The irony of this period of big data is that many organizations are becoming even more disconnected from their customers.

Technology creates both insights and blindness when it comes to understanding customers. Much of big data is about customer behavior: what they bought, how they bought, what devices they used, how many pages they looked at, etc. In some ways, organizations have never known more about their customers.

In other ways, they have never known less. The big thing missing in big data is empathy. There’s lots of data on customers, but real human, living customers are not to be found in data. The irony is that to create big data the customer needs to be interacting with technology instead of with an employee. In many organizations, less and less employees have direct interaction with customers.

A 2015-published study by IBM and Econsultancy found that the “biggest takeaway was the disconnect between how marketers perceive the job they’re doing and how consumers perceive that job,” according to Jay Henderson, director, product strategy at IBM Commerce.

While most brands thought they were very good at customer experience, only one in three consumers felt their favorite brands understood them. Big data does not allow you to be empathetic but it does flood you with data from multiple channels and sources.

“We’ve seen this explosion of channels and devices that collect and store that data,” said Henderson. “But there is still a gap in terms of what companies are doing with that data. There’s a gap in terms of interpreting and analyzing that data.”

There’s another problem. “Consumer IT spend has grown five times in a decade,” Mark Hurd, co-CEO of Oracle, recently stated. “Companies’ IT spend in that time frame is flat — and 82 percent of their spend is on maintenance; only 18 percent on innovation. Consumers are innovating. Companies are not.”

Companies used to have all the cool technology toys. Now many of them feel like they’re stuck in the age of the horse and cart. Internal systems hardly ever invest in usability and simplicity, and CEOs aren’t sufficiently recognizing the problem.

In a 2014 study by Teradata, CEOs were asked whether their employees had appropriate access to the information they needed to do their jobs well. Fifty-three percent said no, which is bad enough. When the same question was asked to employees, 73 percent said no. That a staggering figure.

Developing understanding of and empathy for the customer is the single greatest challenge and opportunity that organizations face today. Big Data only becomes useful when the people using it have a true understanding of who their customer is. Without that understanding, Big Data is likely to increase that gap.

A 2014 study conducted by Kitewheel found that 73 percent of consumers feel loyalty programs “should be a way for brands to show how loyal they are to them as customers.” Sixty-six percent of marketing executives, on the other hand, felt that a loyalty program was a way for consumers to show how loyal they are to a brand. Delusional.

Customers are radically changing both in the way they think and in the tools they use. Many organizations will be left in the dust if they don’t quickly wake up and catch up.