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Improving customer experience through personalization

Improving customer experience through personalization

You may think customer data and personalization are just for the big boys, but think again, says Jeanne Hurlbert of Baton Rouge, LA-based MySurveyExpert, which specializes in big data for small businesses. “Although small businesses typically lack the data warehouses and extensive CRM databases of their large counterparts, they can still pursue big data-type initiatives that can propel sales if they collect and use key types of information effectively.”

Are you ready to harness the power of personalization to target your marketing, improve customer service and increase sales? Get started with these tips.

Just Ask

Before you can personalize the customer experience, you need the data to base it on. There are three main ways to get this information:

  • Opt-in email: If you have an email marketing list, customize the opt-in form to include information on product interests, favorite days to shop, birth dates and anniversaries, etc. Capture this data from existing customers with a quick request included in your next edition.
  • Transaction data: Use your POS system to track individual customer activity. At checkout, ask customers for their email and other information you want to link to their accounts. Then you can begin to collect and analyze individual customers’ buying behaviors, or your clientele’s overall purchasing pattern, like the types of products frequently bought together or sequentially. Using the email address, link to the data you gather from the email subscriptions for a fuller picture. Most simple customer management systems allow you to automate this process.
  • Surveys: Polling customers allows you to gather even more detailed information related to their shopping experiences, perceptions and preferences. Short surveys can be done at checkout or by employees walking the floor with retail tablets, especially if there’s a long line at the register (with a POS-enabled device, your workers could also accept mobile payments). Longer surveys can be done via email.

Get Personal

Now that you have it, here are three ways to use data to personalize the customer experience:

  • Improve customer service: Use insights on customer experiences to improve the way you interact with shoppers. “By analyzing feedback from customers, interesting trends emerge,” says Adi Bittan, co-founder and CEO of OwnerListens in Palo Alto, CA. You may discover recurring complaints on a certain day or time, requests to carry certain products or praise/complaints about specific employees. “It's a goldmine of data that is a great starting point for improvement.” Use the information to set staffing levels, provide additional training to struggling employees, develop new services or reward top performers.
  • Strengthen marketing and provide social proof: A well-crafted customer satisfaction survey can also yield positive information you can add to online and offline marketing materials. “This can be gathered easily and inexpensively,” Hurlbert says. “One of our customers sends out an email invitation to complete a survey 10 days after each purchase. By including our ‘testimonial generator’ in the survey, they now have 10 to 15 testimonials a month coming in with no staff time or cost. Placing that information on your Web site and integrating it into your marketing can increase sales dramatically.” Social proof—others’ perceptions and reviews of your shop—is a key purchase driver. It’s always more credible when someone else says “This place is awesome” than when you say it.
  • Target offers to spur sales: Use buying behavior data to tempt customers into your shop. “When we found that our customers were coming in less as they grew busier, we made a move to be more proactive in reaching out to them,” says Julie Haack, president of Donald Haack Diamonds and Fine Gems in Charlotte, NC. “We turned to the invaluable resource that is our customer database to connect with them through a very concise weekly message that features new products or a limited-time discount on an exclusive product.” You can make that product specific to their stated preferences, a seasonal choice, a new arrival or one of your most popular items.

Using customer data to personalize the shopping experience is a competitive advantage that will help you increase sales and keep customers coming back. “We find that small businesses that get the right information and use it effectively often outperform their larger counterparts,” Hurlbert says. “The key lies in knowing what information you need, gathering it efficiently and using it effectively.” Contributing Writers

Claire Parker and Margot Carmichael Lester are veteran business reporters based in Wilmington and Carrboro, NC, respectively. Claire has been a retail beat reporter for community newspapers in four states. Margot covers business for several outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal.