Customer Data: The Secret to Long-Term Business Success

BY: ON MONDAY, JULY 07, 2014

Decades ago, commerce was personal. You went down to the corner store or the butcher shop and the owner knew your name. What's more, he'd make sure your preferences were stocked. You didn't have to ask. It was truly A Wonderful Life.

Then things started to change. Businesses became bigger and lost the personal touch. First, it was phone systems. You could spend an hour on the phone making choices from a menu and never get a helpful answer or reach a live person. And if you did somehow manage to reach a live person, they read from a script. If your specific situation didn't fit the script, the "help desk" had no choice but to escalate the situation and route your call to a supervisor or technician—meaning after another round of hold times, you got to tell the story again and hope this person could solve your issue.

Then came web solutions. Some companies even went so far as to remove contact numbers from their websites. Customers adjusted to it, but they weren't happy. And with the rise of social media, companies who isolated customers from live staff or relied on outsourced help lines equipped with canned responses began to pay the price in bad reviews.

The Predicament

Businesses were faced with a real dilemma: with thousands, or hundreds of thousands of customers, how can we deliver a personal touch in an efficient and cost-effective manner? How can we make it seem as if every one of our employees knows each customer? Company success depends on balancing operating costs for a stable profit margin, so assigning dedicated representatives to customers is simply not possible for all but the smallest businesses.

Customer Data Solutions

The answer lies in customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. Contact databases have come a long way. Modern CRMs collect a huge variety of data, far beyond name, address, and phone number. Good CRMs can store an almost unlimited array of information about customer likes and dislikes, interactions with your company, comments on social media, buying habits, and more. When you harness and analyze CRM customer data, you can empower your representatives to be both personable and personal.

The beauty in a great CRM is extensibility. CRM-driven solutions work for big and small businesses equally well, and are equally accessible to all. You just have to use your CRM solution effectively.

1. Marketing Segmentation

The key to using CRM for marketing is in data organization. When you enter or update the customer, include keywords to identify segments for marketing efforts based on purchases, location, age, or even price points.

Say, for example, Mrs. Jones, a teacher who lives in Brookhaven, Mississippi, is expecting a baby girl. You know this because she’s ordering maternity clothes and teaching supplies. Her keywords might include: location, baby, maternity, and teacher.

Why is location important? Because trends are often localized. I happen to know that no self-respecting toddler In Brookhaven would leave the house without a giant bow on her head. If all your customers in her area order bows, Mrs. Jones is going to want to stock up.

Segment your customers for a bow-based email campaign by location and buying preferences, and you’ll clean out your stock of giant bows in no time, without annoying customers who purchase sherbet-colored skinny jeans in tween sizes.

2. Improve Your Customer Service

In addition to fine-tuning your marketing efforts, your CRM can help improve customer service, and sometimes turn a complaint call into a sales opportunity. Notes from past interactions can help your customer service reps empathize with the customer and better understand the issue, especially if the customer has had similar problems in the past.

Rather than waste time walking the customer through every previously unsuccessful step, an informed CSR can acknowledge past failures and move forward to find a solution that might actually work—or escalate the complaint immediately to the next level. After the problem is solved, an alert CSR can casually add, “I see you’re a big fan of sports. Did you know we’re having a sale on memorabilia next week?”

3. Find Your Customers

When you enter your customer’s email address, an intuitive CRM will identify social media accounts linked to their email. By aggregating this data, you can find out where the majority of your customers spend their time and concentrate your social media efforts there. You’re likely to find that customers in different groups frequent different social media...knowledge you can use to better target your social media outreach efforts by age and gender.

Always remember the fine line between helpful and creepy. Your customers want to feel valued, but not spied upon. Take a lesson from Amazon. In 2010, it came to bossman Jeff Bezos’ attention that customers who browsed lubricants were being sent solicitations for sex aids, such as gels and lotions. While sales did increase, some customers found it creepy and weird.

With a little fine-tuning, CRM customer data can be the secret to your business success. When you know what your customers want and need, you can give it to them...and make it easy for them to say yes.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Sherry Gray
Sherry Gray is a freelance content writer from Key West, FL, currently suffering the burbs of Orlando. She's a science geek, a political junkie, and a regular contributor to She writes about business, marketing, technology, medicine...and everything else.
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