6 Keys to Harnessing the Power of Big Data

6 Keys to Harnessing the Power of Big Data – Published by Victoria Zagorsky:

For many years, organisations relied on surveys and other research methods to obtain insights into customers’ needs, attitudes, and behaviours. Traditional data collection methods, including face-to-face and telephone surveys were expensive and time-consuming, which meant that marketers dealt with a relatively limited amount of data. As online research gained traction, data collection became significantly cheaper, faster and less complicated. However, surveys measure only what customers self-report, and while an increase in volume of attitudinal data improved our ability to deliver deeper customer insight, developing a holistic 360 degree view of customers’ experience was still a challenge.

Big data represents a turning point in how customer insights are generated. We have an access to unprecedented volumes of streaming data from a diverse set of sources within and outside an organisation. Many of these types of data can be integrated with the primary research findings to develop a holistic understanding of customers’ needs, attitudes and behaviours. We can link customers’ self-reported attitudes and behaviours (captured in surveys) to socio-demographic information, as well as transactional/account-level and behavioural data. Customers’ movements across the web can be tracked, and their call center records can be analysed. We can listen to their conversations on social media to develop an understanding of their perceptions about brand and customer experience. Loyalty schemes may provide an additional source of data. All of these including other data sources (such as third party data) can be integrated to yield unprecedented insights into customers’ experience.

Organisations that have access to the granular customer-level data are best positioned to leverage the power of the big data. Retailers are well-known for using big data to enhance targeting and to deliver personalised offers and promotions, such as in Target’s often cited case of sending coupons for pregnancy-related goods to a teenage girl before she had a chance to inform her parents. Companies in the financial services, travel, hospitality, and telecom sectors also take advantage of the big data to improve customer experience/retention and to drive business growth. Other organisations are at the beginning of the journey and experimenting with the uses of the big data to explore how it can help them secure a competitive edge.

Data streams may vary across different industries; however, there are six common themes that should be at the top of the agenda of those businesses that aim to harness the power of the big data to deliver a deeper customer insight:

Redefine Industry Paradigm: From Data Collection to Synthesis
The role of market researchers will need to evolve from data collection to synthesis. Data collection has been at the core of market research discipline; however, when presented a business issue, we will need to think not only of the data collection methodology but also explore a variety of pre-existing data sets. We will need to combine primary research results with the other types of information, and perform an analysis in order to derive meaning from the data and to generate actionable insights that will drive more informed business decisions. For example, a customer insights team at the retail bank can marry the results of the NPS* program with the socio-demographic and account-level information as well other types of data (such as phone banking call records) to improve customer experience and loyalty.

Promote Data Sharing and Collaboration
As focus is shifting towards data synthesis, it is vital for corporate researchers to have access to data from a variety of sources and to collaborate closely with analytics groups. One of the greatest challenges that many organisations confront is the existence of barriers that impede data sharing across business silos. An emphasis should be placed on cultivating data-driven culture and promoting data sharing. Organisations should also integrate research functions with analytics groups and foster collaboration between the two in order to facilitate data synthesis and analysis.

Invest in Technology and Skills
To leverage the power of Big Data, the infrastructure must be in place to ensure that all data are stored in a common location and internal stakeholders have access to customer information for their decision making. Organisations need to invest into developing two sets of skills. First, technology proficiency is important to ensure that stakeholders can access and utilize customer information. However, data on its own has very limited value, and without skills to interpret data, an organisation has a risk of becoming data rich but insight poor. Human intelligence is needed to attach context and translate raw numbers into insight to tell a story that will help business achieve its objectives. It is therefore critical to develop data competence skills.

Manage Quality of Data
One of the guiding principles at the heart of market research is that quality of inputs is essential to producing meaningful results. It is widely known as “garbage in, garbage out”, and the effectiveness of big data initiatives is to a very large extent a function of the quality of data. No matter how sophisticated the analysis is, wrong data will generate misleading results. And while the responsibility for the quality of data in research programs lies primarily with the research teams, managing the quality of big data requires an organisation-wide commitment and coordinated efforts of diverse business units.

Define Objectives and Set Priorities
Any effective market research program begins with clearly defined objectives. Similarly the Big Data initiatives require a focused approach and a clear understanding of challenges that an organisation needs to address using data. Due to the abundance and variety of the data, it may be difficult to decide which data sources to use and how to synthesise data effectively to generate actionable insights. For example, to develop an effective customer retention program, retail banks may explore a variety of data sources including transactional information across multiple channels, web-tracking data, social media, voice recordings, correspondence and survey findings. Attempting to analyse and integrate all available data is an overwhelming task, and without clear set of priorities and direction, Big Data efforts are likely to fail.

Focus on Actionable Insights
According to estimates, 2.7 zetabytes of data already exist in the digital universe1, and every 1.2 years, volume of business data worldwide doubles. Despite data explosion, we have not witnessed similar increase in the quantity of actionable insights that can positively impact company’s bottom line. Research departments must focus on translating data into insights that drive business impact and add value to an organisation. Finding the story behind the numbers and delivering meaningful insights requires an adequate understanding of customers, market and wider business context. To maximize ROI, it is also critical to communicate insights effectively and to collaborate with internal stakeholders to translate findings into action plans to help business achieve its objectives.

Big Data is poised to revolutionise the process of uncovering customer insights. Synthesizing traditional research results with a variety of other data gives market researchers an unprecedented opportunity to develop a holistic, insightful 360 degree view of customers at the individual and group levels.

Victoria Zagorsky is Consumer Insights Manager at Citibank.

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