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Building a Great DX: Get Started with “Smarter Data”

There’s one word that comes up in every discussion about Big Data: “overwhelming.”

Because it is.

A recent Economist survey of global corporations revealed that only 19 percent felt that they were effectively managing and utilizing their big data.

Feel better?

Okay, now let’s regroup and get started on smarter data -- data you can actually use to deliver great digital experiences.

Here’s one small, smart, real-world model worth bringing into the digital realm: the way the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain gathers data.

Every employee of the Ritz-Carlton helps to maintain a company-wide database of customer preferences. If a guest requests an extra pillow -- it’s entered into the network. A favorite beverage? Captured. Morning newspaper? Noted.

This data is shared across the entire global network of hotels, to improve customer service and increase customer loyalty.

The same approach can work online: with Facebook “likes,” website logins, ebook downloads, and responses to email campaigns. They can all be sorted and analyzed, potentially yielding significant and valuable information.


Cut Big Data Down to Size

First, don’t be awed by big data.

That’s the advice from Bill Franks, chief analytics officer for Teradata and a faculty member of the International Institute for Analytics.

“In many cases, Big Data is used for the exact same kind of analytics you’ve been doing for some time, just with more data points from new data sources added to the mix.”

Franks, who is the author of the book Taming the Big Data Tidal Wave, (John Wiley & Sons, April 2012), points out that forward- looking companies are always struggling with new data types. In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, for example, many organizations were struggling to use transactional data for broad analytics purposes. Now transaction data is “not much of a challenge,” he says.

Today the frontier is “unstructured” data, meaning that it doesn’t notch neatly into a standard relational database. Unstructured data is a book review on Amazon, a comment on a blog, a video on YouTube, a podcast, a tweet.

It’s important to keep incorporating that data, to keep widening your focus to include all the places—all the ways—someone can interact with your company: from call centers, to in-store displays, to your website. Don’t forget email marketing campaigns, banner advertising, social media, and mobile advertising .

But what’s most important is to use that data, not just let it sit around.

Patricio Sapir, the director of interactive development at Precision Dialogue, uses Big Data to paint a picture.

Precision Dialogue is a multi-channel customer engagement firm with offices in Cleveland, Chicago, and Boston. Well-known clients include Kay Jewelers, Midas, OfficeMax, and Sherwin-Williams.

“For me big data is the ability to describe someone by the data you have,” Patricio told me. “The transactional data, the data from mobile apps -- it’s a portrait.”

Patricio uses that data.

“We make the customer the protagonist of the story we are telling,” Patricio said. “The key is to use the data to figure out first, what is that customer doing; and second, what is the next course of action. Both are important.”

“We want each customer to take a very personal journey.”

Patricio reminded me that today there’s a new challenge to creating this kind of journey.

“The relationship with a customer can start anywhere, on any device,” he said. “So you have to be consistent across each channel.”

Gregg Weisstein, of BloomNation.com, also creates pictures with data, lots of data.

He told me that he has “far more flower data, by far, than any other floral website:” over 32,000 unique arrangements for sale, by over 2,000 florists, delivering to nearly 3,000 cities.

His focus: “to understand and properly using this data to make the customer’s experience as easy as possible.”

His greatest challenge, he added, is “to manage that data so that it seamlessly localizes and personalizes the experience for each customer that comes to the site .”

Turning big data into smarter data is a process, and the goal isn’t more big data: it’s a great digital experience.

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