September 27, 2023

Why Your Company Should Harness Unstructured Data

Brands that have the ability to manage and analyze unstructured data from customer feedback and reviews are often the ones that successfully achieve a more complete, accurate view of the customer as well as deliver improved experiences. 

This can be challenging. Data isn’t always easy to manage and analyze, and some types even require special tools and techniques to extract, transform, and analyze the information effectively. 

Structured vs. Unstructured Data

One of the most useful ways to understand customer feedback is by assessing the kind of data it provides. 

Structured data from feedback and reviews is clearly defined and easy to report on.

Examples of structured data types include customer name, age, location, income bracket, star rating, survey score, and NPS score and label, among others.

Notice that these types of data can be collected, analyzed, and organized using a data collection platform, a customer feedback system, a spreadsheet application, or traditional statistical tools and methodologies.

Unstructured data from customer feedback, meanwhile, is more difficult to define, analyze, and report on. 

That’s because unstructured data refers to information that does not have a specific, predefined data model or structure. Unlike structured data, which is organized into well-defined tables or schemas (e.g., a database), unstructured data lacks a consistent format and is not easily searchable or analyzable with traditional data processing techniques.

  • According to IBM, as much as 80% of all data today (including enterprise-relevant information) is unstructured.

Text data is often a significant portion of unstructured data. Examples of unstructured data from customer feedback include free-form text found in:

  • Online reviews
  • Social media posts (comments, posts, and interactions on social media platforms generate vast amounts of unstructured data)
  • “Additional comments” in survey responses
  • Forum posts
  • Call center transcripts
  • Customer support inquiries
  • Live chats
  • Video reviews (Unstructured data also encompasses images, audio files, and video content. While these types of data may contain metadata, the actual content is not structured in a tabular format.)

Why is unstructured data harder to define and analyze? It has something to do with how it takes on a form akin to human conversation. It can often be characterized by misspellings or grammatical mistakes, lack of punctuation, or the presence of multiple unrelated ideas, or sentiments that are hard to pin down. 

While managing and analyzing unstructured data from customer feedback has become a growing challenge for many companies, natural language processing applications and analytical methods like text analytics and sentiment analysis can help make unstructured data more manageable and easier to understand. 

This is why an increasing number of companies are leveraging these various methods and techniques: in order to dig deeper into the customer experience, find patterns and trends, and uncover information and insights about customer sentiment, tone, emotion, and motivation.

Why Unstructured Data Matters

Using information from unstructured data, companies can gain valuable insights that are essential to improving their brand, products, services, and overall customer experience. 

Companies that are able to collect and analyze unstructured data from customer feedback also often have a more complete understanding of their customers, and can therefore more easily measure customer satisfaction and loyalty. 

Moreover, businesses that effectively harness unstructured data may gain a competitive advantage. Analyzing unstructured data can reveal trends, emerging market opportunities, and competitive threats that may not be easily apparent through structured data alone.

Keys to Success

The most successful brands listen to and act on data in order to understand customers better and deliver improved experiences. Here are some considerations you can make as your team looks to do the same.

Make the commitment. Embrace customer feedback and foster an organizational culture in which everyone from the C-suite to the frontline is empowered and equipped to listen to the Voice of the Customer

Stay engaged and responsive. When you hire a third-party provider or invest in a software platform, there’s a temptation to let your data management tools do all the work. This shouldn’t exempt your company from engaging with and listening and responding to customers who have shared their feedback. Technological capability is great, but it won’t close the loop on your behalf.

Integrate unstructured data into your customer experience management strategy. Some companies focus exclusively on capturing structured data, but unstructured data from customer feedback often holds rich information that you simply cannot ignore. Instead of just seeing your average star rating or your customer satisfaction scores, you get to hear the story and experience of your customers — through their own words. 

Make insights the priority. Don’t make data collection your goal. More information, after all, doesn’t necessarily equate to smarter business decisions. Focus on how you can gather actionable insights from unstructured data, as well as how you can address challenges based on the information available.

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