NOTE: This article is intended to inform our readers about the current data privacy and security challenges experienced by companies in the global marketplace. It is in no way intended to provide legal advice or to endorse a specific course of action. For advice on your specific situation, consult your legal counsel.

Identifying your customers can be a lot like an episode of CSI: Customer Service Investigation. They’ve left behind clues about their browsing history or small traces of their identity via cookies on your website, but you still can’t get a full picture of who they are. Put these clues together, however, and you have the pieces of the puzzle that you need to target highly converting customers. Herein lies the importance of customer data capture.

According to the Data & Marketing Association, 33 percent of marketers say that having the right technology to collect and analyze data is the most useful for understanding customers. Customer data provides insight into not only who your current customers are, but also what the profile of your future customers might look like.

This, in turn, helps you target your marketing campaigns and use both segmentation and personalization to get better results. According to a report from DemandGen, 53 percent of marketers say ongoing personalized communication with existing customers has a positive impact on revenue. Without customer data, you can see the forest but not the trees; you know that your customers are there, but you can’t accurately target the ones most likely to convert.

Customer data collection takes places during every stage of the customer journey. From the process of spotting a customer, to making the sale, and then nurturing the relationship, you need a plan in place for collecting data about customers and using it in a useful way.

If you want to successfully capture customer data and make use of it in meaningful ways, keep reading to find out:

  • The rules for collecting and storing customer data [Read more]
  • How to capture customer data [Read more]
  • How to turn data into insights [Read more]

The rules for collecting and storing customer data

Before the data collection process takes place, you need to get a grip on the laws and data protection policies in place for collecting, using, and storing customer data.

These policies vary from country to country, but given the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) taking effect in Europe, it should influence the way that you’re collecting and storing information about your customers.

In the U.S., data and privacy rules vary by sector: healthcare, for example, has the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for protecting patient data, while the government sector would fall under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP). The GDPR, on the other hand, is a sweeping regulation that protects customer data across business sectors and EU borders.

Regardless of where your company operates, it’s where your customers are located that’ll have the biggest impact on the way that you capture customer data. Adopting a policy for data collection and a set of best practices for customer data capture is the best way to make sure that you’re not overstepping any boundaries.

Here are some things to keep in mind when figuring out your strategy for capturing customer data:

  • Define the types of data that you need to collect.
  • Have a legitimate reason for collecting the data that you’re asking for and what you’re planning to do with it. Write it into your privacy policy in clear, plain text so that users can understand it.
  • Ensure that you have customer consent whenever you’re collecting data.
  • Include things in your policy like timelines for how long you’re planning to keep data (certain time frames may be required by law depending on your industry).
  • If you can afford it, consider hiring a data protection officer to manage all of your customer’s personally identifiable information (PII).

For more information on privacy and personal data, check out some of these resources.

How to capture customer data

Now that you know your limits, you need to figure out what type of customer data will be useful to capture. You want to avoid being too creepy with your data collection, but you still want to collect the data that’ll benefit both your customers and your marketing efforts.

Proprietary customer data collection can be useful for targeting your customers, but aggregate customer data from either your company or the industry at large can help define which customers you should be targeting.

Below are some of the most useful ways for capturing customer data.

Web tracking

Captures: Online activity, customer preferences

Even before they’re officially “customers,” web tracking tools can help you find out who’s on your website and how they got there. Cookies let you store tidbits of customer data on a server so that you can better identify them when they come back.

Cookies will store things like a customer’s preferences on your website (your preferred language, for example) to make the process of visiting your website more tailored to their needs. The big catch with cookies is that they don’t generally give you much personal information about a customer—their activity is only attached to an ID number.

Most websites use cookies to track user activity, like CNN.com
Most websites use cookies to track user activity, like CNN.com

Still, some cookies can be used to track users across multiple devices and create a better picture of a customer’s intent or interest. In conjunction with other multi-touch attribution technologies like tracking pixels, you can even see where these people may have come from and start drawing a sketch of your customer.

Follow the journey of your customers users marketing attribution tools

eCommerce Checkout

Captures: Contact details, purchase history

It probably comes as no surprise that you can capture a ton of customer data during the purchase process. You’ll have the standard contact details and payment information, but you can also get a bit more insight when you consider things like how long your customers spent on the page or how long the purchase process took.

This can give you insight into whether your customer came directly to your site, or if they spent a lot of time browsing before they purchased. While subtle, this could help you find info on the type of customer you’re dealing with.

This also starts the collection of data around your customer’s purchasing history, where you can start seeing patterns in buying behaviour and target them for products they’ve purchased.

Dial into your customers with shopping cart tools

Lead forms

Captures: Basic information, contact details, email address

Lead forms are one of the easiest ways of capturing the most basic customer info. Whether it’s a sign-up page, a free trial, or gated content, collecting user info like name, age, gender, location, and email address is a good way to not only get leads, but to capture a bit of info about your customer’s demographic.

Once captured, you can store that data in your CRM or marketing platform and start tailoring your marketing to specific customers based on that data or on previous interactions with your company.

Incentivizing customers by offering something like a downloadable research report, a free trial, or access to gated parts of your site will increase the chances that your customers willingly share their data (as long as you get their consent). According to Instapage, 80 percent of B2B content marketing material is gated as an effective form of lead generations.

An example of B2B gated content from Infusionsoft

An example of B2B gated content from Infusionsoft

Social login is another form of lead capture, which can give even more in-depth detail about customers, depending on how much info is published on their social profiles.

Fill in the blanks with lead capture tools

Social listening

Captures: Customer sentiment, aggregate customer data

Social listening is like eavesdropping on your customers; it gives you a more nuanced view of your customer profile. Sentiment is the inferred (or sometimes blatantly stated) feeling a person has about a company. By tracking mentions, hashtags, or other accounts, you can analyze common topics or themes being discussed around your brand or your competitors’ brands. Social listening tools also gauge sentiment of what people are saying so that you can see if general opinion is positive or negative.

The good thing about most social listening tools is that they can give you historical data that allows you to see trends or even evolution in customer opinion, as well as growth of brand mentions.

While social listening is useful for showing aggregate brand data, digging deeper into the individuals mentioning your brand can be a great way to spot your most loyal brand advocates and fire up an advocacy marketing program.

Put your ear to the ground with social listening tools

Surveys

Captures: Customer opinion, deeper insights

Further along the customer journey, surveys can give you deeper insight into who your customers are and how they feel about your product. Opinions dig deeper into what your customers are thinking about your product or even what drives them to purchase.

With surveys, the sky’s the limit: you can ask more in-depth questions about how happy your customers are with your brand, dig deeper into their interests, or find out where they heard about you.

An example of a consumer survey from Typeform

An example of a consumer survey from Typeform

The number and format of questions is up to you, just remember to have purpose behind every question. Going overboard can lead to survey fatigue and a lower survey completion rate. According to SurveyGizmo, a ten question survey that takes about five minutes to complete will give you the best completion time while still providing you with useful data.

Start asking the right questions with survey software

Research

Captures: Market or industry landscape, the big picture

Where you can’t find data about your specific customers, you can find data about customers like yours. Using industry research about customer demographics and buyer habits in your market will give you a better idea of your industry’s customer landscape.

This will be an important step in the customer journey mapping process, where you’ll need to define buyer personas. Research can include most of the methods already mentioned here, but can also include looking at industry reports and publications about audience demographics in your sector. A few of the more popular audience and consumer research portals include:

Although it can be costly, using an external market research agency is another good way to give you insight into your potential buyers and help define personas.

How to turn data into insights

Data collection in itself isn’t a very useful practice unless you plan to do something with that data. Customer analytics, as defined by Gartner, is “the use of data to understand the composition, needs and satisfaction of the customer … [It includes] enabling technology used to segment buyers into groupings based on behavior, to determine general trends, or to develop targeted marketing and sales activities.”

You might be thinking about using data to target marketing campaigns, but there are a ton of other ways that you can make use of this data to make your customers happy. Gartner outlines some in this report (available to clients), including:

  • Sharing insights: Sharing your data with customers can give more transparency and set better expectations for service delivery or customer satisfaction.
  • Delivering on promises: Look at the data to make sure that there aren’t any discrepancies between what you’re promising, and what your customers are actually experiencing. Social listening tools and surveys can be exceptionally useful here.
  • Customization: Using data to customize an experience to a customer’s preferences based on previous interactions can deliver a uniquely satisfying experience to every customer.
  • Predicting behaviours: If you see regular patterns in the way that your customers are interacting with your brand or purchasing your product, capitalize on them.
  • Employee engagement: Training employees to make sure that they’re using the customer information available on hand to tailor the customer service experience to their preferences will go a long way.
  • Deep listening: More than just listening to customers, you need to read between the lines to see where there could be opportunities to provide them with something that you’re not already offering.

If you’re ready to start capturing and using customer data: