'Guerrilla' analytics level the playing field for small businesses

Some independent restaurant operators are using small-scale analytics to deliver what customers want and to compete with the large chains.

Image: iStock/CREATISTA

Big data analytics conjure up thoughts of highly complex systems being probed by equally complex analytics. This requires money, and it clearly places large enterprises with the money to invest in favorable positions. The same situation places small companies and individual operators competing with industry behemoths in decidedly disadvantageous positions -- but now there is hope with "guerrilla" analytics.

I use the term guerrilla because it conjures up images of much smaller armies with less sophisticated weapons effectively using these more modest approaches to contend with larger armies -- and doing it well.

In a recent visit with Mike Little, the CEO at MyMenu, a restaurant analytics and cloud startup, we talked about the competition in the restaurant industry, and the smaller, independent restaurant operators' need to compete with large restaurant chains for consumer dollars.

"There are 943,000 places in the United States that are classified as restaurants, and approximately 600,000 of them are run by smaller, independent operators," said Little. "Like their larger competitors that have large IT budgets for analytics, these independent restaurant operators also want feedback on what their customers think of their food and service. They recognize that 'word of mouth' is an important element, and they want to use their customers as marketers."

Little has launched a "guerrilla-style" analytics service in the cloud that independent restaurant operators can subscribe to. The service presents restaurant menus and locations to prospective customers, and also collects ratings information from customers as they sit at their tables, waiting to pay their bills.

"If a rating comes in that is unsatisfactory, the service notifies the restaurant," said Little. "This gives the restaurant operator an opportunity to contact a customer and mitigate the damage by offering a free meal or a discount on a meal. In many cases, mitigation like this persuades the customer to withdraw or change the rating. After three days, the rating becomes final. It is then used in the analytics phase of our operation."

The analytics that Little's company develops come in the form of reports that inform subscribing restaurant operators in an eyeshot how they are doing with their sales, inventory management, and customers. The same analytics identify patterns, such as a particular meal that is popular, or a particular restaurant location that is doing exceptionally well. Most importantly, they give independent restaurant operators with eight or fewer locations an opportunity to work with information that is similar to what their larger competitors have.

"The key is to keep it simple, and to provide the service at price points that the restaurants can afford," said Little.

The takeaway for big data practitioners in very small companies

There is abundant opportunity to return value from easily obtainable data that can be turned into analytics reports that matter and are actionable -- and it isn't always necessary to invest heavily in servers, software, and high-dollar IT to get there. This levels the playing field and makes consumers the ultimate winner, since delivering a high-quality product or service at a great value is exactly what they want.

How does your small business use analytics? What tools or services does your company use to collect the data? Let us know in the discussion.