Big data is small data in B2B

Big data, what about small data?

Big data is all very well but what about those of us who deal in ‘small’ data. Big data is still the exciting big topic many Customer Experience professionals are talking about but it has little to offer organisations without thousands of customers. Working in the B2B environment Customer Champions have many clients with a relatively small number of high value customers where the relationship is often complex and quite mature, and the approach of big data is inappropriate, and therefore maximising the value of ‘small data’ becomes essential. Analysing an individual high value multi-faceted customer relationship can be of greater value to all parties than analysing ‘big data’.

So how do you get the most value from small data?

Getting the most from your customer base

The size of the customer base, or ‘sample size’ in market research terminology, is often a detail unconsidered until late in the process of beginning a survey. Studies which track trends over time in particular present a challenge: surveying a customer more than twice a year can lead to ‘survey-fatigue’ but even a monthly survey of, say 100 customers, relies on a database of 600 willing participants. And of course that assumes they all participate!

‘Small data’ means a higher interview:sample hit-rate is necessary. To gain three successful responses from every four customer records is a standard we set and can over achieve but only with the support of our client organisation. Internal resource is required to make the most of a small customer base:

• Pre-engagement with the customer, often through account or project management

• A willingness for chosen participants to offer a more suitable colleague in their place – this needs the client support to approve this referral

• Sufficient resource to enable the development, and subsequent delivery, of improvement action plans

And all this assumes that customer contact details are all held in an easy to access, frequently updated place – not always the case. In our experience this will often involve an unanticipated stage where Account Managers need to be brought on board to understand the value and establish the trust to hand over their precious customer contacts. We would always recommend this stage in every case as the Account Management stakeholder community, once supportive, are key to a successful process in many other ways, not least:

• Engage with the customer beforehand to sell in the value to the customer and therefore increase willingness to participate

• This community will undoubtedly be tasked with facilitating the majority of the actions resulting from the findings and communicating back to customers

small data flowchart

Stakeholder participation is key to small data value

Customers need to see the value of the process which will mean the organisation will have to commit to reacting to the findings in a tangible way, and show to their customers how valuable their input is. At the very least the organisation should be prepared to respond as soon as possible to each participant with thanks for their time, and ideally an idea of when actions to address their feedback will be communicated. Essentially maximising the value of small data by completing the Customer Champions cycle below.

small data cycle
Complete the cycle by valuing small data

Treating each interview as precious

To both portray the professional image our clients require, and to ensure the maximum level of detail, and therefore value, can be obtained from an interview it is essential to utilise highly experienced and professional interviewers. They need to be well briefed and experienced in that market to tease out the real issues as well as addressing the nervousness for any client to be comfortable with the exposure of an external company representing them. These are not available at the lowest cost and there is no substitute for quality in this respect.

The interview needs to be designed to understand the individual customer issues that may be discussed allowing for commentary to be applied and opportunities to raise issues not necessarily covered by the survey topics. Online surveying is often not a good option due to the complex and valued B2B relationship, it doesn’t portray the importance of the feedback to the customer, or the value of the relationship between customer and supplier. It also achieves a much lower response rate when compared with telephone or face to face executive interviews.

Adapting Tools for Small Data Reporting

Without Big data B2B customer experience professionals don’t have the luxury of ‘off the shelf’ tools and even tools like NPS (a single question from which a ratio is derived) need to be adapted to be applicable. Small numbers can cause the standard NPS score to jump about – heavily influenced by a few unpredictable extreme scores. What is missing from these proprietary tools is often the ability to handle the qualitative commentary in an actionable way and a bald score is not actionable in itself. High value accounts can be reported on individually, or grouped together to represent a particular account, we have seen a growth in specially designed reports – be they from questionnaire-based surveys or in depth executive reports.

Value every single data item

As with ‘big data’ B2C customers it is essential to analyse and utilise the data at the top level to see the key issues across the customer base, however, in B2B and ‘small data’ projects it is at least just as important to analyse and utilise data at a customer specific level. Clearly this is dependent upon the customer agreeing to waive any anonymity, but they will typically do this if they can see a direct benefit from it. Specifically the development of unique customer action plans and the utilisation of that feedback in the development of account plans.

Data can also be used not only for KPI metrics, but for the identification of potential reference customers and case studies.

Getting More Out of Less

Small data can be just as powerful but requires a more specialised careful handling than standard customer feedback programmes. Set up is crucial with greater cross-organisational buy-in and commitment to receive and act on the findings. A specialised supplier is important to ensure the project doesn’t suffer from loss of credibility and carefully thought-through tailored feedback for both the organisation and customers is key to its success.


Take the next step

If you would like to discuss how to maximise the value of small data within your business please do get in touch.


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