The Big Hole in Big Data

Big hole in big data

Much has been made about the future of the Internet, of customer relations, and of business interactions with customers. In fact at every conference I speak at I hear discussion about ‘Big Data’ and how it will help improve the Customer Experience – the Big Data trend that seems to be sweeping the globe. Thanks to the prominence of powerful computers, analytics services, and entire companies dedicated specifically to monitoring customer actions, there has never been more data available to companies when it comes to understanding how their customers shop, click, and work. In fact, these programs alone have generated a full 90 percent of all the data in the world over the past two years.

That might sound impressive and, by volume, it certainly is quite impressive. The problem with Big Data, though, is that it tells only one side of the story. The big hole in big data is that there is no emotional data being collected. Over 50% of a Customer Experience is about how a Customer feels and yet most organizations don’t have a clue how their Customers feel. This is a big, big hole! Big data lacks emotion, feeling, or justification for WHY customers behave in the way they do. While that data might be useful in any number of ways, it will not help refine the Customer Experience beyond potentially redesigning a website or asking a question in a slightly different way. This is a big “hole” and it could leave businesses without a solid customer experience strategy over time. To understand Customer emotions you need to understand Customer behaviour. You need to undertake specialised research such as our Emotional Signature® and then design emotion into your Customer Experience.

The Problem with Actions: They Just Don’t Tell the Whole Story

Relying solely on the information gathered by Big Data is like watching a group of people from a relatively far distance. It’s possible to see what they’re doing while they interact with each other and engage in conversations, but it’s virtually impossible to understand why they’re holding those conversations, what are they feeling that drives their actions, what is the emotion underpinning those conversations, and most importantly, how they’ll determine the future behaviour of each individual and the group at large. If the bystander was to walk toward the group and attempt to join their conversation, they’d have no real way of working their message in amongst those already being heard. They’d have no idea what the mood was, or where to start.

This is essentially how Big Data works. At best, it attempts to capture what people do from an emotional distance. It sees their actions, but not the reason why they are doing what they do. For what it’s worth, actions do mean something and they matter quite a bit. A business with a high bounce rate on its landing pages, for instance, might determine that customer actions indicate a poor bit of marketing copy or a lousy call to action. But in other environments, merely monitoring customer actions doesn’t mean very much for the business’ bottom line and their approach to the marketplace, you need the insight to human behaviour which is key.

A Secondary Hole in the Big Data Picture: Customer Experiences and Behaviour

It’s pretty tough for a business to optimise their services and their approach to the marketplace if they don’t understand why a Customer does what they do, and given we are driven by feelings what is the emotion behind a customer action. These actions can be even harder for them to make the right strategic moves if they don’t compensate for prior negative experiences, behavioural patterns, and other factors that affect their experience; everything from website clicks to in-person business interactions and even things like takeout fast food service.

A good example is the typical customer service phone line. Upon dialling, customers are greeted with a variety of options, which ask them to press two for sales, three for service, and other options that segment calls and send them to the right department. Customers, though, tend to hate these systems. Since their introduction, they’ve become a point of frustration and a comedic punch line. The “just press zero for an operator” trick is well known. How does Big Data record this? How can it tell the levels of frustration a Customer may be having? How can it tell what a Customer would prefer?

Big Data, of course, would not show this. It would not compensate for these learned behaviours and prior experiences all on its own. All the data would show is that a certain number of customers pressed zero for some reason, at some point in the call. The business would then be left to draw its own conclusions, and they may very well be wrong.

It’s Time to Start Tracking Emotional and Behavioural Responses

When we work with clients we look at their Emotional Signature and pair that with Big Data, gaining additional insight into why customers are taking a given action in meaningful numbers, especially if that action is counter to the one that the business thinks they should be taking. By pairing emotional response analysis and behaviour monitoring with more agnostic data, the Big Data landscape begins to become much more useful. Essentially, it becomes possible to see both what a customer is doing, and why they’re doing it.

There is more to the picture, though. Businesses need to work on fully defining their customer experience from start to finish, both rationally and emotionally. One of the best ways to learn about customer emotions and plan for them is to decide which emotion should most often be evoked by the company’s marketing messages, websites, customer service professionals, and other key materials and points of contact.

Then mapping your customer experience, from an emotional perspective then allows for more robust testing of the experience via Big Data. Essentially, it allows for tests of effectiveness and customer satisfaction that provide illuminating insight into areas for improvement and areas of success. Combined with Big Data, the future direction of a business becomes much more obvious and far more meaningful.

Data is Just One Part of the Picture, and it doesn’t speak for itself

Businesses are fond of saying that the data “speaks for itself,” but it actually doesn’t do that at all. Data speaks for a brief moment in time and it shows an action that was taken. The speaking comes from customer emotions, learned behaviours, and prior experiences. Those things need to be more carefully monitored and analysed so that they become meaningful. When these things are combined with data, only then will the data “speak,” but certainly not on its own.

Companies looking to get the most out of their data services need to begin mapping the customer experience, monitoring emotions, and gaining real insight into the minds and thought processes of their customers. It is in this area that the future of business truly lies.

Colin Shaw is founder & CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Colin is an international author of four best-selling books. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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