Have you ever been surprised to see an ad on Facebook for a product you just searched for online? Coincidence? Usually not. Now the big question is—How do tech companies like Facebook and Google know your search history, and how do they suggest products for you to buy?
These companies collect the data clues you leave behind on their website, on online shopping sites, and everywhere else you go on the internet. They put these clues together to identify and target high-conversion customers. This is why it’s important to capture customer data.
In this article, we’ll discuss why your business should be collecting data from customers—just like Facebook and Google—and how you can do that without invading their privacy. We’ll also look at some simple ways to collect customer data without breaking the bank.
Customers interact with your business in many ways. They may find you online, visit your retail store, check your social media, speak to a field rep, call customer support—the list goes on. And during each of these interactions, they leave behind a trail of data that you can leverage. Let’s see how you can use this data to your benefit.
Collecting customer data will tell you everything you need to know about how to market your products and services. You’ll know which ads are attracting the most customers, which marketing methods are performing better, and where the majority of your customers are coming from (retail, online, or email marketing). Use this data to create more effective marketing campaigns with ads and promos that are better targeted at customers.
Customer interaction data will also help you identify where your business is currently lagging and how to improve on those. For instance, optimizing your website for better customer experience or having a shorter hold time when customers call.
The customer data you collect is a treasure trove of information, which, if mined well, reveals their likes, dislikes, preferences, and behavioral patterns. You’ll get a better understanding of what your customers are looking for, which products they prefer, which platforms they are most active on, how they wish to interact with your brand, and much more.
Accordingly, you can offer personalized services, promos, or discounts to increase customer satisfaction and, in turn, the chances of conversion. GetApp survey data suggests that marketing emails with personalized subject lines have a higher chance of being opened.
Here are two key challenges your business may face when capturing consumer data.
Increasing public awareness about data privacy has led governments and regulatory bodies to enact legislation governing customer data management and storage. While these rules vary by state and country, we’ve listed some of the more prominent ones here.
GDPR: GDPR, a digital privacy law enacted by the European Union (EU), regulates the collection, storing, and sharing of customer data by companies. One of its key provisions is that users be allowed to manage website cookie preferences and review or remove any personal data they’ve previously shared with you. Learn more about GDPR here.
HIPAA: HIPAA rules seek to protect the medical records and other health information of patients. If you’re a healthcare business, you must implement adequate measures to safeguard your patients’ health records as well as provide them complete right over their health information.
PCI DSS: PCI DSS is an information security standard your business must adhere to when collecting payment card details from customers. Read this article to learn how to make your business PCI DSS compliant.
Your business has multiple customer touch points, and to collect data from each of these touch points, you’ll need heavy investment in a variety of data collection tools, such as social media monitoring and form builder software. In some cases, data capture tools may not even be available for a touch point from which you want to collect data.
If you’re worried you’ll have to shell out more for buying these tools, don’t be. In the next section, we’ve suggested free software tools you can use to capture customer data.
Here’s a list of some common and cost-effective ways to capture customer information from various touch points.
That said, web tracking is considered an invasion of privacy by many users, and regulatory bodies have made it mandatory for you to seek explicit user consent before using any cookies to track visitors.
Online lead forms, also known as web forms, let you collect basic details, such as name, email, phone number, and company, from customers when they interact with your business. They could be signing up on your website, downloading a free resource, subscribing to a free trial, or getting a discount coupon. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, use paper-based lead forms.
The data you collect from these forms must be fed into your CRM or marketing software, so you have a centralized repository of customer information. Analyzing this data will help you better understand your target audience’s demographics—age group, region, profession, etc.
Check out these free form builder tools to create compelling web forms for your business.
Consumers today don’t think twice before sharing product reviews or service experiences on social media. And what’s more, they expect you to respond to their queries on social media. That means you should be actively listening to what customers are saying online.
Use these free social listening tools to analyze customer posts and conversations on social media and better understand the characteristics of your audience. These tools help you track brand mentions to gauge customer sentiment and recognize common themes discussed about your brand or your competitors.
Surveys and polls are the easiest way to get direct answers or feedback from your customers. They also allow you to capture basic customer details, such as name, email ID, age, and region. Use this information, along with the survey/poll responses, to create customer clusters with similar preferences, and make product or marketing decisions accordingly.
You can run surveys and polls on your website, on social media, or even via email. Here are a few free online survey tools to help you collect customer data through surveys and polls.
When customers sign up for your loyalty program, they disclose personal information such as interests, location, and demographic data that you can use for better targeting and personalization. The data captured by your customer loyalty software can also be utilized for cross-selling, upselling, and optimizing your product development plans and marketing campaign.
When your customers make a purchase on their loyalty card, ask if they would like to participate in an ongoing survey in return for some extra points. That’ll be a win-win for everyone! If you don’t have a customer loyalty tool yet, check out these free options.
Loaded with customer information such as contact details, interaction history, and preferred service channels, your CRM software is a haven of data that can help convert your data into dollars. If you aren’t already using CRM software to record and organize customer data, you should! And here are some free tools to get you started.
Meanwhile, get talking to your sales staff and field service teams. They are important customer touch points and can explain customers’ pain points and wishes in finer detail.
CDP software is a data management tool that automatically collects customer information from multiple sources. It offers a 360-degree view of your existing customers and lets you segment them based on location, age, shopping preferences, etc., using built-in analytics capabilities.
Unlike CRM software, CDPs allow you to process and store large volumes of data, including basic customer identity data, unstructured interaction data, and customer behavior data. You can also integrate these platforms with your existing customer service and marketing software to create holistic customer profiles with data integrated from all tools. Try these free CDP tools to create a unified customer database.
Analyze your customers’ shopping cart and point-of-sale (POS) data to understand their buying behavior as well as purchase intent. For example, a shopping cart with diapers is likely an indication the customer has a baby at home, and you can target this user with other relevant products and offers.
Use the services of third-party consumer research firms to get insights on consumer preferences and buying behaviors. These firms compile data obtained from several sources, including surveys, social media, interviews, and focus group discussions.
The demographic data reports you receive from such providers can help you understand the buying patterns and preferences of broad customer segments, but they may not be suitable for identifying individual customer preferences.
You must protect the data you’ve collected to keep hackers away, maintain customers’ trust in your brand, and comply with government regulations. Here are some ways to do so.
Use encryption methods to mask your data: Encryption will hide your data from prying eyes. Without the right encryption keys, hackers won’t be able to read your data even if they somehow manage to access it. Encrypt the data in your CRM system, loyalty programs, web forms, and more. Here’s a handy guide if you’d like to learn more about encryption.
Restrict access to sensitive customer data: Not everybody in your company needs access to all customer data. Set up controls to define access rights (view, edit, or delete) for confidential customer data. Check out access management tools that can help.
Check how safe your data capture tools are: According to GetApp’s recent report, 12% of small businesses don’t ask any questions about security features when buying software. But if your survey, CRM, or web builder software has poor security features, it’ll be easier for hackers to crack. So check with vendors if they offer security features (such as encryption), have secure data centers, and agree to not share your data with third parties.
Train employees on data privacy and compliance: 50% of data breaches happen because of human error. Train your employees on data classification levels, regulations such as GDPR, and how to handle sensitive customer data.
Now that you know how to capture and store customer data safely, it's time to look at turning that data into dollars. Until you mine your captured data and turn it into insights, it's of no value. Customer data insights help you make informed business decisions, personalize marketing and customer services, and simply know your customers better.
As you prepare to implement these data capture methods, have one end goal: Using the right tools to analyze the collected data and get actionable insights from it.
Check out these top-rated data analysis and business intelligence tools to achieve your goal. You can also go through these software categories related to data collection, and identify tools best suited to your customer data capture needs.
The Marketing Personalization survey was conducted by GetApp in December 2019 among 406 consumers. Respondents were required to reside in the U.S. and self-report both consuming online news and shopping online at a minimum frequency of once per month.
The GetApp Consent Management survey was conducted by GetApp in November 2019 among 390 consumers. Respondents were required to reside in the U.S. and self-report both consuming online news and shopping online at a minimum frequency of once per month.
The GetApp Data Privacy & Consent Management survey was conducted by GetApp in November 2019 among 178 employees. Respondents were required to reside in the U.S. and report working full-time or self-employed in sales, marketing, customer service, or IT.
Note: The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations by GetApp. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.