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Posted by on Oct 1, 2012

Calling for a ‘small data’ revolution

Calling for a ‘small data’ revolution

Like the ‘slow food’ movement in foodie circles, has the time come for a ‘small data’ revolution in customer experience design?

With the rise and rise of data as the ultimate resource for insight and analysis, businesses are losing touch with the small data, the rich qualitative studies that bring them into personal contact with their clients and consumers. As a rule of thumb: the bigger the business and the bigger the data opportunities, the bigger the gap that’s emerging. This trend brings distinct threats to all concerned: businesses release products that fail to engage with their markets – creating the perfect environment for disruption – and consumers suffer the frustrations, and worse, of poor service and products that don’t understand or ‘fit’ their lives.

There’s no doubt that big businesses are the most vulnerable for many reasons: their decision making teams have long lost human contact with consumers and their organisational structures tend to emphasise product-based perspectives and assessments ahead of any holistic view or measure of customer experience. Arguably, their increasing reliance on data to understand their customers’ behaviour exacerbates the problem, most significantly because it’s technology led. Technology helps businesses spot patterns and identify trends and opportunities in consumer data, but fatally it doesn’t help them to connect with people. Only small sample, primary research can help there.

The best examples of this, of course, come from the worst offenders, and retail banking is an obvious citation: it’s hard to think of an industry with more disenchanted customers. The poster child of disruption in retail banking is the start up ‘Simple‘, the US alternative to banking based on the premise that they can create a suite of services that actually care to meet the needs of all the fed up, misunderstood retail banking customers out there.

I saw Simple’s original creative director, Bill DeRouchey, speak at UX London a few months ago, and reflect again now on how their customer focussed approach comes to life in their magnificent strategy, killer brand, and indeed their gorgeous application interfaces that demonstrate beautiful human-centred design grounded in the insight and finesse that only comes from dedicated ‘small’ research. You can read more about the details of their interface design in this FASTCOMPANY interview, but the concern for this blog is encouraging businesses to learn from them and reconnect with the people they’re serving.

And that’s our intention: this blog and the book we’re writing is full of the advice and techniques that can help businesses reconnect. Our aim is to engage with the businesses that are keeping their customers at arms length and equip them with the tools for revolution.

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