I’ll admit it: I’m a data junkie. I’m one of those guys who believes that just about everything can be quantified, sorted, filtered, totaled, sub-totaled and cross-tabbed. The massive collection and storage of data today will lead to breakthroughs in business, science, economics, healthcare and untold other fields. That’s the promise of “Big Data.” My eyes water at the macro-level possibilities.

But I’m also a fan of the power of context at the micro level. I’ll call this “Little Data.” Working in the field of customer service has given me insight into and great appreciation for organizations that use the context of Little Data to improve customer experiences one customer and one contact at a time. Big Data can expose broad trends about the customer base, but it takes Little Data to personalize individual customer interactions.

In my previous post in this series, I wrote about how context brings meaning to information. In the area of customer service, it brings efficiency and a personal touch to an interaction. Think about it: if you recall one of the best customer service experiences you had with a company employee face-to-face, it’s likely that you credited the employee with being observant, responsive and maybe even proactive in helping you. That employee was using contextual clues to provide excellent service. “Good afternoon. I recognize you from this morning. You purchased a cordless drill and now you’re back looking at bits. Tell me what your project is and I’ll find you the perfect bit.” (Come on guys, you know you’ve been there.)

In the world of digital customer service, where customer and employee are not face-to-face, contextual clues have to come from the available data, both current and historical. Pity the customer service agent who has to fly blind without any data about the customer or the issue. Pity the customer who has to repeat information that she provided earlier or she knows that the company already has on record.

Context-aware applications extract little bits of information in real-time during an interaction to make the interaction more efficient and significantly raise the probability of a positive first-contact outcome. At the same time, done right, it also gives both the customer and the agent the mental margin to focus more attention to the human side of the dialog and the relationship.

agent-desktop-contextRelationships are built over time as the additive result of multiple shared experiences. Without bringing that context to the fore, along with other context about the current interaction, it’s like the company and every service agent has amnesia. Nothing makes a customer feel as small and unimportant than not knowing something about her.

Imagine an agent desktop application that never wastes a morsel of context. Imagine that the knowledge base evaluates all elements of context to zero in on the most relevant articles and present them to the agent like magic. Imagine that knowledge-infused processes guide the agent straight through the steps to resolve an issue or complete a transaction. And imagine that this very interaction will be recorded and retrieved as part of the context for the next interaction with the customer. It’s very impressive to a customer to be treated more personally and to know that the information that they know their provider has is being put to good use for the benefit of the customer. That’s Little Data at work. Hey, Big Data, nothing personal.

Check out my next post about the intersection of context and social customer service.