Regardless of your particular industry – software, manufacturing or any business-to-business (B2B) operation – you’ve probably heard the term “big data” before. It seems like everyone is talking about it these days, but how many of your colleagues actually know what it means? Of those who do, how many know how to use big data to their advantage and benefit their company? Despite its ambiguous-sounding name, big data is a useful resource that is capable of greatly improving your customer support efforts and the customer experience.

What is big data?

Big data is the compiling of various sources of information that your business encounters on a daily basis. The individual data points can be large – the total number of support tickets you receive, for instance – or small, such as the address of a particular customer contact. It’s the whole picture of all the data points available to you that makes it “big”, and how you use that data is what makes it invaluable.

Most people think of big data in conjunction with huge business-to-consumer (B2C) corporations. These businesses collect hundreds of terabytes of information from every source available to them. After cleaning, sorting, and analyzing the data to predict customer habits, they are able to create more powerful marketing campaigns, determine more effective shipping strategies, and more.

Big data can benefit B2B companies as well. If you use customer relationship management (CRM) software, customer support software, or online marketing applications, you can collect and use big data to improve customer support. In fact, any sort of customer contact – such as email, social media, shipping information, purchase history, and past support tickets – reveals key insights and helps you predict customer actions. This improves your understanding of where your organization can improve today and make informed predictions as to what will happen tomorrow. Whether you have 10,000 customers or 100, the key to making big data work is gathering all of the data points you have in one system so you can draw conclusions from it to improve your overall business activities (including support).

What can big data do for customer support?

Leveraging big data can be highly effective, but it’s ultimately useless unless businesses know what to do with it. Using big data and observing past trends helps you better anticipate your customer’s future needs and respond to new business opportunities.

There are currently 3 main ways big data can be valuable to customer support:

    1. Optimize operations – From a customer support perspective, big data also allows your business to create a smarter and more efficient support experience. You can collect preferences, ticket information, and favored support methods of each customer and use this information to improve support operations in the future. For example, a customer might submit a ticket to a software company concerning a particular bug. There are two separate patches that fix this bug, Patch A and B, but Patch A will create a new issue. Analyzing past tickets with big data shows you that more follow-up tickets are sent when Patch A is suggested compared to Patch B. Thus, your agents know only to suggest Patch B for future tickets.
    2. Improve responsiveness – Just as customer support is more efficient when teams collaborate, big data is especially powerful if you combine the inter-departmental sharing of information with internal and external data to react faster to issues. For example, customer information from sales and development can reveal unique insights into how customers use your product. If that data is combined with personal information like age and gender, it can provide insight for future product enhancements. When looking at external sources – for example, your customer’s websites, social media pages, industry publications or even news – you can anticipate potential concerns and be ready for their questions. Consider a company that makes software for healthcare providers. Changes to Medicare procedures could cause customers to flood support with questions regarding the software – whether it currently supports the changes, if it will be updated, if their service agreements are still valid, and more. Linking this information to only those customers who provide Medicare services can help prepare the support team for the changes, allow them to staff appropriately, and create the proper templates needed to respond to concerns efficiently and proactively. Further, sharing this information with the sales team would allow them to address any issues with potential customers and show that the company is forward-thinking.
    3. Pioneer industry change – Big data can lead the way in changing industries. It tracks consumer behavior, telling you what percentage of your customers purchased a particular product or service, when and why they upgrade, how frequently they need support, and more. This is powerful information that wasn’t quantifiable 20 years ago. You can see what answers to customer issues were the most successful and your agents can also funnel the data they collect back to your sales, marketing, and product teams through technology integrations. For example, a software company will use product version tracking to make it easier to see what issues are attributed to a specific software version. This allows all tickets for these issues to be routed to agents or developers who specialize in that version. A different but emerging trend, leading big data companies now record all audio conversations (such as phone and video chat) and use speech-to-text technology to transcribe information into text-based tickets. These transcribed tickets are then attributed to each customer profile as a conversation. This technology will likely become more common in the future.

How can my business collect data?

Now that we know the benefits of big data, let’s understand how we can acquire and maintain that data. There’s no denying that big data requires a lot of resources. You’ll need the proper software and hardware to collect, process, and store all of this information. Still, the investment is worth it, as big data brings vast improvements to your business if used effectively. Consider the partnership between IBM and Hertz. The car rental service worked with IBM to create a system called “Voice of the Customer” that analyzed online communications, allowing Hertz to address customer concerns at multiple levels. Hertz knew it gathered thousands of customer comments each day. Rather than let this information fall by the wayside, the company chose to use it to improve their customer service by listening directly to customer comments and making operational changes based on that feedback.

Your business can take a similar approach, but you don’t have to partner with IBM to see results. In fact, you can start collecting data with the right customer support software solution. B2B customer support software stores emails, customer contacts, ticket data, service agreements, purchases and more. It even does some of the analysis for you, evaluating metrics like number of open tickets and average resolution time to discern a customer’s level of satisfaction. This helps agents make more informed decisions. If an agent starts their day with 10 new tickets from the night before and they see that 2 of those tickets were submitted by customers with a high Customer Distress Index rating (indicating at-risk), the agent can prioritize their tickets to focus on the higher risk customers first.

In summary, the “big data” world we live in may seem daunting but for many businesses there are insights that can be gathered through detailed data analysis. Businesses working to improve their customer support should start by using customer support software that not only has data collection and analysis capabilities but can also integrate well with multiple marketing and CRM data services. This provides companies with the capabilities to realize the true value of big data by letting agents personalize their support, identify areas for improvement, and predict what customers will need in the future.