13/03/2013 11:30 GMT

Understanding Customer Data Is The Key To Business Success, Finds CEO Report

Businesses will have to work harder to understand what their customer data really means for their company, according to a new report on business leadership.

The Marketing Society and Accenture quizzed 40 of the UK's top decision makers as part of a report into what makes a successful leader, and found many were concerned with not just getting enough customer data, but being able to interpret it and use it effectively.

Chief executives need to listen carefully and think clearly about the information placed in front of them, according to Dido Harding, chief executive of Talk Talk.

"Great business leaders need the ability to listen and really hear the feedback from customers, colleagues and their stakeholders and then, of course, you need courage and clarity of thinking to do something about what you have heard," she said.

David Johnston, global chief operating officer at Aimia, agreed that listening was key, as there is a constant danger of being inundated by data. "Everyone is drinking from a fire hose of data and it's very difficult to make sense of it," he said.

"Google know what your interest is in, but not what you do about it; Facebook know what you like but not what you buy; Loyalty cards know what you buy but not what advertising you see; Sky TV knows what advertising you watched but not what you did about it.

"Where marketers will have to turn their attention is how they connect the dots across the data sources."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, BT's chief executive of retail Gavin Patterson is an enthusiast for the new world of 'Big Data'.

"The stakes are high, but with data you can take it right down to the individual customer right down to the individual employee as well," he said.

"So we track the service, sales and quality metrics, down to every single person in the business and manage them against it... I think we're probably 20% on the journey, there's so much more to go."

Google believes in testing new ideas quickly in the market place - Dan Cobley, managing director at Google UK said; "We believe in doing things early and often and letting our users decide what works and what doesn't. So our innovations begin as beta launches and we place support behind the products that then grow. So there is order inside the chaos."

But if can be difficult to try before you buy - Andria Vidler, chief executive at EMI, said she doesn't have the time needed to experiment.

"Speed has changed the nature of our industry... you can't pilot stuff anymore, you can't test the water in quite the same way, because you have to assume everything will go global just have to make it happen and then see whether it takes off or not."

The findings were part of a wider report on the eight essential leadership skills needed to be a successful CEO.

The top eight skills were:

  • Give a clear sense of direction
  • Bring the customer into the boardroom
  • Communicate clearly – inside and outside
  • Be flexible but not floppy
  • Take risks, but don't bet the company
  • Build the team around you
  • Listen with humility and act with courage
  • Earn your reward through building trust