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Collecting customer information and storing customer data

Collecting customer information and storing customer data is a big part of running a business, and can be really useful for planning your next steps. This article talks you through the process.

You will learn

  • Ways of collecting customer information
  • Different methods of storing customer data
  • What you can use customer information for

Moving away from handwritten notes and in to a customer relationship management system is a key milestone for many businesses. That point when you realise that a rolodex just is not big enough, and you need something more sophisticated to organise your customer information and for storing customer data. 

Storing customer data has its own legislation that you need to be aware of, and it is always worth consulting a data protection expert to ensure that you are compliant with the latest regulations issued by the Information Commissioner’s office. 

Aside from the regulatory implications, there is the big question surrounding what information to collect. The only way to answer that is to think about how you are going to use the information that you collect. There is always the temptation to try to collect everything about your customers and the old adage, "Knowledge is Power", probably influences this. However, realistically, if you are collecting customer data that you are not going to use, the information is then of no value and can, in many cases, be a major barrier to purchase. We have all been there: about to make a purchase in a shop, and you are suddenly asked for your name, address, email address, mobile number, how you heard about the company, and then more seemingly unrelated questions – and we get annoyed or frustrated. At that point, we do not feel good about the company that we are buying from. Online, the situation is exacerbated, with many people abandoning shopping baskets to go and purchase elsewhere. Do not let your desire for data cost you your sales.

Once you have decided what information to collect, organising it should be based on what is the most important piece of information for your business, and what reports you want to be able to generate.  

If you are collecting basket value with a view to increase average order value, then make sure you can access this customer information. For example, if you want to know everyone who purchased product A so you can sell them product B, then make sure that is possible. In the event of a product recall, would you be able to effectively communicate with the right customers in a timely manner?

There is a whole range of customer relationship management systems available off the shelf, and there are many bespoke options. IT experts are always keen to highlight the benefits of one over the other in terms of support, file security, integration with accounting packages, integration with your website, real-time stock control, etc. Consider what you actually need and what you think you will need in the next 1, 3 and 5 years time. Your basis for decision making should also include: "Can I use this software?", "Can my staff use this software?", "How much training will I need?", "Can I make changes or will I need to refer back to my IT consultant?", etc. 

For the most part, once you have decided what data you want to collect, accessing that customer information should be easy using either an integrated or add-on report generator. These often allow you to create lists – which are obviously useful for marketing purposes.

Many businesses move from paper-based customer records to an Excel Spreadsheet. This has limitations, but in the first instance might be a good step to take. It gets you and your team used to the idea of digitising records, and is a very powerful report generator, without the need to invest in further software. 

If you make the decision to move from Excel to another CRM system, then exporting data you have collected from Excel is relatively easy as most other systems are able to cope with imports as .xl or .csv files. 

Moving to a digital records base can be a scary moment for a lot of businesses and organising the data, or at least identifying the data you need to collect, can take a while to sort. The physical organisation of the customer information should not matter, so long as the appropriate fields are established, as reports can then be generated to access the information in a form that is useful for your business.

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Written by:

Deborah Goodall

Marketing expert

Email Address:

Telephone: 07903 387 143