back to article Don't bother with Big Data – listen to customers instead

Dabbling with big data won't produce insights into how to improve a business as rapidly as listening to customers' interactions with a business, according to Michael Ossipoff, the Director of Capability and Innovation and Australia's dominant telco, Telstra. “Insights wont come from data, they'll come from observation,” …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Expectations? What expectations?

    'As another illustration of the importance of listening he revealed than 70% of support calls to Telstra come about because customer expectations have not been correctly set.'

    Oh, they must have been the customers who expected to have their problems resolved by support staff who knew what they were talking about.

    Attention Mr Ossipoff: Try spending some time on Whirlpool or NotGoodEnough to get a bit of feedback that hasn't been sanitised before it gets to your office.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: Expectations? What expectations?

      "customer expectations have not been correctly set"

      This line is priceless! It shows how totally out of touch even this guy is. Surely there must be some limit to their arrogance.

  2. Jack Prichard

    Here's the thing...

    ... if you need an 'expert' to tell you that you need to listen to customers you shouldn't have customers.

    Of course the problem is, and has always been, that the system over rules the individual. The guy who told a grieving widower that he needed to pay a termination fee for cancelling a phone contract no doubt when through training that said: Every time someone cancels a phone they pay the fee. It almost certainly didn't include a section which said: Sometimes a cancellation fee isn't appropriate, be a grown up and use discretion.

    Gee, anybody surprised?

  3. Thesheep

    Anecdote doesn't beat evidence

    And how do you effectively listen across your entire organisation? A thousand clones standing in all your outlets?

    That's why you use data, to get evidence of what's happening.

    Beware the exec who won't listen to data. He's operating on gut instinct and anecdote....

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Anecdote doesn't beat evidence

      Data can only tell what "happened". It cannot tell what will happen it can only provide a idea of what might happen.

      By reading previous trends AND by listening to your clients you can then begin to establish a plan. BOTH items are requjred in order to have a better understanding. They are not mutually exclusive.

      1. Thesheep

        Re: Anecdote doesn't beat evidence

        And how can listening tell you more than what "happened"? Do you have a magical device that will let you listen to the future?

        Data can be used to make robust, accurate predictions, and evidence shows that this kind of prediction outperforms "experts" who have "listened".

        1. David Jackson 1

          Re: Anecdote doesn't beat evidence

          I do not want to buy from any company which relies on 'data' and not on 'listening'. If I know a company works that way, I will avoid it if at all possible. Almost invariably, the so called 'data' is not so much wrong as misleading. Any company which does not have good, trained managers actually on site and listening and observing what it going on and passing that information upwards in a way which actually get the information to the top (and people at the top who actually get out and find out what actually happens 'on the shop floor', does not deserve to succeed. Of course 'data' is not to be ignored completely, but it is human interaction and real knowledge of a business at the human level, not just data which leads to success.

        2. Khaptain Silver badge

          Re: Anecdote doesn't beat evidence

          Data alone will never be able to tell you many things for example

          * That within the next three months that the company policies will be changed because of cutbacks.

          * That the war in Syriana has changed buying strategy.

          * That the new CIO has a completely different approach to life and plays golf at the same golf course as you do.

          * That the companies head engineer is leaving because of unforseen circumstances. ( he was humping the bosses wife)

          * [Add one of a milion reasons here]

          * Black Swans exist - read Talebs' book and you will understand that Data does not provide all the relevant answers.

          Many factors cannot become known by any other means than "listening" to your client. The impact of any or all of the above can make a huge difference to how "future" relations will work between your companies.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Helstra have the reputation from hell for treating their customers with contempt, overcharging, and generally delivering a sub par service. It's not that the customers need to have their expectations 'set' - it's that Telstra need a swift and strong kick up the backside to be much, much better - repeated as necessary. We KNOW what standards are appropriate, what we need is TELSTRA to understand them.

    Hell, BT are paragons of virtue next to Telstra.

  5. Archimedes_Circle

    Observations instead of data?

    Since when are observations not data then? If "data" needs to be replaced, then you're not observing the right data.

  6. Steve Gooberman-Hill

    It's called Qualitative Research

    It is called Qualitative Research, as opposed to Quantitative Research (stats), and the people who can do it well (generally anthropologists and similar disciplines) are very smart and skilled. It's being used quite a lot in medical research as part of epidemiological studies (i.e. large scale health studies).

    For example, you would do well to understand how people answer the questionnaires you give them - do they answer them in the way you think they do (and no, this is not a no-brainer, it can be a very subtle and difficult issue).

    FWIW, I am not an anthropologist, but I am married to one :-)

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Re: It's called Qualitative Research

      "FWIW, I am not an anthropologist, but I am married to one"

      I have no sympathy for self-inflicted suffering

  7. Paul Johnson (

    Did he refer to data as 'big data'...

    ...or is that El Reg trying to 'sex up' the story?

    Does his lack of faith in crunching data suggest there'll be a used Teradata system on the Oz ebay some time soon?

    Like the man said "In God we trust, everyone else bring data".

  8. Tikimon
    Thumb Up

    Essay Question vs. Multiple Choice

    Big data gives you answers like multiple-choice exams test knowledge. It's a terribly constrained way to evaluate single points of interest. They tell you nothing that is not specifically asked for in the exam. They're easy to feed into databases, easy to run comparative queries, and give an illusion of being simple and effective.

    Essay questions generate non-standard answers, and are difficult to shove into databases. Much harder to evaluate and sort/compare/etc. However, they give a TRUE picture, since the respondent can include anything in their answers the tester might not have asked about.

    Big Data: easy to work with, terrible picture of reality.

    Anecdotes aren't always bad, folks. "Goat weed cured my cancer!" is bad anecdotal evidence for goat weed. "Big Box Electronics fixed my computer in an hour after Nerd Squad failed! Happy customer!" is a good datum point for customer service. Much better than a stupid survey saying "rate your satisfaction from 1 to 5".

  9. RW

    Sociopathy at the top

    The root problem is that when they depart their homes to go to work, managers leave their humanity behind on the dresser. All they have to do is ask, would I treat my dearly beloved grandmother like this?

    Of course the sociopaths would treat their grandmothers badly, which leads to the point that sociopaths are not fit to hold positions of any responsibility. Unfortunately, from all appearances, the upper levels of management in all corporate bodies are primarily sociopaths.

    We are doomed.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a revelation

    Whodda thunk listening to your customers might yield valuable Biz insight?

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