The drive towards the modern, technology-driven, multi-channel business has produced a wealth of new opportunities to capture data at every stage of the customer life cycle.
Yet in our experience, this has left many SME business owners feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge, especially with the stakes raised by the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Here are four key areas to consider.
Define strategy carefully
Before making decisions about systems and processes that govern your data, it is indispensable to plan meticulously. This involves taking stock of your current situation to understand where and how data is collected, and what then happens to it.
This may well bring up obvious process gaps that can be addressed within a coherent strategy and a methodical plan of action.
Being clear on objectives from the outset, and setting clear rules regarding the treatment of data within your company, will help to ensure you derive value from your data overhaul.
Unify your data
The first step towards best-practice data management is consolidation. Data from every source should be brought together, from marketing and sales to billing and product development, in a central repository.
This is likely to raise technical hurdles such as data being held in different formats in each silo, and may entail migration work to make it compatible.
But the commercial benefits of unifying data to create a rounded view of the customer far outweigh any temporary technical upheaval.
Take a company-wide approach
This newly centralised pool is the foundation of intelligent, data-driven decision making across the business. Data that is captured from each touchpoint (both on- and offline) can bring benefit to most areas of the company.
For instance, having full visibility of a customer’s purchasing and payment history is crucial intelligence for sales staff, who may be able to track trends and spot opportunities or causes for concern. Marketing can analyse buying trends and feed their insights to senior management, who in turn can direct future product development and strategy.
For customer services, having real-time data at their fingertips enables them to provide joined-up and efficient responses across all channels – vital components of loyalty and retention.
Focus on governance to minimise risk
Collecting, storing and analysing data is only worthwhile if that data is accurate. Many firms fall down here, often because records have been poorly maintained, such as contact details not amended when a customer moves address. This squanders marketing spend, causes annoyance or offence to customers and erodes loyalty.
Under the GDPR, data governance will come under far greater scrutiny. Companies with out-of-date records languishing in their databases will not be viewed favourably by the ICO and could incur fines. The law puts the consumer firmly in control – stipulating, for instance, that suppliers reveal, amend or delete records within a month of their request.
SMEs that take the initiative now to create transparent, watertight data management procedures will undoubtedly smooth their path to GDPR compliance as well as help drive a positive impact on their businesses’ performance.