In 2017, IBM estimated we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data every day. As this number continues to grow exponentially, so does the very common misconception that larger quantities of data equate to a deeper understanding of people. It’s an idea present across every industry and sector, largely addressed under the guise of “big data.”
The reality for most companies–and one especially true for marketers–is that most of the “big data” that decision makers have access to isn’t all the information needed to make accurate choices related to current and potential customers. There’s simply too much data for any one person to intelligently comb through, much less extrapolate meaningful, actionable insights from. The customer’s voice gets lost in the data.
To handle the overload, some leading marketers have naturally begun to shift toward what Martin Lindstrom coined in 2016: small data. Bite-sized pieces of information that drive meaningful and intelligent decision-making, small data can paint a much more comprehensive picture of an audience in the moment. In today’s business climate, where growth is highly dependent on providing great customer experience, having an accurate understanding of customers’ overall feelings and attitudes–about your brand, specifically, but also the world at large–ensures you’ll be able to offer the right products and solutions for their needs.
That isn’t to say you should entirely eschew larger, bigger data sets. Both can be incredibly valuable, but customer feedback needs to represent the emotional or human experience, as well as the quantitative feedback. You simply have to be willing to listen to what your customers want to say, and have the discipline to keep the customer in the room when making decisions.
Take eBay, for example. Aiming to uncover the true voice of its customers, eBay used an integrated approach to identify key drivers of joy and frustration across different user experiences. The combination of survey and video interview techniques within the research phase helped the brand better understand customer pain points and clarify its problem-solving solutions.
If you’re attempting to build an exceptional customer experience without a holistic understanding of your audience, any data you collect will render “the voice of the customer” as useful as white noise. It’s similar to how we look at survey data used in combination with video interviews or focus groups: together they provide far more accurate a description than either could on its own.
So how can you effectively harness the power of data to build a better customer experience? Really listen to what your customers have to say.
The quickest way to lose a customer’s loyalty is to assume you know how he or she will feel about or react to a product or campaign, so eliminate assumptions and think about how you can maintain an open line of communication. Customers are more than willing to give feedback and let you know exactly what you could be doing to make them happier, the good and the bad. In fact, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, marketing researchers at Boston and Stanford Universities revealed that even “moderately positive reviews were not just seen as more persuasive but as more helpful.”
There is incredible value in all forms of feedback. I think about a survey we recently conducted looking at sentiment on LGBTQ representation in the media. Designed to provide a snapshot of how people feel about this demographic’s portrayal in the public eye during Pride Month in the US, our survey actually underscored the importance of advocating for a community even when there was no direct benefit to the company. Herein lies the undeniable importance of listening, and then responding, to what your customers have to say.
Once you’ve established a more fluid channel of communication with your customers, embrace an “ask first mentality.” Companies fail the most when they assume they know better than the customer or jump on trends merely for the sake of trying to get involved in the cultural conversation of the day. As we found in our LGBTQ study, authenticity speaks volumes when considering your customer experience.
That said, customers’ opinions change based on myriad factors, so it takes more than asking one or two infrequent questions to have an accurate sense of what they expect and want. Research conducted on a regular basis will inherently deliver more useful insights than an ad hoc or ‘one and done’ approach. The good news is that with the array of research technology available on the market today, it’s easier than ever to pressure-test how your ideas will resonate with customers. By working with a partner able to combine customer surveys with video interviews and online focus group platforms, brands today are better able to bring together participants across multiple geographies and demographics in real-time to deliver humanized insights and ensure that products and campaigns will best resonate with audiences.
Making a fundamental commitment to hearing your customers’ voice and embracing it across all facets of your company, create a better overall experience with your company. Loyalty is finicky to begin with, and it doesn’t take much for a customer to shift to another brand if they feel your company no longer fulfills his/her needs. If you expect your customers to tell you what they think or how they feel about your company or product, openly communicate with them along the way. With an always-on approach to listening to and understanding customers–rather than sporadically adding to a big data backlog–you’re more likely to build lasting, and loyal, relationships.