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“Unstructured data,” i.e., data that cannot be captured via yes/no categories or multiple-choice formats, is all the rage with customer experience improvement experts. Customer comments, chats with customer service, phone conversations—these are all great examples of unstructured data.

What makes unstructured data so incredibly valuable is that it’s a window into customers’ thoughts. Whereas structured data simply tells you what customers feel within the limitations of the questions you thought to ask, unstructured data is where customers speak for themselves, so you learn why customers feel the way they do. But since unstructured data is… well, unstructured, how do you turn it into actionable reports?

Analytics are Great…
Software-based speech and text analytics have gained attention as a solution for managing the huge amounts of unstructured data generated by social media, customer feedback and customer service. Software analytics can categorize a customer’s tone of voice; they can also quantify silences, pre-defined words, and phrases. These capacities enable trends in customer comments to be easily identified. Plus they can help pinpoint training needs. For instance, if an associate uses a verboten word or the customer’s tone is angry, the software can alert supervisors and arm them with immediate feedback. For companies that are constantly collecting unstructured data, software-driven pattern recognition tools make good business sense. However, for companies with limited unstructured data, statistical sampling done by a researcher may be more cost effective.

…To Extract Meaning, You Need Narrative Analysis
Unfortunately for data miners (yet fortunately for human beings), customer experiences are fluid, and involve diverse expectations, subconscious reactions and a range of sensations and feelings.

A Customer Experience Analyst trained in Narrative Analysis can examine the full story—text and subtext—to understand customers’ states of mind, interests, and concerns. Narrative Analysis builds on text analytics, by applying human intelligence and discovering what’s truly interesting in your customer interactions. It’s not that software isn’t smart—it is. Chess is a smart people’s game at which machine intelligence excels. But that’s because chess is based on math and rules. What makes customer experience fascinating is its variable, emergent nature. In fact, for training and trend-spotting, customer situations that are exceptions to the rules can be the most interesting.

Mining Strategy
Unstructured data is a gold mine. Text analytics identify themes you have explicitly thought of and built into your software. Narrative Analysis identifies your new opportunities and things you haven’t previously considered.  It’s how you set (and re-set) your company’s bar higher. It’s how you address your evolving marketplace; it’s at the crux of how you innovate.

Takeaway: Combine text analytics WITH Narrative Analysis to mine the gold from your unstructured data efficiently.

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