Hold the Bacon and Add a Side of Pickled Data


Image courtesy of MixedGreenBlog.com

This morning I read an interesting article on NPR. The gist of the article explained how a restaurant was catching on to the value of tracking customer complaints globally so that they could start to analyze the data to determine if they are isolated incidents or if these are true trends amongst their patrons requiring adjustments. In this case, The Cheesecake Factory started working with IBM and using tools to analyze this vast amount of customer complaint data to identify these nuances. The example given was regarding complaints about the texture of pickles in two far separated regions of the world. Were they related? Was it coincidence? Did they need to make a supplier change?

This is just one example in which brands and retailers can truly listen to their customers and make decisions to improve the quality of their products or services. It reminded me of a time when I lived in Florida and my best friend/co-worker and I would always go to the same restaurant for lunch.  She was a pseudo-vegetarian and hated bacon. (I know how can someone hate bacon?) She however loved this particular salad at a restaurant and would order it, sans bacon. When it arrived she would inevitably always find pieces of bacon mixed amongst the salad. Not one to be shy, she would call the server over and demand that they give her a discount or free salad because of the bacon. If they resisted, she would tell him she was allergic to bacon. The servers, being college kids not much older than us, would roll their eyes at her, but she would always get that free lunch out of them as I slunk into my chair with embarrassment  She would tell me that I needed to get tougher and not be afraid to demand what I wanted, especially when I was paying for it. She called it my lesson in teaching me to be more frugal.

This went on for several months, until one day when we went back to that restaurant, the salad had been removed from the menu.  We always joked that they removed the salad because they were sick of her getting a free lunch. At first she was pissed, but then she decided she would  just demand a custom salad, sans bacon, and when the salad arrived guess what? There was NO BACON to be found.  Looking back I am sure the original salad always had bacon in it because it was a menu item that they prepared in bulk. Undoubtedly little bits of bacon found their way into the vat of lettuce contaminating her beloved salad. Had they been tracking these complaints they may have recognized a prep line issues and made an adjustment preventing losses of free salad. Maybe they could have added a new bacon-less salad to the menu for the bacon hater.  Likely data could have helped them make a more informed decision.

Now this an extreme story of a consumer being demanding. (Girl, you know I love you but you know you can be a royal pain to serve), but this story begs a question, Was she wrong? Is it really an extreme thing for a consumer to get what they asked for? After all she was paying for the salad and therefore shouldn’t she get just what she ordered. It also raises a point similar to what the Cheesecake factory is trying to solve. Consumers are demanding, as they should be, and you have to listen to their needs and adjust or risk failure.  I am sure that little restaurant in Florida was not tracking her complaints, but they could have been and now with more big data tracking and analysis tools accessible to all sizes of business, brands can take better control over conversation with their customers.  The smart brands are going to quickly adopt and use communication and data tools that help them find issues and solve them before they become a bigger theme within their brand stories.

I never considered myself a big data junky until recently when I found myself without a reason to look at data each and every day. I realized I missed knowing new things and how valuable this information can be to an individual in how you interpret and interact with the world. Big data is probably one of our greatest opportunities to learn and feel the world around us more deeply and contextually. Some people might feel this type of data is very big brother, but to me I would much rather have had a restaurant tracking the bacon complaints and fixed problem earlier so she didn’t have to suffer through bacon salads.

Fortunately I have had the good fortune lately of working on a great project with a startup in Portland called Little Bird that allows me to spend my time looking at data and to learn new things with each report I run.  The data their reports provide is the exact type of data that will be invaluable to brands and companies as they continue their path to become smarter and more informed when talking to their users and customers. Little Bird allows users to find those in the social media space, currently Twitter, that show expertise of influence over a specific topic. By identifying these people, brands can seek out who to tap and target to find out what consumers crave and begin to educate and lead the conversations with their users. I can’t say much yet about the project I am working on with them, but it will be coming out next week for SXSW and I am excited to watch the data pour in! Stay tuned!

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Sheryl, we’re sure having fun working with you on this project too! You’re a very kind and generous person, as is well illustrated here by your patience with that obnoxious lunch guest.