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To Achieve 'Big Data Nirvana,' Marketers Must Focus on Customer

Big Data really is a big deal. It seems like there is always a new survey showing that an increasing number of companies are already in the midst of big data initiatives or planning for one.

A study from QuinStreet Enterprise, for example, found that a whopping 77 percent of organizations consider Big Data analytics a priority. Nearly 40 percent of organizations have already deployed at least one big data project or are in the process of doing so.

The top benefit cited by respondents of this study is making data more transparent and quickly ready to use. Speed is becoming a bigger deal than ever in nearly every business unit of a company. It's especially important to marketing departments, as they seek to make the right offer to the right customers at the right time. Half of respondents said customer retention was a top business case for big data.

Big Data Promises Going Largely Unfulfilled

Marketers hope that big data technologies will bring them closer to real-time insights and help them better leverage unstructured data found in such places as social networks. Thus far, however, the promise seems to be going largely unfulfilled. A report released by the CMO Council in December found marketers dissatisfied with their companies' ability to offer real-time delivery of sales intelligence.

Many marketers are "trying to tackle big data by managing their own social and marketing data and attempting to mix and merge it together themselves," said Liz Miller, the CMO Council's vice president of Marketing Programs and Operations, when I interviewed her about the report.

Marketers who want to leverage big data should enlist their IT organizations to help them create a data strategy, Miller advised. "They should work with their IT partners to say, 'Here is my version of data nirvana. How can we get there?' IT can help you discover both internal and external data sources and determine how to integrate it with your existing data."

Technology Challenges Associated with Big Data

While there are technology challenges associated with big data that must be addressed, many involving data quality and data integration, they pale in comparison to cultural issues. "If you don't embrace a culture of customer centricity – by focusing all of your people, processes and technology to not only be a sales enabler but also be committed to elevating the voice of the customer throughout the organization – you are never going to get to that state of Big Data nirvana," Miller told me.

Advice to Better Mapping of the Customer Journey

Several customer relationship experts echoed Miller's views in an article published last month on Enterprise Apps Today. The key to fostering a better relationship with customers is better mapping the customer journey across channels such as websites, call centers and brick-and-mortar locations and gathering relevant data along the way, they agreed.

They offered four essential bits of advice:

Design your CRM strategy from the customer perspective

Scott Hays, senior director of Product Marketing for KANA Software, said offering tailored customer experiences is an important part of this, a task that can be made easier by analyzing data gathered during prior interactions with your company. It's also a good idea to let consumers customize their own experiences to suit their preferences, he suggested.

Empower customer service agents with information

Hays said companies should try to provide a single system that brings together all the channels, process and context with a single routing or queuing mechanism to support it. Doing so will ensure customer service agents have complete, consistent and contextual data, which can be used to solve customers' problems.

This is largely not happening today. Nearly 60 percent of respondents surveyed for the CMO Council report said customer information systems did not extend out from sales and into customer-facing, front-line functions. Three-quarters of respondents said there was either limited sharing of data or no sharing at all because data is contained in two completely different systems.

Ensure CRM support processes are in place

Jamie Fiorda, product marketing director for Microsoft Dynamics CRM, said marketing, sales and service teams must be provided with processes and workflows that help them deliver an outstanding customer experience. "If you don’t think through the customer experience and define good processes that your marketing, sales and service teams can use, your CRM implementation won’t be successful," Fiorda said.

Don't try to do it all

The best way to begin a CRM initiative is to focus on an initial pain point, Fiorda advised. With big data, it can be tempting to try to solve many problems at once. Hays suggested focusing first on improving the two or three channels used most by customers, while working on improving common metrics like first contact resolution and customer satisfaction.

Ann All - Editor

Ann All is the editor of Enterprise Apps Today and eSecurity Planet. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade, writing about everything from business intelligence to virtualization.


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