Is the Voice of Your Customer Being Drowned Out by Big Data?

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For marketers who perpetually seek metrics, big data seems like a jackpot of insights and opportunities for quantitatively measuring the impact and results of marketing efforts. So, it’s no surprise that companies are responding with their wallets. According to one industry report, U.S. marketers will spend $11.5 billion this year on data and related solutions, an increase of a half-billion dollars over last year.

Armed with big data, hundreds of companies are loudly proclaiming themselves as customer-centric. From marketing to sales models, big data seems to have sparked permission for companies to declare themselves as experts on their customers’ needs and priorities.

But will these metrics be able to tell you what customers really want from your business?

The conversations we are hearing from C-suite executives are about finding ways to capitalize on big data and finding opportunities to leverage the possibilities for growth.

In the race for quantitative answers, it seems we may have all but abandoned the value that comes from good old-fashioned qualitative feedback, and that puts us almost back to where we were before we had big data.

To deliver on a successful customer-centric marketing strategy, it takes a full picture of what drives those customers to act and what helps them deliver outcomes in their companies. Big data gets you part of the way, but ignoring that last mile can miss critical insights to unlock the key to a true connection.

Filling in the Gaps

So how do we fill the gaps of big data? How do marketers find the balance with all of the different sources of insight and feedback as they build their voice of the customer programs? Here are a few suggestions.

Start by really leveraging all of the sources of feedback available. This seems simple, but it requires time and resources that most companies don’t plan for. There are more means than ever before for capturing the sentiments of your customers, from online surveys, to product reviews to simply using the ‘contact us’ email on your website.

If customers take time to provide input, you should listen and acknowledge that you heard them. Having stockpiles of comments sitting untouched over time in a database is the kiss of death. These sentiments will help diagnose areas for further exploration either through Big Data queries or actual customer conversations.

Engage your customers in conversations. Actual conversations are different than reading surveys and listening to dialogue on social channels. To really extract meaningful insights, particularly from senior executives, requires a two-way conversation. There is no substitute for talking with customers to hear what they are thinking and probe on their priorities and concerns on subjects that have not yet become part of their day-to-day agenda. It’s not an “either-or” choice, of whether to use big data or invest in real customer interaction. Big data and systematic interviews should both be a core part of your voice of the customer program to complement the other channels if you really want to know what they think.

Ultimately – there is no substitute for hearing the individual, actual voices of your customers, in their own words, so make sure you are not missing this opportunity as you build and enhance your program.

Leverage qualitative insights to make your big data more meaningful. Once you hear even just six to eight of your most strategic clients proactively talk about an emerging idea or a new challenge, it points to that needle in a haystack that allows you to analyze and assess the emerging priorities more effectively with big data. The refined lens of qualitative input hones the power of the quantitative analysis.

Identify the right customers to engage by using big data to compare what they say with what they do. As a retail store marketer once pointed out to me, “We are constantly amazed at how our customers say they want to buy one type of goods, while their actual purchase behavior never matches up.” Combining the conversation with the customer with big data insights on their actual behavior reveals a multifaceted feedback channel for analyzing and comparing customers’ words with their actions.

Analytics tools provide new ways to look across different data types to help uncover unexpected gaps in your products and services, and in your customers’ motivations. Use this information to test some of the surprise insights with customers you talk with regularly, to further hone the implications.

Winning with the customer, and having a truly customer-centric strategy, takes a balanced combination of qualitative and quantitative feedback. Marketers who rely solely on big data for customer insights are missing half the equation. In order to diagnose, understand and address what your customers really want from your business, you’re going to need to hear it from them directly.

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