7 ways to collect customer data (and why!)

Friday, September 17, 2021

We get it: Asking new customers for personal data can be uncomfortable. Often, sales associates and waiters will skip the process entirely out of fear (or just lack of training). But today’s world is driven by data. It’s what allows you to engage with consumers in highly personalized ways, helping you stand out from the competition. Collecting customer data – and using it correctly – is no longer optional if you want to truly enhance the customer experience and grow your business.

Back up – why is data so important?

According to Salesforce, 79% of people want marketers to send them personalized offers based on purchase history. Let that soak in. Eight out of ten of your customers want you to personalize your marketing for them.

Fortunately, many point of sale systems have a built-in customer relationship management system (CRM) and/or integrate with third-party customer intelligence software. That means you can easily run real-time purchase history reports. Then, you can use list segmentation to create targeted emails.

For example, let’s say you’re a retail store looking for ways to generate more traffic during your slow season. You could run a report of customers who shopped with you at this time last year. Then, segment the list by what they shopped, like brand, as one option. Design an email campaign for each brand you’d like to highlight. Include enticing photos of new arrivals and maybe even a coupon. Then, send off these very targeted emails to the corresponding lists.

Sounds pretty easy (and effective!), right? But, think about how much more targeted your marketing strategy, buying, menu-crafting and more could be if you had just a little more information.

OK, what kind of data should I collect then?

Think about the emails you receive that stand out in your inbox. Some may have clever subject lines or beautiful imagery, but chances are they caught your attention because they were highly personalized and hit you when you needed them — a store that advertised their storage solutions because you purchased holiday decor with them, for example. Or an ice cream shop that emailed parents about summer vacation specials on the last day of their kids’ school year. A home goods store that sent its list of 20- and 30-somethings a roundup of creative gifts at the start of summer wedding season.

To create similar campaigns (and more), consider collecting demographics and data like:

  • Shopping and dining preferences: Do they prefer to shop in-store or online? To dine in, order takeout or delivery? To make reservations and appointments online or over the phone?

  • Communication preferences: Where do they want to hear from you? What kind of content do they want, and how often?

  • Budget or typical spend level

  • Generation

  • Occupation

  • Household size

  • How they heard about your business

You can identify some of these things through POS reports. Others, you’ll have to ask about. Whether you formally survey or initiate informal conversations, make sure you leave your bias at the door and really listen to what they have to say.

We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite ways to collect first-party customer data below. Note that while the examples here reference the retail and hospitality industries, many of these tips can be applied to any customer-facing service business.

1. Purchase transactions
Your POS software solution absolutely must be able to collect and report on all individual customer transactions. At minimum, each purchase should be associated with a customer’s name. A good practice is to require it for a sale or return to be completed. By doing this, you will be able to segment customers by all sorts of categories, like spend level, brand preference, location and more. This helps you create more targeted marketing campaigns, events and promotions.

2. Sign-up forms
In some states, privacy laws are more stringent than others. If your state prohibits collecting and acting on any customer data without written consent, keep postcards at the register that invite people to fill out their information themselves as a workaround. Then, you can manually add this data to the customer profiles in your customer intelligence solution later. Let them know that if they sign up, you’ll email them a welcome coupon for their next purchase.

3. Communication preferences form
Do you already have customer names and emails? Consider sending an email that asks how they prefer to hear from you — email, text or snail mail — and how often.

Invite them to tell you what kind of content they’re interested in, too. If you frequently send someone who doesn’t have children updates about your childrens’ department, or if you send a San Francisco client a promotion valid only at your Los Angeles location, you’re going to turn them off. Honing in on how and when people want to hear from you will help increase customer satisfaction and generate more repeat visits.

4. Customer loyalty programs
A “loyalty program” may sound fancy or complicated, but it’s really just a way to reward customers for their business. It can be as simple as a punch card, or a loyalty platform that allows customers to log in and check their point status.

Offer a loyalty program to not only boost customer retention, but also use as a customer data platform. You can give members extra program points if they provide things like birthdate and zip code.

Plus, when you integrate your loyalty program with your customer-centric POS, you’ll be able to measure customer engagement and see what kind of perks they respond to.

5. Surveys
Send email subscribers brief surveys either quarterly, post-purchase or according to their preference (personalization!). Incentivize them by offering a discount for their next visit or putting them in a drawing for a gift card. This gives you the opportunity to ask longer-form questions like, "where else do you shop?," "who are your favorite influencers?" and other things that will give you actionable insights.

6. Social media
Social media is all about conversations, so have them! A great example is the gift card drawing mentioned above. If you are going to run a drawing, be sure you tag the winners on your social media channels to drive participation and engagement. It’s an easy way to get customers buzzing about your brand.

You can also use social media as a customer data collection touchpoint. Ask questions in your post captions, use Facebook polls, Instagram story quizzes, questions sticker and emoji slider. You can request feedback on a new product or service you’re considering, or about any of the other data points we’ve mentioned so far.

7. Website
A lot of what we’ve discussed helps you collect data from existing customers, or at least social media followers. But how can you gather data from a potential customer as soon as they first land on your website? Consider adding a chatbot or pop-up that teases them with free shipping on their initial purchase if they enter their email or tell you where they heard about your business.

Even if you aren’t actively surveying website visitors, data collection is still happening in the background. Use Google Analytics or another customer analytics tool to see what resonates with your online visitors. Look at metrics like page views, bounce rate and traffic source to see where they’re coming from.

A win-win for you and your customers

You can assume or guess your customers’ needs and preferences, but ultimately it’s essential to ask. We hope you’ll put these data sources to use to gain better customer insights. This is the kind of data that will help you craft more personalized experiences and lead you to better business decision-making.

Data collection and segmentation is that much easier when you have a point of sale that doubles as a customer intelligence platform. Look for features like custom reporting, customer dashboards and loyalty integrations. You can start exploring solutions here.