Finding the Voice of the Customer in Unstructured Data


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I was recently involved in some market research pertaining to the convergence of structured and unstructured data. It’s a topic that has been catching interest through the intersection of BI, Search and Text Analytics.

As you know, information channels such as the Web, email, call center narratives, field service notes and survey forms (just to name a few) are creating huge stores of nontraditional data. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of the data within most organizations falls outside of the traditional “structured” data category.

The voice of the customer is not always easy to hear, or more importantly, to understand. There is no doubt though that the words found in unstructured data have life. Nouns with pulse rates … Muscular adjectives … Verbs that dart back and forth across the document. Those words, our language in context, often represents the voice and sentiment of the customer.

And the research showed that organizations are starting to prioritize the use of unstructured data with 23% of those ranked as Best-in-Class rating the topic as a top priority while 58% ranked it as a high priority. The Best-in-Class are also aggressively investigating the future sources from which they will pull unstructured data. Web 2.0 sources such as weblogs, RSS feeds and wiki pages lead the way with 52% currently evaluating or planning to evaluate those sources.

However; the perspective of one of the executives I interviewed is worth noting:

“A lot of what passes for structured information is still just structured data. And structured data is not the same thing as information … it often requires processing to become suitably refined so that BI tools can make sense of it. Maybe we’re not Best-in-Class … but we’re still focused on structured data.”

From your point-of-view (technology power-user, marketing executive, consultant, vendor, academic, etc) how do you see the leverage of unstructured data in order to embrace the voice of the customer?

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  1. As the advent of technology paves way for democratisation of customer views, harnessing the unstructured information generated by the same will be of substantial value as organisations work towards building brand-equity and strengthening customer relations.A large no. of organisations are doing a substantial amount of work in the area of channelising this unstructured data and interpret the same into data that can be quantified, compared, used to measure marketing productivity.
    A few cases in point would include-
    Neisen Buzzmetrics’ Blogpulse and other tools for trend analysis and tracking the flow of conversation.
    Buzzlogics’ use of the power of influence to figure out the opinion leaders and rework marketing strategies.
    Sentimetrix-use of market sentiment analysis
    Reputica-tracking market reputations….
    …….and many more………

  2. Alan, Vandana

    I am as keen on this approach to collecting unstructured data as both of you are. With the right statistical tools, rich, contextual, unstructured data can provide us with valuable insights into customer attitudes, intentions and behaviours that no amount of transaction data can ever provide. But, in the rush to meaure unstructured data on-line, we must not forget that the vast majority of unstructured data still lies off-line. Capturing this data is a real challenge for unstructured data analysis. So is the further development of statistical tools to separate the insights from the noise.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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