Moving away from handwritten notes into a customer relationship management system is a key milestone for many businesses. That point when you realize that a rolodex just isn’t 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 of what information should I be collecting? 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 of Knowledge is Power probably influences this. But, realistically, if you are collecting customer data that you are not going to use, the information then it is of no value and can, in many cases, be a major barrier to purchase. We’ve all been there: about to make a purchase in a shop: name and address, email address, mobile number, how I heard about the company and then more seemingly unrelated questions – and we get annoyed or frustrated and at that point we don’t feel good about the company that we are buying from. Online the situation is exacerbated with many people abandoning shopping baskets to go purchase elsewhere. Don’t let your desire for data cost you your sales.
Once you have decided what information to collect then organizing it should be based on "what is the most important piece of information for my business?" and "what reports do I want to be able to generate?"
If you are collecting basket value with a view to increasing 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. But 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?".
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 use to the idea of digitizing 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 an .xl file or .csv.
Moving to a digital records base can be a scary moment for a lot of businesses and organizing the data or at least identifying the date you need to collect can take a while to sort. The physical organisation of the customer information shouldn’t 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.