Do you remember when a visit to a store was the only direct interaction a business might ever have with a customer? That made it the only opportunity for the business to learn more about who the customers were, which offerings they liked (or didn’t), and what they valued — all the knowledge that was essential to meeting customer needs.
Fast-forward 50 years or so, companies still need to know the same things in order to serve customers successfully. But today, the means and opportunities for getting that information have expanded dramatically. Interactions happen not just in stores, but also online and on mobile devices. Increasingly, businesses today are operating on all those levels. That’s a step away from the previous trend of some trying to run an online store only, and a definite step toward more data collection. When primarily-online retailers like Bonobos and Warby Parker, for example, add physical locations to their presence, that creates more opportunities for interactions that produce customer data.
The opportunities to gather relevant data from interactions with customers — whether physical, online or mobile — are expansive, too. What you can collect ranges from sales data that tells what customers have bought over time to real-time data that suggests what they might be about to buy based on where they are in a store or on a website and what they’re doing there.
Given this rich and complex customer data landscape, with its growing number of places where your business interacts with customers, there’s much to consider as you think about how to collect the data that will help you deliver the best possible experience to your customers (and therefore be of the most value to your business). Here are some questions to ask yourself in the process that will help ensure you make the most of as many opportunities as you can.
Putting data aside for a moment, it’s clear that the lines between web, mobile and physical locations are clearly becoming less and less well-drawn. In the evolution of buying, we’ve seen customers choose mobile apps over shopping websites, use mobile in physical stores, and even through all this change, display a lasting fondness for buying things in person. I believe that the blurring of distinctions also inevitably applies to the data opportunities in each area as well. No matter where a customer is interacting with you — whether in a store, on your website, via a mobile app or through some combination of them all — the data value proposition is the same. You want to learn all you can about how customers shop and buy, you want them to be motivated to share data about that with you and you want to find the most effective ways to incentivize them to share.
At what point in an interaction can you capture data of value?
It wasn’t all that long ago that customers might as well have been invisible, at least as far as data was concerned, until they actually bought something. Now, we have all kinds of opportunities to capture data from the moment someone logs into an online account, opens a mobile shopping app or walks into a physical store. Etailers and other ecommerce companies can see which items customers are browsing through online and use that data to suggest other potential purchases. They can get clues to customer location and other contextual information when the customer uses a mobile app. And physical stores can use mobile in-store tracking to get insights into how customers shop. These are just a few of the data collection tools and tactics available today. And companies that aren’t taking advantage of opportunities like these are missing out on a complete picture of the customer.
Is there data you can get in one kind of interaction but not another?
Some forms of data collection are unique to the shopper’s context, such as the use of beacons in stores and geolocation technology in mobile apps. That doesn’t make one better than or preferable to another, though — just different. For a company that does business via several channels, they’re all just parts of the puzzle of the customer’s complete identity, and they’re all important. Of course, if you’re a startup or a growing business with finite resources, and you feel you need to prioritize where to invest in data collection technologies, it’s worth taking the time and thought to assess strategically what kind of data is going to be of the most immediate value to you and to plan accordingly.
What steps can you take to optimize your customer data gathering?
Even if you have all the resources in the world, with so many avenues for data collection available today, it can be overwhelming to know where to start – or where to stop, for that matter. Yes, you want all the data you need to get a complete picture of your customer, but “all the data you need” is the key phrase there. You don’t want to waste resources collecting data you don’t need in the context of your particular business and goals. “Big Data: What’s Your Plan?”, which McKinsey published a couple of years ago, paints a broader picture of data than just customer data – but I still think its guidance for creating a game plan for data collection, analytics and tools remains sound for any business.
How will you incentivize customers to share their data with you?
Last week, I wrote about three things you can do to ensure customers feel good about sharing more and more of their data with you. You can read the whole article at your leisure, but the most important points are simply 1) to be open and transparent with them about why you want their data and how you’ll use it, 2) to never violate the trust they place in you by sharing their data and 3) to reward them generously when they do share data. We can talk forever about data collection tools, tactics and strategies in a mobile-meets-online-meets-bricks-and-mortar world, but only with customers’ enthusiastic support of your efforts will you realize the full value of the data that’s potentially available to you.
To view the original post, please visit Forbes.com.