7 ways small businesses can leverage customer data

Marketing, customer experience and data experts discuss what small and midsized businesses can learn about customers from the data they collect.

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While big companies have been using big data to identify trends and track customer behavior for a while now, smaller businesses, with smaller budgets and fewer resources, are often unable to. However, by simply analyzing the data they’ve collected from email lists, customer purchases, social media and other sources, SMBs can gain a variety of insights into their customers – and use this knowledge to improve processes and discover new business opportunities.

[Related: 8 ways to make the most out of your customer data ]

Here are seven simple ways SMBs can use customer data to benefit both their customers and the business.

1. Making email marketing more effective.“Incorporating customer data can significantly improve email marketing efforts,” says Sarah Matista, marketing communications manager, Vistaprint Digital. “At the most basic level, simply including the recipient’s first name in the email can boost engagement.”

“Incorporating more complex data like site browsing history can allow businesses to send automated follow-up emails, reminding users of products they’ve browsed, or offering similar products or relevant deals,” she says. “The more information in the email, the more it can be tailored to the interests of each consumer, and the more likely it is to be opened, read and potentially acted on.”

[ Related: 14 digital marketing mistakes to avoid ]

“Customer data shapes our email marketing strategy,” says Steve Levine, a digital marketer at JAM Paper & Envelope. “We use it primarily to create specific shopper segments. [Then] we [can] tailor our products, email graphics and subject lines based on these segments. For example, for teachers we will feature binders and folders as products, desks and chalkboards as background graphics and a cute subject line that they can relate to,” he adds. “These customizations have increased our top-line conversion rate by 15 percent. Prior to these segments, we were really just throwing emails at the wall and hoping they led to sales. Now that we have hard data on who shops with us, we can personalize the shopping experience.”

2. Creating personalized offers. “Customers of the mobile age respond well to hyper-targeting and having experiences specifically tailored to them,” says Momchil Kyurkchiev, cofounder and CEO, Leanplum, a mobile marketing automation platform. “User data facilitates this, making it easier for businesses to understand their customers and develop better interactions with them. Small businesses using customer data to personalize experiences are better positioned to strengthen their customer bases and build brand loyalty.”

[ Related: 9 ways mobile and social tech improves the retail shopping experience ]

“SMBs should use information like birthdays, membership anniversaries or [a customer’s] last visit to target customers with relevant communications,” says Cassandra Schwartz, senior manager, product marketing, Front Desk, a provider of mobile client management and scheduling software. “For small businesses like yoga studios or gyms, this information is gathered upon registration. However, other small businesses shouldn’t be afraid to ask customers for these details – like when [someone] orders a pizza, or purchases a gift card. If they haven’t been in in 30 days, use this opportunity to send an email to re-engage.”

“By tracking what product a customer buys, and when they buy it, SMBs can send promotional offers to bring the customer back in for a replacement when they are most likely to repurchase,” adds Mark Harrington, vice president of marketing at Clutch, a consumer management platform. “Timely offers not only deliver relevancy, they can also be viewed as a valuable service to the customer, which can translate into stronger affinity and loyalty to your brand.”

3. Identifying lapses in operations.  “By spotting patterns in when customers complain and what they complain about, business owners [can] identify specific locations, processes or even employees that don’t maintain the company standard,” says Troy Ruemping, senior associate, Point B, a management consulting firm. “The challenge is to blend data that is sufficiently aggregated to identify reliable patterns (rather than outliers) with data that is sufficiently localized to identify the culprits.”

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