Data defines the Digital Age. It plays an integral role in almost every aspect of our lives and has become the operative force in the evolution of commerce and technology.

A little over a decade ago, the idea of a smartphone being the hub for all daily activity related data might have seemed absurd, yet the internet of things has now brought us to a point where even our kitchen appliances can collect data about us. Businesses can use the resulting deluge of information to enhance customer experiences and to recognize and act upon our lifestyle needs.

While data is a revolutionary tool in customer service, it is only of use to people who know how to manipulate and understand it. This means knowing how to judge the value of any individual piece of data, and how to recognize the ways it can benefit the customer relationship. 

Having this level of discernment is important in light of the sheer mass of data now available to businesses. It takes a keen eye to make the connections to deliver meaningfully personalized customer service, without being overly familiar or intrusive.

Collecting Customer Data

At a basic level, data allows an organization to identify a given consumer's behavioral patterns: what sort of products she likes, what her process is when she considers making a big purchase. It can also show how willing consumers are to engage with and promote a brand they enjoy, and in what venues and by what means they are most comfortable purchasing and engaging.

The customer experience is different for everyone. While this is common sense, accurate and considered use of data allows marketers to identify exactly how experiences differ. Just as in-store retailers train salespeople to engage with a customer to better understand their needs, data allows an organization to train its platforms and its brand to engage with customers, utilizing their information to customize online experiences.

The emergence of predictive analytics is starting to provide an edge over the traditional in-store salesperson. By building and training predictive models, marketing automation software can spot patterns that no human might acknowledge, for intelligent segmentation to personalize communications.

Recreating Offline Connections Online

Online shopping and engaging with brands is incredibly convenient, but frequently impersonal. Consumers will often engage with a brand online after they’ve already established an in-store connection. 

Learning Opportunities

For brands operating predominantly in the digital sphere, data gives them the chance to recreate these sorts of in-person connections. The careful implementation of customer data allows brands to recreate offline experiences online, connecting with customers who they might never have the opportunity to engage with.

Personalization can take many forms: A homepage that welcomes a customer back with products best suited to them. Or crediting a loyalty card with points after a customer reviews one of your products. Maybe it's an email celebrating their birthday, or the anniversary of their first purchase with you.

Establish and Maintain a Clear Data Vision

Just as it’s important to make the most of the data, an organization must be careful not to employ data in a way that feels invasive. Everyone's experienced the uncomfortable feeling an overeager salesperson creates. 

The same applies to customer data online, if not more so. Surveys show customers appreciate online personalization, but they also show that too much personalization — the sense that a brand may be invading your space — can be creepy. As consumers adjust to the idea of just how much of their data becomes available due to online activity, they will grow understandably wary.

Data is an immensely effective tool for businesses to help understand and satisfy their customers’ needs, but that it must be employed conscientiously. Data-driven marketing success lives and dies by how much thought is put into the meaning of that data and how its use will read to the customer: as an interest in helping satisfy their needs or as a disconcertingly invasive selling strategy. 

Data is like any other tool in the kit: incredibly effective when used correctly. And like all powerful tools, it must be operated reasonably and with a clear and careful vision.

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