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Don't bother with Big Data – listen to customers instead

Analytics has a role, says telco innovator, but better insights come from your ears

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Dabbling with big data won't produce insights into how to improve a business as rapidly as listening to customers' interactions with a business, according to Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation and Australia's dominant telco, Telstra.

“Insights wont come from data, they'll come from observation,” Ossipoff told delegates at Genesys' G-Force 2012 event in Sydney. The insights on offer from such observations will yield information on which business processes work and which mess customers around.

Ossipoff used the example of a customer who walked into a Telstra store and requested the cancellation of a mobile phone contract due to the death of his wife. The shop assistant mentioned a penalty for early cancellation of the contract, as specified by the company's process but of course utterly inappropriate under the circumstances (the cancellation request was dealt with appropriately).

Listening to that kind of interaction, Ossipoff told the audience of customer service professionals, is more likely to tell you what you need to change in a business than deep analysis of enormous piles of data. He therefore told the audience they need to listen to tapes of calls to their call centres, and not just read transcripts, in order to understand the nuances of what happens when real, live, customers have a query.

As another illustration of the importance of listening he revealed than 70% of support calls to Telstra come about because customer expectations have not been correctly set.

Which is not to say Ossipoff sees no role for some heavyweight data-crunching. Indeed, he said Telstra can now profile its customers and undestand where they live, what their experience of its products has been and wher it will be most appropriate to provide them with service.

In the future, he expects business will also want to use big data generated by smartphones. A scenario he offered was inspecting a home, an event that could trigger real-time analysis by a person's bank of whether or not they can afford it based on property market data, the person's credit history and more. That action could, in turn, alert those who might profit from home moves, such as utilities providers eager to capitalise on a churn opportunity, furniture stores (Ossipoff said house moves result in AUD$15,000 of new furniture purchases).

Standing in the way of such innovation, he said, is a tendency for business to atrophy and “defend legacy positions, cash flows and sunk capital.” Such tactics, he said, are unlikely to survive at a time when technology is changing consumption behaviour, especially among the young. Only by listening to their interactions with a business, and “always being in beta with new services”, can business thrive. ®

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