Big Data and the Human Side of Business

by   |   May 13, 2015 5:30 am   |   0 Comments

It seems like a paradox. The digitization of the world is making human relationships more valuable. Pure human interaction is becoming scarcer than ever and when something becomes scarce, its value increases. However, this doesn’t mean that digitization and data have become less important. It simply means that human interaction and data can reinforce each other. Think about this: If data make everything predictable, what will happen to the value of a positive surprise? Exactly!

Big Data Should Be About Big Relevance

The digital customer relationship demands an excellent data strategy. The primary objective of the data strategy should not be a short-term increase in sales revenue. It should focus instead on increasing the levels of relevance in the customer relationship.

One of the foundations to successfully apply this philosophy is data: how you acquire it, how you store it, and how you use it. For the customer, big data is all about big relevance. Modern consumers expect to receive some form of added value in exchange for all the data they provide. To ensure they receive this added value, a three-step pyramid model has been developed to show how data can be used to increase customer relevance.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


The first step in the model, big wisdom, is the need for greater customer knowledge. It is the foundation for everything else. In early 2014, Dutch retail group BAS rolled out beacon technology in its stores. In its initial phase, the only purpose was to collect more information about customers’ shopping habits. “The creative marketing work will only come into it later,” the company said. There have never been this many options to acquire more and better information about customers.

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In the second step of the pyramid, big help, the collected data are used to provide a better service to customers. A total of 44 percent of consumers are happy to make their data available for analysis if this will result in a better customer experience.

In the third and final step of the pyramid, big personalization, the data are used to personalize products, services, and communication. Again, 41 percent of consumers are willing to share their data to enable such personalization. And 46 percent would like to receive personalized information. Over time, the combined effects of the correct use of the pyramid structure will indirectly benefit the company’s bottom line.

If Everything Becomes Predictable, Surprise Becomes More Valuable

Big data enables predictive marketing. Marketers can now predict consumer behavior. In the old marketing world, marketers waited for customers to act and measurements only happened after the customers’ actions. Today, marketers assess previous behavior to predict future behavior. This is really cool, but it can end up being pretty boring as well. If Google knows what you like, you will find what you like. If you are interested in a certain brand of shoes, you will see advertisements for those particular shoes.

All of this available online information allows customers to prepare every experience and purchase so well that they always know what to expect. When consumers plan a vacation, for example, they might visit 20 different websites. Once they arrive at their holiday destination, their first reaction tends to be, “This looks exactly like the pictures I saw online.” When people go to a concert, they check out content on YouTube first to see if the tickets are worth the money. In this world made predictable by marketers and content transparency, consumers are hardly ever surprised anymore. Therefore, it is really worth it to look for ways to surprise customers in a positive way. Once again, as surprises have become less frequent, their value has increased.

When Digital Becomes Human

This philosophy is the concept of my latest book, “When Digital Becomes Human,” which is about the customer relationship of the future. The customer relationship of the future obviously will be digital. Customer relationships are increasingly automated. And without big data, automation is impossible.

However, the more a customer relationship is digitized, the more valuable the human interface becomes. It is not a case of human versus digital, but a case of human and digital. Digitization is good for automation, efficiency, and prediction. The human interface is good for creating an emotional bond between a company and a customer. Humans need to be good at those elements that computers are less good at. Empathic thinking and communication, passionate behavior, and creativity are unique human skills. (This is currently the case, but may change in the future.) It sounds easy, but the key question is, “Is your company motivating its employees to be really good at these three skills, or is your company holding its employees back from using these skills?” Companies investing in the strengths of digitization and the strengths of humans will create a new, unique form of customer centricity.

Steven Van Belleghem is a thought leader on the transformation of customer relations and the future of marketing. He is an expert at inspiring companies to become true customer-centric organizations in this high speed digital world. Steven is a bestselling author of “The Conversation Manager” and “The Conversation Company.” His latest book is called “When Digital becomes Human.”

Steven studied applied economics at the University of Ghent. His summers were spent specializing in marketing at UC Berkeley. He started his professional career as a research assistant at the Vlerick Business School, where he remains a guest marketing professor to this day. 

In 2001, Steven was one of the first employees to join InSites Consulting, a start-up in the online research industry. Over time he worked his way up to become one of the company’s managing partners and shareholders. In 2012, Steven started his own inspiration company, called B-Conversational. He runs the company with his wife, business partner, and best friend Evi and together they inspire companies around the world. Most of Steven’s time goes to giving keynote speeches and organizing workshops and business coaching sessions.

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