While some people collect baseball cards, and others collect stamps, businesses have become notorious for collecting data. From voice of the customer surveys and focus groups, to loyalty programs and cross-channel analytics, companies look to capture customer insights at every touchpoint in an effort to improve their strategies. But, with social and mobile channels offering an even deeper look into customer activity, companies are no longer focused on behavior and demographics alone, but sentiment as well.

"Five plus years ago, when targeting new customers, companies would by-and-large use segmentation data based on demographics—age, gender, socio-economic status, and location," says Marchai Bruchey, chief customer officer at Thunderhead.com. But, as companies increasingly collect data from social media and mobile devices, such as geo-location information, marketers have realigned their efforts to focus on the segment of one. "Research has shown that the closer you get to the segment of one, the greater the response to the ad because they are highly personalized and very relevant to where the customer is at that point in time."


Customers have always been at the heart of every organization, and now, as they help guide communication strategies, companies must focus their attention on honing their data collection methods. Many need to reassess their ultimate goals and processes in order to enhance the customer experience and cultivate trust: 

1. Collect data that matters.

Everyone's talking about Big Data. Yet, while it might be the hottest topic in the analytics space, most companies appear to be inundated with too much information. Many companies have had no choice but to focus their efforts on digging themselves out from under too much data instead of sifting through these insights for gems. The Big Data "explosion" may seem overwhelming, but any related challenges are often self-imposed. Instead of blaming the overabundance of channels and the incoming information, companies must simplify their processes and methods around data aggregation and analysis.

Roman Lenzen, vice president of analytics at Quaero, suggests that companies determine the data points that are essential to furthering the customer relationship. If the information they are collecting does not enhance or help target marketing communications, companies should strike those data points from their efforts entirely. Most companies seek to capture as much data as possible, which minimizes the number of customers who are willing to share their information and triggers an excess amount of data in need of analysis, ultimately distracting them from what matters most—the customer.

While data may be essential to understanding trends and patterns in customer sentiment and behavior, everything boils down to getting to know the customers at the heart of all the information coming in to the organization. Data should enhance these relationships, not disrupt their growth, for a company's success relies upon customer retention and repeat patronage. If the collected data holds the company back instead of pushing it forward, the organization must reassess the internal processes that impact their outward reputation.

2. Use these insights wisely.

According to Neil Hamilton, director of personalization sales at Emailvision, customer intelligence technology allows marketers to build targeted, personalized messaging that pertains to the specific consumer's interaction history and preferences, building one-to-one relationships in the process. Recently, Emailvision and YouGov collaborated to conduct a study that examined consumer opinions on marketing correspondence, highlighting the missteps that can lead to brand resentment. Of those polled, 75 percent reported that they would resent a brand after being bombarded with emails, while 71 percent said receiving unsolicited marketing messages may be cause for resentment, highlighting exactly why companies must use insights to target their marketing messages.

If companies insist on collecting certain customer data, they must demonstrate that they are listening by using this information proactively. Companies must make customers know that what they're sharing isn't useless or pointless, as most are willing to share anything that will benefit them over time. Otherwise, it can be both bothersome and harmful to deliver messaging outside of the customer's expressed range of interests.

"Customers put their trust and their business into organizations that are transparent and honest with them," says Barbara Bernard, director of Americas marketing at Pitney Bowes Software. "Be upfront with customers about what types of data are being tracked. To what end is a key first step in fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between companies and customers that positions the customer in a role of control rather than manipulation?"

While companies typically have demographic and historical data to draw from, geo-location data offers the ability to impact the customer relationship in real time. Location-based information can help restaurants aid customers in their search for a particular type of food, and help retail stores promote sales or coupons that may drive customers into their nearby location. Regardless of what benefits accompany such information sharing, companies must make sure customers recognize the advantages of allowing this data to be collected.

3. Be transparent and secure. 

If companies expect to gain the maximum amount of relevant customer insight, they too must be open and honest with current and prospective consumers. Before customers will willingly share personal information, they must know that it will strictly be used for the purposes intended and remain the sole property of the company on which they bestowed this information. Companies have a moral and ethical obligation to uphold this end of the bargain.

While privacy laws, such as the Patriot Act and HIPPA, dictate what data can be stored or shared and for what purpose it can be used, transparency and security measures are often common sense. As Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, notes, companies must employ good judgment so they avoid crossing the line into creepy and intrusive territory, which would ultimately harm themselves most of all. "Because I have people's cell phone numbers or home addresses doesn't mean I show up on their doorstep unannounced, call them in the middle of the night, or worse yet, provide that information to others without their consent," he says.

Companies must proactively inform customers that they value privacy and preferences because, in most instances, customers agree to complete personal profiles in order to cut down on unnecessary and unwanted offers. If companies are unsure of how their customers would like to be contacted, they need only ask. However, as Bruchey notes, companies must then be willing to honor such preference requests, for customer listening programs mean marketers must respond accordingly, or else jeopardize the overall customer relationship.