The Hidden Side of CX: Mining Unstructured Data

Unstructured data from customers gives businesses a unique opportunity to inform strategy and customer experiences.

The Hidden Side of CX: Mining Unstructured Data
Photo by Alina Grubnyak / Unsplash
  • Structured data (e.g., customer surveys, NPS) represent only a small fraction of the available customer feedback.
  • Customers are talking about their experiences on multiple sites across the internet, from Twitter to TikTok, creating a torrent of unstructured feedback.
  • Using technology tools and the ‘Three Vs’ can help enterprises capture unstructured data insights, leading to a better CX and competitive advantages.

What is unstructured data and why does it matter to multi-location businesses? Customer feedback is proliferating, often in non-traditional places. Enterprises frequently ignore or struggle to keep up with the sheer volume of customer experience data bubbling up online. But here's why it's critical to capture unstructured customer feedback, especially for businesses that operate multiple locations.

Value of Unstructured Data

Structured data is the feedback a business solicits directly through an instrument they design and control. When a local Best Buy store emails customers with a satisfaction survey post-purchase, that’s an example of structured feedback data.

But customers aren’t waiting around for Best Buy or any other business to survey them. They’re leaving feedback across the internet on multiple sites, from Twitter to TikTok. For example, I recently discussed how TikTok users often share the purchases they’ve discovered following other people on TikTok. Retailers have been known to follow TikTok closely to uncover purchasing trends that influence the products they stock on their shelves.

That’s a perfect example of the power of unstructured data.

Unstructured information represents anywhere between 80% and 90% of the world's data. Still, less than 20% of businesses utilize unstructured data in any meaningful way, according to Deloitte. That means a competitive advantage for businesses that do.  

Structured data such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys have their place, but the truly valuable nuggets – those that communicate the customer’s real sentiment — are found in unstructured feedback. When a customer has a bad experience, it’s not uncommon for them to immediately complain on social media. But as the TikTok example shows, customers are also happy to share positive feedback.

The value of all this feedback is immense. The challenge is to figure out how to capture and learn from it.

Understanding the 'Three Vs'

When it comes to analyzing and using unstructured data, the goal is to gain insights to help improve the customer experience, which will in turn improve customer satisfaction, and, ultimately, drive revenue. That said, the amount of unstructured data available can be daunting. One approach is to focus on three “Vs”: velocity, variety, and volume.

Velocity. Velocity refers both to the speed at which data is created and analyzed and -- more importantly -- how quickly a business responds. Whether customer feedback is good or bad, responding quickly to customers shows that the business is paying attention. But velocity also refers to how quickly a business learns from the data. For example, if social sentiment reveals a pattern of negative feedback about a particular store, it's important that the enterprise respond internally as well – say, by reaching out to the store manager and flagging a problem that needs to be fixed (e.g., chronically long lines, messy store aisles, unclean wash rooms).

Why velocity matters: In a world where consumer expectations are growing, it’s critical to react quickly. This helps keep customer sentiment positive and allows you to adjust and adapt your customer experience. Velocity is crucial for nipping problems in the bud.

Variety. How many sites are feeding you customer feedback? Customers are posting comments about your business on an increasingly diverse and complicated array of touchpoints including:

  • Social media channels: Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok
  • Search engines: Google, Amazon, YouTube and, increasingly, Apple
  • Vertical review sites: TripAdvisor,, and WebMD
  • Employee feedback sites: Indeed and Glassdoor
  • Messaging channels: Google Business Messages, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, and owned-website chat

It's vital to track the right channels along the customer journey, but it's also critical to remember that various channels appeal to different demographics. For example, the TikTok crowd is typically much different than the older Facebook audience. But Facebook is so big that it provides scale for most businesses.

Why variety matters: Understanding the channels your target audience visits and monitoring their activity across multiple touchpoints gives you a wider view of their sentiment and more inputs into the customer experience.

Volume. Data volume is also important to understanding and refining the customer experience. A larger sample size allows businesses to find anomalies or issues that they can address before they become widespread. In addition, a healthy feedback sample gives you a more accurate representation of customer sentiment. If there is a spike in negative activity, a business can address the issue quickly; if positive activity suddenly jumps, the business can "double down" on whatever’s working.

Why volume matters: volume means scale, and scale means a more reliable dataset. Tracking larger volumes of customer feedback gives business owners a more complete view of the customer experience in real-time.

The flow of unstructured customer feedback is growing. Finding and analyzing that feedback requires technology, while using the “three Vs” methodology will help shape and improve the customer experience. It's simply a sound business decision to capture and understand as much of this data as possible, for insights, inspiration and competitive advantage.

Adam Dorfman is the Director of Product Growth at Reputation. Follow him on Twitter at @phixed