Recent advances in information technology have revolutionised the way not just retailers, but cloud service providers, telcos and other large companies communicate and interact with their customers. Not least because they know a lot more about us these days. Where once we provided little more than our name, address and phone number, we now hand over really quite detailed information about who we are and how we live our lives.

Moreover, we do so each and every time we make contact, often without realising it through different touch-points such as loyalty cards, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and others.

Whether you think this is good or bad depends a lot on how that data is used and, unfortunately, when it comes to exploiting what they collect, most companies continue along traditional lines of least resistance. And that, for the most part, means doing little more than bombard us with offers and promotions based purely on historical browsing, buying and usage patterns.

Retailers are the biggest culprits here as, up to a point, it’s an approach that works, at least for them if not always the customer. Service providers and telcos, however, should be wary of following suit as there’s a great deal more value to be had from using collected data to the benefit of the customer and to be seen working in their best interests. To become, if you like, the customer’s best friend.

Continually pushing products and services to customers based on what they did in the past isn’t a good model for service providers. Just because someone signs up for service A it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will want service B as well. What providers should be doing is looking at how customers are using their services and advising them of their next best move. They should be looking to help them get the best out of what they’ve signed up for and deter them from, perhaps, switching to an alternative.

As well as simple advice, for example, service providers should be offering up the possibility to re-configure, enhance and extend the services customers are using in real time. “We notice you would like to use the HDTV service that you don’t have in your current package. Have you thought of changing to Spotify which you don’t currently use? Click here to find out how.” Guidance like this can really help bolster customer satisfaction and retain customers in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

It’s not rocket science and the good news is that, as well as detailed data, a lot of the technology needed is already available. However, instead of just collecting information and using Big Data tools to perform historical analysis offline, service providers should be switching to real-time analysis – something we at TIBCO call Fast Data.

This opens up a whole new dimension, especially when you include location and other time-specific data like a real-time status of your inventory. This makes it possible, for example, to not only give suggestions and guide customers based on what they are doing at any particular moment in time together, but where they are, the time of day and what others in the same organisation are doing.

Consider telcos use of Fast Data on Software Defined networks and Network Service Orchestration tools, where service providers could automatically fine tune the services they provide to maximise the customer experience across all channels of communication. Do it well and service providers can also be seen to be engaging with their customers rather than simply marketing new products to them.