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Big Data. Conferences, businesses, bloggers—everyone wants in on the action. In particular, customer service organizations want Big Data because they believe that parsing multiple streams of information will improve service and, therefore, boost customer loyalty.

And, certainly, customer service needs to improve. After all, the best companies in the world barely achieve an NPS (Net Promoter Score) over 60. Meanwhile, the average ACSI (American Customer Satisfaction Index) hovers in the mid-70’s.

But will Big Data work for customer service? Is Big Data a worthy investment?

Yes and No. What we find is that for some aspects of customer experience—such as the ability to customize customer service recommendations—Big Data helps. But, when it comes to customer service conversations, its value is limited.  In fact, when talking, emailing or chatting with an actual human being, Big Data is less than 5% relevant. Here’s why: Conversations are, by nature, emotionally complex and unpredictable. Big Data can’t show associates how to listen, engage and connect in the present moment. And, based on listening to tens of thousands of calls, we find issues arising in the course of the conversation make up approx. 95% of an interaction.

For mastery of the present moment, you need Interaction Data—because Interaction Data uniquely captures what happens, and how customers respond, throughout conversations. Plus, Interaction Data doesn’t require a large investment in information processing. Even better, Interaction Data funnels into Interaction Analysis which pinpoints gaps, opportunities and how to improve.

Speech analytics and voice recognition catch pitch changes and word choice, which provide basic interaction information. But since they don’t deal with emotional complexity, these tools only offer a primitive form of data-gathering and analysis. Basically, they trade meaning and nuance for the ability to process volumes of content quickly.  Remember, even the costliest, smartest computers like IBM’s Watson merely produce possible answers and their associated confidence intervals—they can’t have real conversations or understand the meaning of what’s going on.

When it comes to improving customer service, how much should you invest in Big Data? It depends.

  • Are you in a simple service environment where it’s possible and important to predict customers’ preferences and answers?
  • Or are your interactions complex, such that it would be better to show your customers that you’re in sync and care about their questions?

Also, consider: Big Data could be a distraction. As Nate Silver says in The Signal and the Noise, “The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.” If noisy data impinges on your ability to hear customers’ signals, Big Data will do more harm than good.

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