Collecting data from customers has got a bad reputation recently. High profile lapses of security from T-Mobile and TalkTalk mean that people are apparently less keen to share their details online.

The world’s biggest internet and telecom companies are falling short in protecting privacy and online freedom of expression, a study released last month by the Ranking Digital Rights project revealed.

“Even companies that make efforts to publish such information still fail to communicate clearly with users about what is collected about them, with whom it is shared, under what circumstances, and how long the information is kept,” the report stated.

While the Independent said insurers are using big data to calculate your premium:

Insurers collecting swathes of digital data from customers to price premiums more accurately are under the microscope over concerns that the trend could drive up costs for some customers.

But although privacy is one of those things people ‘say’ is important to them, that’s not necessarily true. Our panel discussion at Social Media Week touched on this. Forbes also put it well:

We enjoy the benefits of mass personalization and that, unfortunately, requires massive monitoring. On some level, we seem to realize that.

Wired’s 10 ways to use big data to get to know your customers better is a helpful checklist and reminder of the things you should be doing (i.e. Analytics should never impose risk on your production systems.).

The Guardian argued that this would not necessarily lead to better understanding:

Right now, our digital self is not just managed and sold by others – such as our credit card company, our mobile company, our bank, our government – it is also highly fragmented. In other words, the main brokers of our online footprint have a schizophrenic view of our digital self, far less complete than the views [of] our friends and colleagues.

So if friends and colleagues have a better understanding of us, they should be involved in the process of telling businesses about their customers. Just as friends and colleagues are involved in the process of telling potential customers about the product or service through reviews and word of mouth.

It’s clear that big data and customer feedback have to be collected and used in a different way and that they’re both equally valuable for your business. But no matter how much data you can scrape, and how fine you can get it, there’s no substitute for a genuine review.

CIO stressed the importance of capturing data direct from customers by using the most old-fashioned of techniques… asking them:

You can also “use customer data to identify the most relevant users to ask for feedback on new features as they’re the ones you really want using those features,” says Aaron Forman, manager of Communications, Intercom, which helps businesses connect with customers.

And of course you’ve always got to be making sure you’re asking the right questions. See Inc.’s article – but be careful of manipulating customers into telling you what you want to hear. It’s a fine art!

Excited about data? Sign up for the December 3 webinar to hear from Jayson Robinson, Reevoo’s Analytics, Insight and API Product Manager, on how Reevoo is using detailed user reviews and client data to deliver a sophisticated customer analytics service via web dashboards. Find out more here.

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Big data versus customer feedback