How analyzing the small customer data can make a big difference

Advances in collecting and analyzing enormous amounts of data affords us the opportunity to develop better and more precise products. However, this data may not be as important as the 'small data' that is available from your users and customers.

google data center
Credit: Google

Every day we read of new discoveries that are being made courtesy of big data.  Large cities are using this information to predict when and where crime is likely to occur.  Meteorologists fill racks of hard drives with historical weather patterns to provide forecasts that are more accurate than ever.  Entire professions are being created to focus efforts on both collecting and analyzing information that was once considered insignificant.

According to Computerworld, a Boeing 787 can generate approximately the same amount of data as the World Wide Web did in 1996, roughly half of a terabyte.  The information is made available to analyze everything from the speed and direction of the plane to the vibrations emitted from each engine.  There is no doubt that this data will be refined to suggest quicker routes and fuel saving methods, but that information will be of little use if the company is unable to satisfy their customer demands.  Customer satisfaction is obtained from much smaller data.

Each year at this time I do the unthinkable.  I am warned by my fellow managers that it’s a bad idea and that feelings will be hurt.  My employees protest that we are not going to get any real use out of it and that it will be a negative experience.  But I do it anyway; I send out the Annual Information Technology Survey.  It goes to every one of our users and we make sure that all responses remain anonymous.

Let me begin by saying that the first time I did this, the results were less than glowing.  I received a lot of “constructive criticism.”  Such comments as “you don’t have one good person in that whole department” or “our requests are never addressed” were scattered evenly with the complimentary responses.  Respondents had no problem referencing specific staff and letting me know just what they thought.  But they also gave great feedback in regards to their systems, software, networks, etc.

Later years’ comments have been much different from the first.  There are now numerous comments that say “thanks for fixing xyz” and “we really like that you implemented abc.”  The positive comments are much more frequent than the occasional “it took forever to get service” comments.  Our department is still not perfect, but we get closer each year.

The only way that we have been able to make this drastic change is by asking people what it is they need, what they want, what they like, and what they hate.  I ask people to be honest and give me both the good and the bad. I ask for them to tell me their suggestions then determine whether they are feasible or not and if so we try to find a way to make it happen.

Surveying our users gives us the ability to set direction.  We cannot do everything.  But we can do a pretty good job at accomplishing most requests, especially if we aren’t wasting time on projects that nobody really cares about.  Is there really any other way to know how your resources should be dedicated?

I encourage all CIOs / Directors to try this tactic if you believe yourself to be a leader.  It can be a most humbling and eye opening experience.   You will find that monitoring customer/user satisfaction levels will have a greater impact than any other information.  Before you begin your next big data project, how about taking some time to review your small data?

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