Lessons You Can Learn from Jeopardy Phenom James Holzhauer About Data-Driven Customer Experience

It’s been an American staple for more than five decades, but this classic game show has never been hotter; even beating the highly anticipated Game of Thrones finale in live-linear viewership. So, what on earth drove Jeopardy’s ratings bonanza? Or should I say, who is James Holzhauer?

Contestant James Holzhauer’s bank-breaking winning streak was the second-longest winning streak in Jeopardy history, and he was very close to dethroning reigning champion Ken Jennings’ from the top of the scoreboard. I could list all of Holzhauer’s record-breaking statistics, such as his April 9th highest one-day total of $131,127,  but they’d be outdated by the time you got to the end of this blog, so here’s a little teaser and a link to his fan page for updated figures.



As exciting as it was to watch the unstoppable contestant make game show history, it’s his game-winning strategy that made this story really interesting and relevant to businesses everywhere.

In a recent interview, Holzhauer stated: “I sketched out what I believed to be my optimal strategy for Jeopardy: Play fast, build a stack, bet big….”  While his strategy may appear aggressive, even sound risky, it is all built on data-driven, informed decisioning; a tactic that is paying off.

True, Holzhauer is a walking trivia encyclopedia, and yes, he built a fake buzzer, donned a pair of shorts and the dress shoes he planned to wear on the show and trained for weeks before taking to the podium. But being a buzzer ninja with comfy feet can only take you so far.

The reason Holzhauer has made Jeopardy history is his strategy.  A strategy comprised of data analysis, informed decisioning and personalization. An approach that has meant the difference between “what is winning?” and “what is losing?”



Not only did Holzhauer constantly digest trivia from numerous sources, but he also analyzed data on the game of Jeopardy itself. As a result, when he buzzed in, he was right about 97 percent of the time.

The “Jeopardy!” archive is a fan-created online website with tapes of the show and upward of 300,000 questions and answers literally at your fingertips. Holzhauer and past winners have availed themselves of these data resources to uncover powerful insights into the game:

  • Which categories and subsets does the show focus on?
  • What types of questions are posed?
  • Are the Daily Doubles placed randomly, or is there a pattern?

Holzhauer’s ability to analyze data enabled him to play fast because he used informed decisioning to orchestrate his next-best-move in real time to maximize impact and ROI.

Business Takeaway: Data is critically important to decisioning in today’s environment. It fuels your ability to respond quickly, appropriately, even proactively, to ever-changing customer expectations. What customer data do you have that’s going untapped? What external data could you bring in to inform your customer experience? Do you have your technology aligned to make your next best move quickly?



Most Jeopardy contestants play it relatively safe at the start of the game, going for the easier, least valuable questions. Not Holzhauer, who frontloaded his success by going for the hardest, most valuable squares on the board. As a result, he created leads so big he was near-impossible to catch.

In fact, he piled up money at an unprecedented rate. Holzhauer won more than twice as much per game as the legendary Jennings did during his record-setting 2004 run on the show.

Business Takeaway: Don’t you wish your lead on the competition was that substantial? It can be. Identify your most lucrative customer segments and aggressively work to gain and retain. Front-load your customer experience and play from a winning position. Orchestrate customer engagement in the critical first 90 days to delight and win the loyalty of customers from the very first touchpoint and at every touchpoint after that.



Piling up cash early also allowed Holzhauer to bet big. His data analysis revealed insights into Daily Double placement. He deduced that Daily Doubles usually show up in the rows with the second and third-hardest clues. As a result, he didn’t have to wait and hope to be surprised when he landed on the magic squares; his insights enabled him to anticipate their placement and he could bet accordingly.

As a result, Holzhauer averaged more than $8,700 in winnings for each Daily Double; compare that to Jennings’ average Daily Double wagers of just $2,700.

Business Takeaway: Predictive analysis makes it possible to see where to place your biggest bets and plan your next moves. Are you just reacting to what your customers do, or are you anticipating their next move to provide a better experience?



Holzhauer also won the hearts of viewers with his quirky twist on personalization. He’d become known for adding birthday wishes for family members at the end of his answers and placing wagers that match their birthdays. For example, he wagered $3,268 for his nephew Jack’s birthday – March 26, 2008. He won more than money with that strategy.

Holzhauer may have had a strategy to win a record-setting amount of cash, but he didn’t lose sight of the people that were integral to his existence and his success.

Business Takeaway: Customers are our business. Make a genuine connection with personalized communications. Celebrate the relationship and show them they’re valued by acknowledging service/purchase anniversaries. Engage your customers to strengthen customer loyalty and earn lifetime value.



The ratings prove that thanks to James Holzhauer, Jeopardy! delivered an excellent viewer (customer) experience. But it’s thanks to data, intelligent decisioning and strategic orchestration that James Holzhauer left his competition in the dust.

Imagine what employing these strategies could do for your company.


Map your path to better customer experience with data-driven journey orchestration.