The Simple Solution To Big Data Challenges: Ask Your Customers Instead

We hear a lot about the challenges inherent with big data. If that seems like too hard a way to identify market opportunities, a simpler strategy might work: ask your customers what they want.

Customers picture from Shutterstock

Challenges with implementing big data include choosing the right metrics, staff shortages and the need to maintain multiple database sources. None of those mean that it's not worth pursuing — but only if it's actually the right solution to the problem.

Dr Catriona Wallace argues that it often isn't. Wallace, who heads up customer consultancy Fifth Quadrant and customer experience analytics platform Flamingo, suggests that the current focus of big data projects on identifying new marketing leads is short-sighted.

"CRM took us from mass production to mass customisation to mass segmentation," she told a media briefing earlier this week. "Big data on the front end lets you try to do personalisation, but it's still best estimate. Big data can never actually know me. It's all about selling me stuff. It's not anything that's particularly useful, usable or desirable to me."

"Big data has been most useful for making organisations more efficient. It hasn't been as much use as a sales tool. It benefits you internally, but it doesn't actually benefit the customer."

"A much cheaper and simpler way to know what your customers want is to ask them. It is a radical concept. It is a revolutionary concept to corporates — not so much to SMBs, they're right on board. Try to ask what they want, beyond just trying to sell them more shit that they don't want."

Given the high costs of both acquiring and maintaining customers, that attitude makes sense, but that doesn't mean it will be widely adopted. "It costs about $600 for a centralised service provider to retain a customer, the same as to acquire a customer," Wallace said. "But customers just don't get what they want. Australian customers buy on product features and price, but defect on other experience elements."

Flamingo's approach is to allow customers to control their own "personal cloud" of information and grant access to it, rather than encouraging companies to maintain their own data stores. It has partnered with new cloud network provider Respect Network to develop a personal cloud platform.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


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