on business loans?

I would bet that there are at least 100 data points like these … if not more. If you were to capture these data points, could you use them to more effectively serve your clients? Assume for a moment one of the data points you collect is interest rates on business loans. When rates adjust, could you leverage this data to help your clients make decisions? Let’s look at another example: What if you tracked the technology solutions used by your clients (i.e., Quickbooks Desktop, Zoom, Slack, etc.). Could you use this data to move your clients into the technology model your firm advocates?

Data is the bridge to advisory services inside an accounting firm, and data is the key to unlocking proactive advisory services for our clients. In order to be more proactive as a firm, you must have information that drives your recommendations. The biggest challenge I hear from practitioners today is wondering when they are going to find the time to capture this data.

There is a paradigm shift required for firms to be more effective at providing advisory services. Advisory services can either be a reaction to a client’s question, or they can be proactive based on the right set of collected data. The paradigm shift is moving from reactive to proactive and to an active data collection model. With this in mind, I think the more appropriate question is, “How can you not find time to collect the data?”

Data has clearly become one of the most valuable business assets today. You don’t need surveillance cameras or facial recognition algorithms to collect data on your clients. All you need is to make data collection one of the highest priorities in your firm.

For a deeper dive on the topics discussed in this column, listen to Darren’s “Better Every Day” podcast on iTunes or at rootworks.com/podcast.

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Big data Predictive analytics Accounting firm services Client strategies