Many businesses these days never talk to their customers. When was the last time anyone at Amazon had a conversation with you? If you use Pay Per Click advertising, who at Google AdWords has been chatting to you recently? The chances of you talking to someone for most online businesses are next to zilch. Such companies collect all sorts of data – Amazon, for instance, knows your every move on its website and uses this information to predict your likely purchases and thereby increase its sales.
The whole notion of what is being called “big data” suggests that you can use the details of your online customer behaviour to help you sell more, come up with new ideas and redesign your website. It’s a great idea and there is plenty of evidence that by collecting the right data and managing it well you can indeed improve your online performance.
But this ignores entirely the power of the human brain. Good retail sales staff, for instance, don’t need to collect data from your shopping behaviour to know what you are interested in. They talk to you. And within seconds they know what they can steer you towards. They also sense if you would be willing to buy more and whether you are in the mood for a major shopping spree.
The salesperson’s brain assembles all this information from things like tone of voice, micro-expressions on your face, body language and the words you use in response to their questions. They don’t need to analyse all this “data” – they simply “know”. True, much of the information is “crunched” by their subconscious brain, but this means they can react within seconds to an encounter, enhancing their sales. Even Amazon with its fancy software can’t do that. If only Amazon staff could speak to the company’s millions of customers, they would dramatically increase their sales because of all the extra rich information they receive.
Practically, of course, this is nigh on impossible for big stores like Amazon – but a new experimental App points the way. This simple bit of technology developed by psychologists at the University of Rochester is surprisingly accurate in determining the emotional state of someone speaking. It means that in the not-too-distant future it could well be possible for smartphones to provide an emotional assessment of your customers in much the same way as we do when we speak to them face-to-face.
In the meantime, though, speaking to your customers rather than emailing them or saying “Hi” on a social network is the best thing you can do. You will collect much bigger data than any big data technology you might develop. You will discover new ideas for blog posts, you will find out how to improve your products and services and you will be able to spot gaps in which you can sell things. The Internet has been responsible for many businesses reducing the amount of time they speak to their customers which is ultimately not good for any of us.