Customer service is one of the few areas of business that has been largely untouched by technology, with little meaningful innovation taking place over the past two decades. Of course, there are far more channels than ever before but hopeless online self-service, frustrating IVR systems and half-baked and ill-conceived mobile service apps have not improved matters for the customer.

Business innovation has for some time been rooted in the opportunities presented by the collection and analysis of big data, crunching the numbers to make smart commercial decisions based on the facts. So what if similar techniques could be applied to customer service?

What does it mean for consumers if companies start to take the information they have beyond the realm of a sales opportunity and into a new, improved customer service model which intuits and predicts customer behaviour?

Companies have been using big data for some time; gathering information using loyalty cards and rewards has shown that customers can benefit from companies understanding their requirements with special offers on products they use frequently and advice on products and services complementary to their purchases.

Some of my customers are taking big data for customer service to the next level, developing sophisticated software which maps activity to develop a predictive experience which anticipates customer demand. The net result is that self-service online becomes more intuitive and easy to use and fewer calls from frustrated and irate customers are received by the company.

It saves money, certainly, but more importantly it reduces the customer effort. Companies who can learn to make their customers’ lives easier in times when people are often time-poor will inspire greater loyalty than those who just send out vouchers and look for more opportunities to sell.

But how much information do companies need to gather, and is it really possible to employ the data to deliver improved service levels? The fact is, companies already hold a lot of the information they need to improve customer service and yet fail to employ that information to their best advantage.

Sophisticated modelling techniques with a learning algorithm not only allows businesses to make customers’ lives easier by delivering a predictive experience, but also allows processes to develop and change over time as customers change their requirements and expectations. The philosophy is simple: Anticipate, Simplify, Learn.

From consumers paying a utility bill on their smart phone to improved web browsing and customer support, these three steps make all the difference. Big data modelling allows businesses to track customer behaviour and anticipate their requirements.

Having done this, they can then look at the most frequent tasks, examine when customers may drop out of the process and seek to simplify it. The final tenet is the most important – taking the information from the first two stages of the process and using it to learn more, in order to improve the anticipation and simplification models.

The advantage for the customer is clear – companies that can understand customer requirements and make it easier to interact with them across a range of platforms without having to repeat stages in the process will inspire loyalty. Fewer problems and complaints will mean a decrease in the volume of calls a company receives, which reduces costs.

Furthermore, the rich data generated will provide upselling opportunities which are more sophisticated and subtle than blanket offers to large customer segments. As with so much, the value is in the detail and making the most of the data already held on customers can improve everything from processes such as placing an order to paying a bill. For companies the solution can increase sales and significantly expand market share as they capitalise on upselling opportunities and customer loyalty.

So, if customers want easier ways to deal with companies and companies already hold the information that will allow them to do that, why haven’t we seen a revolution in customer service yet? Why, despite the fact that over 360 million smart phones were sold in 2011, are we still not seeing the change in customer service which means that smartphone apps can offer a seamless resolution to issues without sending people back to the call centre – and back to square one?

The race seems to be on – will companies grasp the opportunities of big data and seamless cross-platform customer service before customers start to demand better treatment or just jump ship for a provider or company who can give them the service they want? We already have the technology and we’re on the cusp of a revolution. Smart companies will take their customers with them in that revolution or risk being left behind when the changes start to happen.