Times are changing. In the olden days the village shop keeper individually served all customers and had their personal information and preferences in his or her head. But nowadays customer information is only a collection of bits and bytes and commerce has moved to the digital world. This means that companies are now forced to think about ways to bring that individual service online because - as opposed to the disappearance of the village shop - the customers’ expectations of personal service have not disappeared anywhere. Identifying and serving every customer individually becomes more and more important.
However, a lot of companies - here in Finland at least - are shy to collect customer data even though they might understand its importance. I base this conclusion to my observations as a customer: I do a big part of my shopping online and at the moment only a few companies have personalised their communications to me. For example, a large furniture retailer sends me monthly promotions about children’s furniture, toys and in-store events via email and SMS. Never have they asked if there is any under 18-year olds living in our household (the answer would be no). On the other hand, another big retailer, K-ryhmä, is already using personalised marketing with good results.
Without up-to-date information about customers the company’s messages can only be crafted on a very general level. Up-to-date customer data is the key to successful personalised marketing and communications. And if customers feel that for giving the company more information about themselves they get something in return they are more willing to do so.
This is how you can get started with collecting customer data and personalised marketing communications:
1. Come up with a good reason for it
Before starting the project, take a cup of coffee and sit down comfortably for a moment. Think about these questions: what is our goal for collecting the customer data? Why do we want to know more about our customers? Why is personalised content important for us and what do we gain from it?
Once you have roughly figured out what you and your company want, step into your customers’ shoes for a moment and try to answer these questions: why would I give my information to company X? What do I gain from it? What kind of communications would be useful or gratifying or even exceed my expectations? What would be the best service for me?
As mentioned before, customers give their information more readily if it really benefits them. So once collecting the information tell the customer what he/she will gain from giving that valuable information to your company. The reason or reasons should be concrete and focus on the benefits to the customer.
By answering these questions you prepare to rationalise to yourself, your boss and your board of directors why collecting customer data and using that data to personalised marketing communications is important and how it affects customer satisfaction and profit in the end. Also, starting the project is easier when your objectives are clear.
2. Make it easy
Ask your customers for more information at every step of the customer journey and route that information straight into your customer database.
For example, when the customer subscribes to your newsletter he/she will automatically receive a thank you email. In that thank you email the receiver is asked to choose which newsletter topics interest him/her the most in the future. The next automated message contains a few questions that asks for some demographic data. Next time the customer orders something from the online store the product group logs under the customer’s profile. Then an SMS is sent to find out the customer’s satisfaction about the purchased product or service. And so on and so forth.
Every time the customers give their data their profiles update and the marketer has more opportunities for relevant, personalised marketing communications.
When collecting the data keep in mind that it is only beneficial to ask for the information that you actually need. No-one needs a huge customer database where half of the information is covered in dust because no-one uses it. You also save the customers’ nerves and improve conversion if you don’t try to figure out their entire life story.
3. Clarify how the data is being used
Today’s consumers are conscious of companies collecting and using customer data - 80 % know that companies benefit from the data they collect. So it is best to be clear of how you intend to use the data and how not. If you promise you never pass the information to third party don’t hand over your subscriber list for your partner company’s email campaign even if your intentions were totally innocent. And also the other way around; if you promise to serve the customers with content that interests them remember to use dynamic content in your communications to them. The customers will quickly notice if instead of receiving tips for growing houseplants like they wanted they get 101 ways to use the power drill.
In order to succeed today’s companies need to acquire information about their customers and utilise it. Misunderstood (or misused) that information can be seen as offensive or spam. But at its best, this information is gathered in cooperation with the customer as part of regular communication and customer relationship, and used for better service for that customer.
Digital Marketing Manager
Photo: Seattle Municipal Services