|By Rachel Delacour||
|July 20, 2013 01:00 PM EDT||
Don't correct me if you've heard this one before: Information wants to be free. The Internet, cloud services plus mobile devices offer limitless possibilities to experience this freedom. With Big Data, information wants to be relevant, too. There are now more mobile phones in the world than people, so querying and interacting with data has become ubiquitous and affordable.
That vast ocean of structured and unstructured tidbits online is talking to us. Are we listening?
The empowered consumer can discover nearly anything, anywhere and anytime with a few taps or clicks. Consumers will research what they might buy, often right at the store. And I'm not just talking about price comparisons. A potential buyer will do hardcore data sleuthing, looking into the brand's history, scan reviews and seek out input from friends and family before ever putting anything into the shopping cart.
For businesses, this immediacy and depth of information is familiar because they have been engaging in this kind of business intelligence for some time. Mining consumer behavior and buying decisions is a valuable tool. But when that power is suddenly in the hands of the customer armed with a smartphone, it can become a fearsome prospect.
In essence, consumers are exercising similar Big Data strategies when running their personal lives as a manager doing his or her job. We see the same two drivers that are shaking up the corporate world: bring your own device (BYOD) and bring your own service (BYOS). Those two will fundamentally impact the modern business world because they turn every employee and every customer into a data-driven stakeholder who is free to follow their curiosity. A sea of empowered consumers who can run their own data sleuthing project at the spur of the moment seem intimidating at first. Yet I see an ocean of opportunity to create a better customer experience and, ultimately, generate more profit.
Thanks to the democratization of Big Data, brands and their customers can finally interact at eye level, because both are powered by ad-hoc analysis and decision support. When everyone has access to the same range of data sources, whether they are historic or live, it brings us one step closer to the vision of markets as true conversations. What's more, data-driven conversations will enable a company to improve their services in three crucial ways: make them elegant, elastic and endlessly personal.
Understanding how customers make choices in today's data-rich environment is the first step toward having this conversation that's been touted for at least a decade. Beyond doing their independent and social media research, consumers start with companies or retailers they already know something about. An IBM study shows that consumers prefer brands and stores they trust, partly as a way to avoid information overload. Reputation, as relayed by a quick data analysis on your mobile device, can make or break a deal. And it can cut short a potentially life-long and very valuable relationship.
Take the spat over a review of a Tesla electric car. The company responded to a negative review by publishing detailed vehicle logs. It's arguable whether it settled the question of who was right, but it certainly created a sizable backlash. I'm not the only one who thinks that Tesla missed an opportunity to effectively use Big Data. Ideally, you want to incorporate customer feedback and data to improve your products and services and do it in a transparent way.
I'd go one step further. If information wants to be free and data is becoming the currency of the future, why not open our information stores to the people? Big Data starts with humans and ends with humans, whether they generate it, query it or make decisions with it. The move to more openness will unlock secret pockets of innovation, and transparency can only grow a company's reputation.
What can Big Data learn from the consumer? It's not about collecting ever-larger amounts of data, which is happening anyway. Organizations have much to learn by listening to and watching how consumers use tools to access and collect data, how they interact with it, and how they share insights. It starts with letting your creative minds inside a department or company play with devices and services in the cloud to ask questions, probe results and uncover new connections between the data you already have and that are streaming in every second. And it should continue with inviting consumers to share their questions and answers with your organization. Let them surprise you.
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