Anticipating Needs in Real Time: Are You Failing?

We love search, but do we really? What we are really saying is: I wish someone would find what I want. When we make people search, are we failing?

I am cross-posting a blog entry I authored for my company, AbsolutData, this month entitled: Identifying Customer Needs with Big Data.

“By the time you search, something’s already failed,” Phil Libin, chief executive of Evernote, said in an interview recently with the New York Times.

Brands can’t afford to fail to anticipate needs. With customer interaction, brands must respond before being explicitly asked – and the window of anticipatory response is shrinking every day. Before customers put energy into searching the site or asking for a product, brands that win in this ultra-competitive environment will have already anticipated – and created – a solution. As marketers, if we want to lead, we must provide customers with a situation that cuts out uncertainty.

Most businesses think this is rocket science, but we’ve had the tools to do it for a long time. Today it’s getting easier and becoming more of a mandate with the benefits of Big Data.

Big Data is already being used to identify customer needs

For 60 years, marketers have been building products that anticipate the needs of consumers. The difference now is that we have the data and tools to understand these needs in various contexts. Customers have been segmented by groups for more than 10 years, but Big Data allows us to classify individual customer needs and act in real time.

What used to be one-way is now a two-way social channel. Digitally and socially, marketers have new opportunities for relationships to increase loyalty through trust and wonder.

Big Data also allows for geographic opportunities to anticipate customer needs. Whether they’re on the highway, visiting a shopping center or out to dinner, we have an opportunity to communicate with customers at virtually any time using a mobile device. No, it’s not rocket science. In fact, some companies are already using analytics to anticipate their customers’ next moves.

Google Now’s Google Cards are a great example of how data is already being used to understand customers’ needs before they search. Google Cards works on Android phones to search existing user content, in addition to other data patterns including geographic location, to anticipate what the user will need.

For example, when your alarm goes off in the morning the application pulls up directions with the approximate time your route will take, suggesting when to leave and even providing alternative routes, if traffic is heavy. Google knows you go to work at the same time from your appointments and knows the location from your past map searches. It will even tell you stop hitting snooze or you’ll be late! The application also pulls up other things you may need for the day, including weather and important appointments.

A wider known example is Expedia’s use of data to suggest other items you may be interested in booking based on your previous behavior and others who have taken a similar trip. Even Amazon suggests new books, based on your interests and what others have read.

How businesses can move this forward within their organization

Most companies already have what they need, but they’re either not capturing it or aren’t using it in the correct way. Businesses have access to customer behavior data as well as social and transactional data. This gives them the tools to understand their customers on a much deeper level.

The first step in using this data is figuring out the vision – then you can make an argument for collecting, aggregating, storing and even mining the data. This comes from thinking about the company over a transformative period. How do you want the customer experience to differ? How can you improve the business? Larger, strategic changes can be greatly improved by the use of data.

Once you’re ready to integrate customer data, take it a step further and ask for feedback. Then, learn from behavior and refine the process accordingly to create an assertive interaction.

The tools you need and the team you’ll build depends on your strategy. There are a number of data platforms that allow for easy data access and management. New flexible analytics workspaces allow you to discover data and patterns you might not have known are important.

Finally, having the right talent is an imperative part of the process. A third-party analytics team, such as AbsolutData, can provide additional talent and tools support, or even take on projects externally.

How will this be used in the future?

The important thing to remember is that this is already happening now as the leading edge of current applications.

I don’t think we’re necessarily at the point where it’s a failure to have a customer search for a product on a brand’s website – but that’s where it’s headed, and quickly. Businesses must rise to overcome this statement of failure.

The cold, hard facts of life in this accelerating sphere of customer interaction show that if you are not taking steps now to learn and engage more, you will likely find yourself behind the pack. On the other hand, there is ample opportunity to get in the game or deepen the efforts now and doing so will pay handsome dividends.

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