Cybersecurity research website CyberNews recently interviewed Countly’s CEO, Onur Alp Soner, discussing everything from Countly’s origins to the role of cybersecurity in product analytics and how this might shape digital products in the near future.
When we began Countly, our goal had been to make product data accessible to all the persons within an organization who can touch or influence the product in any way, ranging from development to marketing, and product to engineering. At the time, we started with a focus on mobile app analytics, but as cross-device customer movement grew over time, this expanded to focus on the customer journey across devices. Throughout all of it, though, our primary driver was the belief that data is important, but the privacy of users is even more so. As GDPR came into being, Countly’s stance on analytics with data control made it the perfect solution for many organizations that were suddenly forced to choose between data privacy and user data. With Countly, they could have both. Our vision, shared by the team, has always been to give the power and control of data to the persons who share a company’s product -– so that users can be better understood and better served. This led to the unique on-prem storage offering through which Countly makes each of their clients the data controller and data processor together. Now, of course, we’ve extended this to provide secure cloud-hosting as another option that does the same.
Countly is a product analytics and innovation solution. What this means is that the Countly platform not only allows you to get detailed product analytics, including a true 360˚ view of the customer, but it also allows you to take action right from the platform. This can be in the form of A/B testing, basic product changes without changing code and testing it out with cohorts, getting feedback, sending push notifications, and more. Our clients own the data they track, fully and completely. Even if we host the server for customers, they are fully in control of their data. So, regardless of their hosting, they remain data processors and controllers. This security is what allows the platform to go into the depth of data that it does.
Countly provides multiple ways to track user journeys. Everything is done through the point of user actions. We can generate high-level overview flows of what actions users do in your app, or construct predetermined paths that users should follow as a funnel and see the conversion rate or when most users are lost. There are many other tools and techniques, especially by applying the data from one feature to another, to get even more clear insight and identify causation. But even if that is not enough, there is always access to the raw data that can be queried or processed in other tools.
There are a number of things that could interrupt a customer’s journey — what these are often comes down to what the product/app is, and what the customer wants out of it. For a gaming app, too many ads kill the customer journey, while a few ads are tolerable. So a lack of clarity on that threshold would be the factor here. In a banking app, the act of raising a fairly simple request can be derailed if it calls for too much navigation. Here, what affects the customer journey is a lack of understanding of common pain points or inquiries that can be more easily addressed by the bank/app.
Overall though, there are two primary issues that interrupt the customer journey — one, performance issues such as app crashes, glitches, and lags, and two, the inability of a user to click or gel with the app, whether that is through a lack of personalization or through unsatisfactory navigation. From a product perspective, this can be understood as performance monitoring issues and opacity on customer preferences and behaviors.
The recent global events have led to the acceptance of some specific facts: one, we don’t always need to be in the same office to be able to work together, two, face-to-face interactions are important for both companies and their customers, but they aren’t the only way to do business, and three, no matter what your business or product is, customers should now be able to access all or some of it on their digital devices. The last one specifically is what has affected most businesses. They need to have a digital presence, and a strong, personalized one at that, if they want to remain relevant. Product and customer data are key in making this happen. So whether it’s a traditional company that needs to look into digital transformation, or whether it’s a digital company that needs to enhance the customer experience through better customer understanding, all of them need to keep the customer, their expectations, their preferences, and their behaviors in mind. Which has ultimately placed a high demand on product and customer data. At the same time, it has brought about greater awareness about data security, especially the use of personal information. This information is critical to personalization, but users have a right to privacy. And companies need to find a way to meet both their business need for the data and the customer’s need to trust how their data is used and protected.
I believe that the biggest challenge businesses face today is the access to the right data in the right way, and at the right time, while maintaining customer trust. Competition has become so intense, regardless of the product or service, that businesses need to work really hard for customer retention, and even harder for customer loyalty. What can set a business apart, as proved through customer research, is its ability to give its users a really personal, memorable experience every time. This requires detailed personal customer data, but also that this data be accessed and understood collectively by all the people who can positively influence a product, whether that’s developers, product, or marketing. At the same time, businesses have the onus of ensuring that this data is protected — not exposed to a third party at any point of collection or use, and not exposed to anyone within their own organization more than it needs to be. So they need to have democratized access to data across teams, but with the ability to control the level of information visible within various teams. And making this happen — collecting, storing, and using detailed information in a secure manner, while making data available across silos in a timely, even real-time, manner — is the biggest challenge.
The single biggest mistake people make is to simply collect data and then figure out what to do with it. In other words, the lack of a data strategy. The main problem with this approach is that you end up with huge amounts of data, not all of which is relevant to your end goal of product and customer journey improvement. Businesses don’t always start at this point, of course. They often start with collecting smaller amounts of data, and that is often easy to work with. But as competition grows and demands a deeper understanding of customers, whether you’re moving from one level of data collection to the next or beginning to collect large amounts of data from the get-go because that’s what you believe you need, you run into the risk of too much data, and little clarity on how to use this. That’s one of the reasons we work with our clients to ensure that we are providing as much insight as possible on events, sessions, collection methods, and feature interactions — so that they collect data effectively from as early on as possible. Then, as they expand their data collection, they can actively and effectively apply all this information.
I wouldn’t say that an organization needs X number of tools to succeed. It would be more accurate, in my opinion, to say that it’s important for organizations to focus on specific goals to enhance their operations. First would be a product or service that makes a difference — at the center of the matter is the fact that users and customers use any product or service to improve some aspect of their life, whether medical, financial, entertainment or anything else. So creating a product that meets customers’ ever-evolving requirements is critical. Then is customer experience — giving users and customers the most personal and intuitive experience possible, based on their depicted preferences and behaviors. Third would be your employees — an organization without a culture that drives innovation, contribution, and collaboration will more easily fall into a rut. People care about people — your team should care about your customers. So when it comes to tools, any tool — whether a single one or multiple — that can help you achieve these goals without getting into the rabbit hole of too much tech, would suffice. Countly, for example, with its width of features, can replace multiple tools that you may otherwise need for performance monitoring, A/B testing, user profiles, customer behavior, feedback, and engagement. Does that mean you need no other tools? It depends on your goals and how you’re using the tool. This is why integration-ability is such a critical factor to most software providers.
There are many different aspects to cybersecurity — from ensuring secure communication to deploying secure code. And we have many processes and policies to ensure that. But most important, in my opinion, are people-centric security practices. One of the best practices that organizations can and should follow today is to ensure that they educate employees about possible attacks and phishing attempts.
We recently had one of our biggest updates — we’ve updated the entire UI of our interface to be much more intuitive, as part of our continued efforts to democratize access to data. This year, our focus will be to revisit each feature and make it even better, one feature at a time. We’ve been in discussion with our clients and regularly incorporate their requirements for feature enhancements and even new features to ensure that we give Countly users the ultimate experience. And of course, to make this happen, our team is growing. So we will be welcoming some new members into the Countly family.