Move Over Big Data -- Here Comes 'Fast' Data

Learn how businesses are using data in real-time to react to customer feedback more quickly and efficiently.

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By Neil Parmar

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Sometimes fast is just not fast enough. Business execs wanting satisfied customers are finding ways to react quickly – sometimes instantly – to consumer feedback data.

That's why Paul Steck keeps his emergency bat phone, so to speak, nearby in case a customer complains. Every day this president of Saladworks, a franchise with more than 100 locations across the country, gets pinged with up to 15 comments that customers send through an online form. So-called priority 1 complaints—emergencies—include reputation-damaging issues with mold or customer illnesses, while incorrect orders and staff rudeness fall under priority 2 and suggestions or requests for information come under priority 3.

"I'm looking for trends," says Steck. "If I hear a customer complain—"my lettuce wasn't as fresh as it should be'—and I see more than one of those comments come in then I'm calling up our distribution procurement team."

From there, Steck asks his team to pull out a smartphone, snap pictures of the offending produce and email him the visuals. "What may have taken days before, now takes minutes," says Steck. At the same time, his company also deploys a group of 20 to 25 mystery shoppers and business coaches each month who conduct "white glove inspections" throughout Saladworks' locations and gather feedback that customers might not share directly with his corporate office. These experts, who also receive customer comments via smartphone in real time, are expected to immediately call the store to speak to the employee mentioned in a complaint.

"The real time, 24 hour-a-day monitoring of comments that come to us about Saladworks has changed the landscape of service," says Steck.

Other businesses are turning to super-speedy survey distributors. These services now take hours—instead of days or weeks like most services used to between five and 10 years ago, and some still do today—to assess what service improvements should be made.

To be sure, while new tools help facilitate fast feedback, they're not always cheap or the easy to manage. Some technologies are free, or cost just a few hundred dollars, but others can run up to the six-figure range, depending on the size of a company that wants a certain service. And certain reports might require a dedicated staff member—or a full team—to crunch and interpret that data.

Still, businesses willing to explore new these new tools can make decisions more quickly, and sometimes more simply. One chief executive officer of a five-star hotel, for example, had considered cutting its overnight rates, offering a better shuttle service or beefing up its meal program in order to keep competitive and draw in new guests. But after turning to Qualtrics, a data-collection and analysis firm that lets users create digital surveys (some for free and others for a fee), the exec discovered a simpler, more effective strategy. It turns out, 98 percent of survey respondents would recommend the hotel if they simply had a great check-in experience and their room was clean. Total time it took to send the survey to 14,000 people and generate the results? Just 36 hours.

"An unhappy customer has a pretty short shelf-life, especially with social media," says Ryan Smith, Qualtrics' founder and chief executive officer. "There's a lot of discussion around big data. I'm a big proponent of fast data."

Hoping to avoid the damage aired frustrations can yield on channels like Facebook and Twitter, Goodsnitch has created a different way for customers to get a company's attention. This freemium smartphone app lets customers provide feedback directly to companies in as little as 30 seconds (by tapping rating icons "good" or "not so good," among other options).
Unlike review sites that let users name and shame companies, feedback on Goodsnitch is viewed first by business owners, giving them a chance solve problems with customers discreetly and share success stories when they choose to. The company has seen restaurants offer free meals after bad experiences and a spa once issued a thank you – along with a steep discount – after a positive review on a great masseuse. Major partners include the Dallas Cowboys and Life Technologies, with more than 65 million small enterprises such as boutique hotels, car dealerships, dental clinics and clothing shops linked to the app as well.

"Businesses have gotten good at supply chain management," says Rob Pace, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who founded Goodsnitch. "The last mile—that connectivity between customers and employees—is the most important, and fast feedback for those that do it right is going to lead to all sorts of advantages."

Neil Parmar

Neil Parmar's work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney Magazine, The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and he's been interviewed on CNN, ABC News, Fox News and radio shows in the U.S. and U.A.E. In 2012, former President Bill Clinton announced that Parmar was among one of three winning teams, out of 4,000 applicants, who won the Hult Global Case Challenge and $1 million to help SolarAid, Habitat for Humanity and One Laptop per Child. Most recently, Parmar was an assistant business editor and writer for The National, a newspaper based in the Middle East.

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