Building a customer database is essential if you want to grow..
A service-based company goes through a series of life-stages. If it wants to go from start-up to scale-up, or from family business to medium-sized enterprise, or from SME to large enterprise, it needs the appropriate technology to enable the transition while remaining competitive.
An extremely important part of that is a customer database.
In a one-man business, the client database can be in contained in a one-man brain. When the company extends to two or three partners, it might consist of a series of post-it notes and e-mail records – but this is far from ideal!
Once you start scaling up to several engineers and an office admin assistant, you might get by with an Excel sheet and notes. But even then you will start to struggle.
If you are larger still, or have ambitions to grow, there is no way round it: you must invest in a purpose-designed customer database. In fact, the sooner you get an effective customer database up and running, the better placed you will be to manage existing customers, increase current profitability, and provide your company with a platform for rapid growth.
Setting it up need not be difficult, especially if you already have most of the basic information in some form of electronic format, such as in an accounting package or an Excel sheet.
Customer data integration (CDI)
Here I would like to briefly review some of the specific benefits of customer data integration (CDI).
The world’s leading advisor to business on IT issues, the Gartner Group, defines CDI as:
"the combination of technology, processes, and services needed to create and maintain an accurate, timely and complete view of the customer across multiple channels, business lines, and potentially enterprises where there are multiple sources of customer data in multiple applications systems and databases.”
Let’s translate that into plain English and the day-to-day reality of running a (sizable) plumbing, gas, electrical, heating or similar services company.
Whatever the format – paper or electronic – your main customer-related data assets are “master data” covering personal details, such as name and addresses, status (e.g. business or private customer, tenant or landlord) and information about their appliances.
Then you have transactional data relating to the master data records (such as service history). Your “multiple channels” include interactions with customers via managers, office admin personnel and service engineers.
Your business lines could include more than one type of service (this will certainly become true as you expand your business, at which point you may be managing your company as separate enterprises, or merging two or more companies into one – which makes an integrated view of the customer becomes even more important).
The multiple applications systems will include at the very least your service diary, your customer communications and your accounting system, though others can be added.
In order to stay on top of things and manage your company efficiently, you require an integrated view of customers both on an individual level and in various segments.
On an individual operational level: supposing you have an engineer out in the field with an open time-slot and you want to send him to a customer who is not on his schedule. The ability to see the customer’s details, including service history, will mean he is better placed to turn up well informed and well equipped to provide a good service.
Given that the nature of your business is to manage service engineers, i.e. mobile workers, the ability to access an integrated view of the customer from any mobile device will play a critical role in your selection of a customer database solution.
When service engineers, office staff, marketers and salespeople can all access correct information on a timely basis, stronger customer experiences happen – particularly in more complex, relationship-based interactions with high-value business customers. The bottom line is that you should make sure your information is easy to access for everyone who needs it, from their device of choice.
On the segmented level: To take a simple but highly practical example, you want to know which customers are due for a particular type of service within a specific time-frame. This will enable you to send out service reminders with the minimum of manual effort, thereby presenting a professional image and ensuring repeat business. As you become more sophisticated in your marketing, you will use your integrated view of your customers to promote your services in a more highly targeted fashion.
This is called “market segmentation”. Essentially this involves selecting a subset of customers who are most likely to respond to a particular offer at a particular time. In marketing jargon, this is often referred to as cross-selling (if a customer has bought product or service X, they are likely candidates to purchase product or service Y) and up-selling (if a customer falls into a specific segment, they are likely to invest in a higher value, higher margin product such as a smart thermostat).
Generally speaking, having an integrated customer view enables you to:
- Deliver a better customer experience
- Handle risk more effectively
- Identify your most – and least – profitable customers
- Identify opportunities to increase revenue and profitability
- Improve customer cross-selling (e.g. by identifying which customers are most likely to upgrade their boilers or invest in smart technology)
- Increase customer loyalty (e.g. through timely communication)
- Reduce the administrative burden on office staff
- Use engineers’ time more effectively
- Give every customer interaction “context” (e.g. by knowing a customer’s history, you will be better placed to handle feedback or complaints appropriately)
Note that the Gartner quote refers to processes and services as well as technology. While the benefits of a customer database are potentially enormous, to realise this potential you will need to put some strong processes in place: information gathering needs to become a habit and your staff will need to appreciate the value of data quality.
For example, you will need to establish some rules for data entry. That said, with a purpose-designed software suite, this becomes a whole lot easier. Moreover, you will need to abide by some external regulations, such as guidelines on data privacy.
Selecting a technology partner
Given that effective CDI depends on a combination of technology, processes and services, selecting the right database for your company is a vitally important first step. Consider:
- Which system is most (easily) adaptable to the way you do business?
- Which system offers the features that are of most importance to me?
- Do the candidate systems integrate with programs that we already have installed, such as accounting packages?
- Which of the suppliers offers the best knowledge of my business, i.e. working with plumbing, gas, oil heating or electrical service companies?
- Which of the systems on offer seems easiest to use? (In answering that question, consider all of the types of devices that will be used – typically desktop PCs in the head office and smartphones or tablets out in the field)
- Who provides the best training?
- Who provides the best post-implementation support?
If creating the single customer view for operational and marketing purposes is a critical initiative for your business, begin by calculating the business case in financial terms. Understand and demonstrate where and how you can deliver cost savings and revenue enhancement. Demonstrate to your team how this can help to secure their future and the growth of the business.
Then, investigate the ability of your database to solve this challenge to establish a single view of the customer and deliver a return on the investment.
We will shortly publish an e-book that goes into the practical considerations when setting up a client database in more detail. If you would like to receive a copy :Source: Gartner, Create a Single Customer View With Customer Data Integration