Knowing Your Customer: There’s Big Value for Companies That Can Harness Big Data


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According to a recent article in Forbes, “companies like eBay process up to 50 petabytes of data a day, a seemingly impossible task for most organizations.”

Every marketer knows the mantra – KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER. With the advent of big data, there are more opportunities here than ever previously thought possible.

The value of big data is not just in the processing of data from a single source; it’s the correlation of data from multiple sites and multiple events that delivers the consumer insights that makes it indispensible.

“We should look to big data for inspiration — and combine it with our ability to distill those revelations into testable customer experiences,” wrote Scott Brinker in a recent article on A vital aspect of the big data movement is it provides real opportunity to gain insights from customer interactions and drive organizations to actionable improvements in their systems and processes.

And so we create systems and technologies to try to manage it. With more available data about customers and purchasing patterns, it’s no wonder we are seeing the increasing popularity of personalization technology that enables companies to target customer interests more precisely. From a retailer’s perspective, effective use of big data can positively impact the customer experience and engender loyalty because it allows the sellers to personalize offers, treatment and responses.

A study conducted by the Social Science Research Network, The Contribution of Personalization to Customers’ Loyalty Across the Bank Industry in Sweden, found personalization increased customer loyalty among bank customers in Sweden. Researchers reported a high level of personalization increased the customers’ satisfaction and commitment, as well as positive significant relationships between customers’ satisfaction, commitment and customers’ loyalty. Consequently, as customers’ satisfaction and commitment enhances, the level of customers’ loyalty also increases.

Harness Big Data to Better Serve Customers

More data allows for more closely targeting customers based on needs, purchase history and countless other demographics and pieces of historical data.

The end game is mutually beneficial: value-added personalized service for the customer and increased sales opportunities for the marketer.

Personalized advertising based on data is pervasive among online retailers and other online advertising companies. Google practically wrote the book on it. In a Wired editorial, Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson questioned: “There’s no reason to cling to our old ways. It’s time to ask: What can science learn from Google?”

Web site visits, navigation patterns, purchases by subjects, patterns, timetables, etc., are being used to deduce consumer preferences and habits and target relevant sales, offers, products and partner offers. The end game is mutually beneficial: value-added personalized service for the customer and increased sales opportunities for the marketer. Companies are trying to get it right and understand what their customers are doing and how to earn more sales out of it. In the process, they win greater customer loyalty by providing what people need when they need it.

The questions to always ask when planning marketing outreach include: who does it serve? More specifically, does it serve the customers’ interest and add value to the customer experience? Is there mutual benefit for you and your customer? Or does it solely serve your interest? Consumers will make their own determination and reward you with their loyalty if your offer is perceived as a value add.

Personalizing Outside the Digital Realm

Personalization is pervasive in the online marketing world. Anyone who has ever shopped on Amazon or eBay or watched a movie on Netflix has witnessed this firsthand through messages like: Customers who purchased (viewed) this, also purchased this. There are other valuable channels through which marketers can individualize sales pitches.

Contact centers, a strategic customer engagement channel for companies that serve as important customer touch points, are another important avenue for personalization technology. Contact centers are no stranger to effective use of data. They have historically utilized disparate data from across multiple channels and sources to intelligently route callers, determine contact history across channels, determine best offers, expose performance issues, lower costs and predict outcomes based on analytics.

With the onset of data consolidation in the cloud from multiple data sources and channels, there is tremendous potential for personalization in contact centers. The opportunities here can be quite different and more dynamic than with online purchasing, because they rely on personal, one-to-one interaction.

Contact center agents have the ability to offer highly targeted and relevant products and services to customers based on information exchanged in a phone call. If a new dad calls to add a new package from his cable company because he knows he’s going to be spending a lot more time at home for the next few years, the agent talking with him can find out the reason for the service ad and infer that same dad may also be interested in a security system to keep his new family safe. Because we know the back story, we know these services are relevant and complementary.

Many consumer purchases are based on trigger events – major or minor events in a consumer’s life that ‘trigger’ the purchase of multiple services and products. For example, a new baby joining a family, a new home purchase, retirement and so on, all precipitate the need for a wide variety of relevant and related products and services. This concept is becoming increasingly important, particularly in the contact center sales world.

If you get personalization right, it benefits the customer experience.

As a personalized approach on par with those used in online advertising, contact center personalization is focused on presenting products and services relevant to the consumer’s immediate needs and interest. A contact center agent can be automatically guided or prompted on next best actions based on factors such as engagement and purchase history, preferences and other events. Contact center personalization can get as specific as targeting by demographics, geography, contact history, purchase history, life-based events and preferences.

Companies that take a broader approach can better serve customer needs and engender loyalty by offering relevant products and services from partners through partnership marketing, as in the cable company and home security example above.

If you get personalization right, it benefits the customer experience. It creates an environment of value-added services driven by the company knowing and understanding the customer. In turn, customers feel more loyal to a company that is looking out for and serving its needs.

Big Data = Big Value

There is big value in Big Data. However, it does not come without substantial challenges. Companies must integrate systems with which they can capture and correlate data across multiple consumer touch points, channels and timelines, piecing it together from disparate sources to create a big picture.

In a December 2012 article in Harvard Business Review, Denish Shah and V. Kumar summarized their analysis of the customer data sets of five Fortune 1,000 companies during periods ranging from four to seven years. The companies included a B2B financial services firm, a B2B IT services firm, a retail bank, a catalog retailer and a fashion retailer. They focused their research on personalization programs through cross-selling between company departments.

Shah’s and Kimar’s research confirmed “the average profit from customers who cross-buy is higher than that from customers who don’t.” However, they “discovered that one in five cross-buying customers is unprofitable.” We can infer from their findings that consumers respond to offers relevant to their immediate need. They are perceived as a value-added service and build loyalty, but personalization may need to be broadened outside of the company’s realm of products.

Clearly, the advantages of big data are great. With the cloud-based data repositories available today, consolidation from multiple sources is now possible. Companies can see the good and the bad interactions and then apply insights into which actions, offers and responses make sense as next steps for their customer.

Joe McFadden
Joe McFadden is vice president of marketing for SalesPortal. He is a senior executive who participated in several successful venture-funded companies in the customer service space. McFadden has more than 25 years of solutions marketing experience and has worked with a number of emerging companies in the customer service space.


  1. No question the value of big data, but the huge value is in collecting data and selling it or monetizing it via ad sales — i.e. the Googles and Amazons of the world.

    But why is it (rhetorical question), that I think big data and getting to know your “customers” is going to end up not contributing one iota to better customer service?


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