Whether it is surveys, buying behaviors, customer feedback or data gathered through listening on social channels, there is a lot of data out there about your customers – who they they are, how many people are in their household, how much money they make, what they spend it on, etc. Some of it is qualitative, such as customer comments, but a large majority of it is quantitative – numbers that represent quantity of purchases, zip code, size of household, average spending, mortgage.
Most businesses are able to only use a small amount of this data to try better target customers and also in some cases to provide a better customer experience. But even with all of this data, most customer experiences are marginally good and a large number border on intolerable. It takes solid qualitative data to provide a great customer experience, and most companies have not invested the large amounts of resources it takes to gather the data. There is a large disruption just over the horizon coming for customer experiences – the ability to use large amounts of qualitative data to fill in the gaps in quantitative data at a relatively low cost.
I grew up in a small town. It was so small that we only had one traffic light and you could be all the way through town before you counted to ten if the light was green. We had some great small stores in that town. The two that stand out most to me where the coffee shop and the hardware store. Why? Because whenever I went in either store, they always knew who I was, what I was working on, and went out of their way to take care of me. The provided a great customer experience.
They didn’t have huge spreadsheets, CRM systems, EFM systems, VoC programs, etc. Their quantitative data was usually limited to a small card at the hardware store that became the bill at the end of the month. What they did have was a large qualitative knowledge of who I was, who I was related to, how I worked, what I liked, what I didn’t like, what projects I had done and were working on, and more. When I came into the hardware store and asked for more fencing staples, they already knew that I was in the process of putting up a new barbed wire fence and what kind of staples I needed. When I went into the coffee shop on Saturday mornings, they already knew I wanted a glazed donut with my coffee. It was the qualitative data that allowed them to provide what was a great customer experience.
As businesses have grown more into national firms and then into multi-national firms and as the technology to process data has progressed, they have spent considerable amounts of money gathering huge quantities of quantitative data about their customers. All of this affected marketing campaigns, product development, customer acquisition, and more, but the customer experience began to slide. For example, have you been on an airplane lately? Airlines have large amounts of customer data about you, but has it really improved the experience. The pendulum swung from the heavily qualitative to the heavily quantitative.
Yes, there has been some qualitative data gathered through surveys, focus groups, customer comments, customer interactions, but the amounts of qualitative data has been significantly eclipsed by the overwhelming amounts of quantitative data. But things are shifting. More and more qualitative data is becoming accessible and usable. Companies are better able to take advantage of the knowledge locked up in the qualitative data. What is causing this swing?
- “New technologies” – The technologies aren’t really new, they are finally getting to a point of maturity now that they are beginning to have a disruptive impact. Technologies like text analytics and other business intelligence applications have been around since the 1940’s and 50’s. But now these technologies are being applied to new and broader sources of content, such as through social media channels. Better algorithms and methods are also being developed and deployed.
- Computing power – Coupled with the technologies is having the necessary computing power to run them. We are getting close to having the necessary computing power at an affordable price point to do just that. Whereas not to long ago a mainframe would have been overwhelmed with processing this much data, now desktop computers and servers can run most of this.
- Reaching beyond the enterprise – Social media has opened up companies to the wealth of data in the daily interactions of their customers and potential customers that until now have been out of reach. Companies now have access to a portion of the conversations taking place about their products between customers. Yes, there are still significant issues with the validity of such conversations and how representative of actual perspectives, but my guess is that this will become less of an issue as more and more consumers become more comfortable with social media.
Bottom Line: We all complain about the horrible customer experiences we have. But my guess is that we are on the cusp of change. Ability to access qualitative data is going to be a large disruptor for customer experiences. As businesses gain more and more access to more and more qualitative information that can fill in the gap between the quantitative points, customer experiences will improve.
Question: Do you think text analytics and similar technologies will improve customer experiences? If so, how?