The collection of data has grown into a substantial industry in its own right. But what too many small business owners don’t know is that big data can help them out, too — it’s not just for major corporations.
But data is useless without a mission in mind — and what more important mission is there in business than delivering a high-quality experience? If your customers aren’t happy, nothing else about your business can work. So how can you leverage big data to make sure they’re satisfied?
Here are some ideas to get you started if you’re feeling a little lost on the digital seas.
Use data to become proactive instead of reactive
The business world has no time for reactive companies. If you’re flying by the seat of your pants instead of anticipating disruptions and investing in plans to answer them, you might discover why only about half of all small businesses survive to see their five-year anniversaries.
Arguably the most important advantage of leveraging big data is the ability to witness patterns over time. Getting real about data collection is like taking the pulse of your business — you’ll have some warning signs if things are taking an unfortunate turn and you’ll probably have some idea of how to right the ship if you study these trends for long enough.
For a look at how data can help us spot and get ahead of emerging trends, just look at how the Centers for Disease Control collaborated with Google to cross-reference search terms and doctors’ reports to see where influenza outbreaks were underway or about to occur.
Think about the advantages of having streams of real-time data on sales and customer trends as they happen. Big data can help you oversee the movement of employees, equipment, merchandise and other assets at every step of your manufacturing process or supply chain.
You’ll be able to see bottlenecks in progress and identify problematic steps in the process which might be slowing you down. None of these insights were possible at this scale — or with this level of detail — just a few short years ago. Now, you can leverage data you didn’t even know you were collecting.
Something like 80 percent of all companies collects data they don’t use — and this is a big loss because investing in big data-powered analytics could help these companies see their data as a real advantage in a crowded and unpredictable marketplace.
Use data to improve your efficiency
Part of big data’s draw for businesspeople is the promise of accessing high-level, actionable data from nearly anywhere in the world. Data is mobile-first these days, meaning all of the trackings you can do for supply chains, manufacturing and product shipments can be served from your operational hubs to nearly any mobile device and nearly any employee, no matter where they happen to be working.
For example, giving salespeople access to relevant data while they’re out in the field could result in more than a 60 percent improvement in “sales time” compared with traditional methods.
Big data analytics can help out back at your headquarters, too. Responding to negative customer experiences, for example, used to be a time-intensive process. Now, you can respond faster than ever to specific events which can trigger a response, like a bad review on one of your eCommerce channels or an uptick in bug reports from your application’s latest design iteration.
Real-world examples abound. UPS has collected and collated more than 16 petabytes of data to facilitate more than 39 million parcel tracking requests daily. UPS and similar drivers are under significant time pressures, especially around peak holiday seasons. This massive collection mechanism for logistical data ensures their massive fleet of vehicles and operators wastes as little time as possible responding to unforeseen situations and changes in variables which might delay future shipments.
Another example of using data to reduce operational friction and subtly improve customers’ experiences without their knowledge comes by way of T-Mobile. The cellular provider has reportedly made an art form of performing analysis on billing systems and even social media dispatches to reduce customer defections by 50 percent in just one quarter.
Even processes like search engine optimization and internet PR get an efficiency boost from real-time data and analytics. You can see search trends and link-building in-real time, check it against geographic and demographic data and ultimately help steer the conversation your company has become a part of.
Use data to become more personal and successful
The business world is beginning to identify a strong correlation between the personality of a company and that company’s success. Among mobile marketers involved in a recent poll, 85 percent indicated their companies enjoy more successful conversions, better customer engagement, and stronger revenue streams when they get serious about personalization.
And personalization is fueled by big data. Think of how the world’s streaming services deliver a personal experience: they keep track of what their subscribers are into and deliver additional content that should resonate with their audience. You can do the same by suggesting products that complement their purchases nicely or by sending targeted emails emphasizing testimonials or positive reviews for items they left in their shopping basket.
Put more simply, big data lets your company act more like a human being. You get to build a kind of digital rapport with your audience and give them more of what they want. Out in the real world, the importance of this process can’t really be understated. Given that some products literally mean life and death for customers — as with healthcare — industry and government in Singapore are coming together to leverage data systems to help them better tailor treatment regimens to each patients’ unique blend of health history, family background, genetics and lifestyle. The result is a way to more affordable and effectively practice medicine.
Granted, leveraging personal information requires a tricky balance between usefulness and privacy — a balance too few technology-based companies take seriously. But here’s the thing: if your company already has compelling trust signals telling your customers they can rely on you to use their data only for in-house purposes, this decision should be a no-brainer for them.
As you can see, data powers everything these days. If you haven’t yet had a serious consultation with your company leadership or with a third party about how to put data to work for you, you might be missing out on some significant opportunities to take better care of your customers — and give them something great to talk about.