How Market Leaders Combine Big and Small Data for a Holistic Customer View

Delivering on customer experience is non-negotiable for brands and businesses today and doing so requires an in-depth understanding of the customer.

This was almost universally agreed upon by participants in a Harvard Business Review Analytical Services study sponsored by FocusVision.  Almost all (98%) of the respondents said that understanding their customers is crucial to creating relevant customer experiences.

With this in mind, it’s unsurprising that nearly three-quarters of the survey participants indicated that their company has a customer experience strategy in place. However, only a fifth claim the strategy is working well.

The disconnect is due to a chronic lack of customer understanding. Despite access to a wealth of customer data, only 23% believe that their organization understands why its customers act the way they do.

The key to uncovering customer motivations and delivering a better CX lies in an organization’s ability to integrate big and small data.

Combining the what with the why

Big data from clickstreams, POS, CRM interactions and so on provides detailed accounts of what your customer is doing. Small data gathered from surveys, focus groups, online research communities and mobile ethnographies tells you why they are taking those actions.

Right now, there’s an emphasis on big data.

“The biggest problem with corporate data today is that everyone is obsessed with getting big data solutions on board, but you have to get your hands dirty to see the world from the customer’s point of view. You have to put yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel. Then you have something valuable,” said Martin Lindstrom, founder and chairman of Lindstrom Company and author of Small Data: The Tiny Clues that Uncover Huge Trends.

The components of success

Fifteen percent of the HBR study respondents (the leaders) report that their integration of big and small data to create a holistic view of the customer results in a better overall understanding of the customer.

All organizations anticipate benefits to insight integration, with increased customer satisfaction or loyalty/retention topping the charts at 85%.

With their ability to integrate big and small data, the leaders are reaping the rewards that everyone else hopes for, such as increased profitability, the successful introduction of new products and services, and greater operational efficiencies.

Learning from the leaders

This is not to say that integrating big and small data is an easy feat. All organizations struggle with things like organizational silos, inconsistent data collection, lack of data management systems, data standardization issues and legacy systems, time prioritization and a lack of resource and knowledge sharing of customer insight across the organization.

Leaders also face these challenges but have taken steps to overcome them. They include:

  1. Ensure executives buy into the need to integrate big and small data.
  2. Employ emerging small and big data methodologies, such as mobile, clickstream, telemetry, mobile diaries, online research communities and focus groups.
  3. Provide the necessary data management systems and ensure data collection consistency
  4. Break down organizational silos.
  5. Equip users with the necessary analytical skills and tools to provide critical insights.


Implementing the above is not a quick or painless process but it is essential to creating a truly customer-centric organization.