Shep Hyken's Customer Service Blog

Big Data, Little Data: A Customer Experience Opportunity Waiting to Happen

Big-DataThe Best Companies Take Advantage of Both

According to Wikipedia, Big Data is a collection of data so large and complex it becomes difficult to process…  However, many companies embrace a different concept of Big Data. While the collection of data is broad, based on a large amount of information and customer feedback, these companies are able to filter through it to understand general customer behavior and trends. 

Just this week RetailWire, a daily online publication, posed a question about Big Data versus Little Data.  A term not quite as well known, Little Data is a collection of information on an individual or smaller group of customers.  Rather than using this data to spot a trend, the company uses the data to customize the customer’s experience.

For example, the manager at a restaurant knows a specific customer’s favorite table.  Or a car rental company that knows a particular customer likes a four-door mid-size car.  The data or information the company has acquired about the customer is specific.

The company that RetailWire used as an example was Kimpton Hotels, a chain of luxury boutique hotels that understands the power of Little Data.  Their concept is to focus on the individual guest versus their customer group as a mass.  Any company will make decisions about their business based on general feedback and trends.  However, successful companies recognize that customers are not numbers or anonymous groups of people.  Those successful companies zero in on individual customer’s needs, preferences, likes and dislikes and attempt to give the customer an experience that is exactly what he or she wants.

What’s the payoff?  For the Kimpton Hotels chain it was some of the highest satisfaction rates in their industry.  They earn their customers’ repeat business with highest loyalty and emotional attachment of any hotel chain in the United States.  They are successful because they know who they are as a brand and who they want as a customer.  Because of Big Data, they know the typical guest who stays at their hotels.  And, once the guest is there, they have a system that takes advantage of Little Data and allows the onsite employees to individualize the guest’s experience.

Big data gives you trends to make major decisions. Little Data gives you information to keep your best customers coming back.  It’s that simple.  The question is really about whether or not a company is willing to invest in the technology to track and recognize customer preferences that fall within an acceptable range, and then are willing to train their people to deliver an experience based on this information.

Another way of saying this: Many voices, or Big Data, may say the same thing and spot a trend. A few voices, or Little Data, may say something different and spot an opportunity.  The best companies take advantage of both!

Shep Hyken is a customer service expert, professional speaker and New York Times  bestselling business author. For information contact (314)692-2200 or For information on The  Customer  Focus™ customer service training programs go to Follow on Twitter: @Hyken
(Copyright ©MMXII, Shep Hyken)

  1. Good article Shep. Actually I’d also divide the problem up a bit more granularly. I agree with the many voices (haystack) versus the few (needles). On the big data side we see another key complexity, breaking big into two buckets “big” structured data which we’ve been awash in for years and “big” unstructured data which is represented by social media and customer interactions that aren’t defined by rows and columns. Getting at the authentic voice of customer through the unstructured data is a critical piece that few have solved.

    • Thank you David, for your great comment. I wanted to write this for the many people who aren’t quite sure what Big Data is – or how companies use it. Then I was asked the question on the RetailWire Braintrust Panel and thought – what a great idea for an article. The big take-away is to recognize trends and then hear that “authentic voice” from an individual customer to make them feel special. Thank you again!

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