Do you believe that it is possible to predict the future behaviours of your customers based solely on detailed knowledge of their previous transactional behaviours with one single organisation – namely your own? Apparently, an increasingly number of organisations think it is.

All they need do is capture all the customer behaviour data along each touchpoint with their own organisations, then ‘torture it’ using sophisticated instruments (cleverly designed computer algorithms) and voila, the future is clear! (I know that I am oversimplifying ‘big data’ to a ridiculous level, but I am doing that to expose an area of potential weakness I detect amongst some proponents of big data analytics.)

Human history is littered with ‘who would have thought …’ moments. In 1980 who would have thought that only 40 or so years later most economically active humans would be very dependent on being digitally connected through the tiny portable multi-functional digital devices they carry in their pockets. Based on expert knowledge of their intellectual disciplines, a few wise humans, perhaps some psychologists working with historians, finance wizards, philosophers, techno-visionaries, big data analysts and whoever else, might have accurately foreseen this consequence, but I do not believe a single computer would have.

This is probably because you can ‘build’ technology into humans, but you cannot build ‘what being human is’, into technology. You cannot expect technology to be intuitive and have consciousness. To make good predictions about human behaviour you need data with soul – human soul.

Yes, you must be looking carefully for successes and clues in customer behaviour data. However, in addition you must also look carefully at customer needs and perceptions. It is impossible to get such insights from behaviour data alone.

Just like you, customers are humans too. Their senses feed their minds with stimuli and based on these stimuli, their minds form perceptions. It is their perceptions that drive their behaviours. Is it possible to write a reliable algorithm for this process using only behaviour data? Algorithms based on behaviour data cannot simulate human ingenuity, creativity, imagination and inspiration because computers cannot feel emotion and they cannot think.

Whatever you do, please do not forget that ultimately, customers are human beings and that in order to understand them you need more data than simple behaviour data. It is only by using needs and perceptions data in conjunction with behaviour data that you can begin to understand your customers and be able to predict their likely future behaviours.

We would love to hear your views on this topic. If you care to share, send us a message. If you would like a conversation, contact Megan (megan@alltold.co.za / 072 060 5241) or our website www.alltold.co.za