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Big Data or Big Brother? How to use data to create a better customer experience

Businesses are competing to offer more personalised and relevant customer experiences. To that end, marketing and sales teams are scrambling to gather as much data as possible on each and every current customer or potential prospect.

In many respects, this is an invasive process and people are increasingly unwilling to simply hand-over their personal details. Moreover, cyber-security is a growing concern for businesses, governments and individuals. Fears around identity theft, data breaches and sophisticated cyber-heists have all contributed to an increase in online surveillance which is reminiscent of Big Brother.

In George Orwell’s prescient novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Big Brother uses data technology to maintain absolute control over the inhabitants of the totalitarian state ‘Oceania’. When used correctly, Big Data is a powerful tool that can nurture important customer relationships and help businesses grow. But when companies hoard personal data and use it to keep tabs on customers or occasionally spam them with unsolicited content, it’s not just irritating – it’s creepy.

To avoid the risk of acting like Big Brother and alienating customers, your business needs to consider the following three steps to managing your data-driven technologies effectively.

1. Use the right data, not just any data

The definition of Big Data is simply "large amounts of data”. It’s merely an indication of quantity, not quality. Rather than avariciously gathering and storing new information at every possible turn, you need to carefully consider where you are sourcing data from and how useful it is to your business.

With reams of useless data in storage, important customer information can get lost or buried and red flags such as a drop in sales are easily missed. Customer data also loses relevance as business needs change. It’s absolutely vital that you run regular data health-checks to stay up-to-date with your customers, as well as delete any old data that is no longer necessary.

Only by clearing out the clutter will you be able to see the data that really matters – and thus be able to communicate with your customers better.

2. Prioritise personalisation

Personalisation is not just about spelling your customer’s name correctly in an email. It’s about timing your communications correctly too. If you know customer X purchases their stock on a quarterly basis, don’t send them special offers every month. Always be relevant and time-sensitive to your customers’ needs - otherwise you run the risk of spamming them with unwanted content.

If customers think for one second that you are abusing their personal data for nothing more than a ‘spray and pray’ sales approach, your relationship will weaken quickly.

3. Be consistent

Your first and foremost priority should be to ensure a positive and consistent customer experience. If you’re using multiple channels to connect with your customers such as mobile, social media, and email, then make sure it’s a two-way interaction. Too many businesses dump content on customers via online platforms, or use these platforms to monitor customers’ buying habits, yet are unable to respond to a simple query or request for help.

Steer clear of this Big Brother tendency and open up your channels of communication. Be responsive to your customers’ needs and interact with them on a one-to-one level that is more human than corporate. A positive dialogue that addresses problems in real-time will make for a memorable customer experience that builds loyalty and helps drive new business opportunities. 

Companies want (and need) data-driven tools to stay competitive and scale their businesses. There is a fine line, though, between Big Data and Big Brother, and people are rightfully concerned about the unethical and inappropriate use of their personal information.

There is something to be said for ‘less is more’ and businesses that use quality data to nurture relationships, rather than spam or stalk customers, will see the biggest rewards. Technology is a tool that should benefit everyone, not just put power in the hands of a few.

Paul Black, CEO, Sales-i (opens in new tab)

Image source: Shutterstock/Wright Studio

Paul Black is the CEO of sales-i, which offers business intelligence software to simplify and improve the sales process.