Ethnography in the Age of Analytics

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Abstract

As North America begins to emerge from the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, companies are turning up their investment dollars. This investment includes a renewed focus on what might loosely be called “the customer experience.” In our recent consulting engagements, this focus often comes in the form of a clearly stated client demand for a very unclear concept – a “360 view of my customer.” The metaphor conjures up a pantopticonal image of customer beliefs and behaviors which would precipitate a perfectly calibrated set of products and services. Ethnographic practice would, one would think, be well positioned to support this renewed focus on experience. However, we have found that the conversation about customer experience typically begins – and ends – with analytics and business intelligence. The metaphor of a “360 view of my customer” has led to an emphasis on data acquisition, with less of a focus on experiential understanding. That said, data modeling can be fruitfully employed with the interpretive practices of ethnography – as long as the focus returns to experience and away from data hoarding.

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