Knowing the trees for the forest

Most businesses work hard to understand their customers. Many are missing an opportunity by not focusing more on individual customers. Putting the microscope to individual customer behaviors is a fruitful place to gain a more textured and accurate view of the whole.

As James Vornov puts it: "...things look very different from inside the system as one of the components compared to the view from above. From within, experience can be granular and anecdotal. From without, with a broad or long view and large numbers, there is smoothness and predictability."

In our fledgling business, we’re having success with developing something we call customer viewers. These viewers are Excel spreadsheets that visually describe usage data for an individual customer — then offer the ability flip to another randomly chosen customer. Imagine flipping through a stack of photographs; before long you can identify important characters, common scenery and features that stand out as unusual. Our customer viewers tap into this powerful and instinctive pattern recognition capability of the mind.

Scientists approach their investigations in this same ground-up way. Biologists had to do the hard work of describing individual species before generalizing into a taxonomy. Likewise, you wouldn’t find a psychiatrist saying: “10 of my 25 patients have obsessive behaviors. We will consider them the obsessive segment." That is what your business is doing if it is trying to shed light on customer behavior exclusively from the top down.

This worm’s-eye view is rare in the analytics world — and the insights it reveals are amazing. You start to see actions and behaviors that never show up in regressions, distributions, or other statistical approaches.