Customer Context is King for Engagement

Our research* indicates that taking account of a customer’s personal context and situation, preferences and expectations to shape and manage each interaction is an important component in building trust between a business and its customer. Context is King. A key pillar of true Customer Engagement is being able to see, understand, and act on in real-time the whole, bigger picture of Customer Context. Without context, you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Here’s a couple of examples of the risks of not seeing the context around data:


Seeing the Context Saved Lives

In WW2 the US didn’t want their bombers to get shot down by enemy fighters, so they wanted improve the protective armor. But armor makes the plane heavier, and heavier planes are less maneuverable and use more fuel. The US military believed they could get the same protection with less armor if they concentrated the armor on the places with the greatest need, where the planes are getting hit the most. This was done by analyzing bullet hole damage on the returning bombers to figure out where they should optimize the armor. That is, until it was pointed out that they were analyzing the wrong planes, the survivors: it was the planes that didn’t return that they should be thinking about.  Returning planes had fewer hits to the engine, but planes that got hit in the engine weren’t coming back. The armor didn’t need to go where the bullet holes are; it goes where the bullet holes aren’t, on the engines. Cut a long story short, more armor on engines. The same data viewed from a different context takes on a profoundly different meaning.

“The same data viewed from a different context takes on a profoundly different meaning.”


Costly Football Data Blindness

Another example: during his tenure as manager of Manchester United football club, Sir Alex Ferguson made, what he later described, as the biggest mistake of his managerial career by selling his star defender Jaap Stam to Lazio. Opta (an analytics company) data showed Stam was making fewer tackles, which Ferguson interpreted as a decline in Stam’s performance. The reality however was the lower number of tackles was a sign of improvement; Stam was losing the ball less and intercepting more passes, so he didn’t need to make as many tackles. Stam went on to be Lazio’s star performer, all because of a decision based on looking at his playing data in isolation.

So what’s the risk? Customers that receive information that is inaccurately targeted or inappropriate for the individual’s context (such as offers of joint bank account for individuals that are single, or sales calls shortly after a customer complaint) is a common bugbear. A majority (87%)* are clear that this type of mistake makes them feel negatively towards the company concerned.

“87%* of customers who receive information that is inappropriate for their context feel negatively towards the company concerned”


Data without customer context and journey insight is of limited value and can lead to the wrong interpretation; you need to see the whole picture and discover customer intent. Reading data in isolation is risky, and potentially very costly. You need the complete frame to draw the right conclusions, which when it comes to interpreting customer data means you need to understand the complete context.

People talk about the power of hindsight, and similar to Sir Alex, what would they do differently if they knew yesterday what they know today. The point about this is you’re analyzing through a rear-view mirror, and things today will have changed. The point about understanding context is you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to understand what’s happening today, you can do it in the moment it’s happening – and make the right choice here and now.

5 Elements of Customer Context

Context is one of the key pillars of customer engagement. Businesses need to provide a tailored, adaptive and often predictive experience informed by context. There are at least five key elements making up the customer context:

  1. Customer profile: This is understanding who your customer is, and as they engage more and more with you their profile will adapt and evolve. Understanding these elements will enable you to orchestrate personalization.
  2. Customer history: They will also have a history of behavior, of interactions, which you’ll also need to understand. Understanding these elements will enable you to orchestrate personalization.
  3. Journey status: knowing what journey stage a person is at, if they’re going forwards or backwards or have even dropped out.
  4. Location: key to understanding the customers situation at a particular time is location, which can be geographical but also relates to the channel they’re in, at what time.
  5. Device: This is understanding how they are technically interacting, if they are using a mobile device or desktop for example.


Understanding all of these different aspects of customer context informs an interaction that can then be contextually appropriate for the customer, so their next interaction can be personalized and relevant, and packed with as much value for the customer as well as your brand.

In the always-connected mobile and social world of today – the digital-era – real-time context is the key driver for understanding and shaping interactions, and increasingly determines the value of those interactions.


What can you do?

To always know your customer’s true intent, and then take the right action at the right time, you can’t ignore context. You need to be able to pick up every customer signal across all channels and touchpoints. You need to understand in-the-moment context for each customer and take the relevant action immediately in the context of their journey, not just the moment.


Get Started with Understanding Customer Context

You can make a start today, download our free guide to getting started.


* Engagement 3.0 Research Report – conducted by Populus and Esteban Kolsky for Thunderhead