8 ways to make the most out of your customer data

Big data, business analytics and marketing experts discuss how organizations can best put to use all that data they've been collecting.

Everyone talks about the importance of big data. But many organizations, although they collect and store customer data, do not put that data to good use -- or they don't know how to.

So how can businesses leverage all that big data they've collected? Following are eight ways to make the most of customer and consumer data.

1. Use customer data to create a more personalized, pleasurable shopping experience. "According to an Infosys study, 70 percent of Americans are willing to spend an average of 13 percent more with companies they feel provide superior service," says Scot DeLancey, director, Department and Specialty Retail Solution Management,NCR.

By leveraging customer and consumer data, retailers can "make personalized recommendations, inform shoppers of special offers and promotions that are most relevant to them and fully maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities to realize increased revenues."

Video game retailer GameStop, for example, has found that "data from loyalty programs offer the best insight on each customer's interests, past purchases and engagement preferences," says Rob Lloyd, its CFO. "This data can be used to create a customized shopping experience down to the individual and even offer product recommendations."

"Companies with brick and mortar stores can use customer data to improve their customer's in-store experience," adds Greg Petro, CEO, First Insight.

"For example, using customer location data and heat maps, companies can better understand and improve traffic flows and recognize where there may be opportunity to optimize a store's layout or adjust merchandizing displays," says Chris Wareham, senior director of Product Management, Adobe Analytics. "This technique can even be used at other types of locations, such as stadiums, airports, museums and more."

"Also, customer data can identify differences in preference by region, enabling stores in each region to feature the right products in store windows and in key locations within the store," says Petro.

2. Use customer data to customize promotions and special offers. "Successfully analyzing and acting on customer, market and competitive data can help companies provide their customers with customized offers, appropriate marketing and ad campaigns, the right deals, or even when to back off," says Chris Selland, vice president, business development, big data, HP. "The most loyal customers are also the most profitable, and by analyzing and acting effectively, organizations can ensure long-term customer loyalty and significantly enhance their profitability."

"Real-time analysis of in-store purchases and website clicks can show a retailer what promotions are effective as loss leaders right now, what high-margin items they drag along with them, and the differences in purchasing habits and profitability for these items between online and in-store purchases," says Jake Freivald, vice president of product marketing, Information Builders, makers of business intelligence, data integrity and integration software. "That real-time insight based on customer data can ensure the right promotions go to the right channels, ensuring a win-win: happy customers and high profitability."

3. Use customer data to get helpful product feedback -- and improve your products or services. "By applying analytics to customer data, companies can identify the specific products that each customer is likely to want, and the price they are willing to pay," says Petro.

"One online travel site with more than 2 million members wanted to reward frequent travelers while making it easy and intuitive to cash in on rewards," says Susan Ganeshan, CMO, Clarabridge, a customer intelligence platform provider. "Using survey feedback data and online reviews, the team was able to improve both the digital experience and the rewards program, propelling them to be named the No. 1 travel site."

You can also "use customer data to identify the most relevant users to ask for feedback on new features as they're the ones you really want using those features," says Aaron Forman, manager of Communications, Intercom, which helps businesses connect with customers.

4. Use customer data to improve your marketing. "Big data enables marketers to understand the cross-channel behavior of prospects that become customers, meaning you can see the prospect-to-customer journey and the campaigns that influenced them the most," says Azita Martin, CMO, Datameer, a big data analytics application for Hadoop.

"For example, by correlating data between digital and non-digital advertisements (e.g., purchasing history, profile information, behavior of customers on social media sites) companies can find patterns of behavior for high-value customers," she says. "With these insights, they can adjust their marketing strategy to target people of certain profiles with specific advertisements" and make their marketing dollars go farther. For example, by analyzing its customer data, "one company was able to decrease its customer acquisition costs by $3.5 million per year and at the same time increase conversion by 20 percent."

"We use very discrete information about how each customer is engaging with our brand to drive one-to-one marketing and sales efforts," says Tyler Lessard, CMO, Vidyard, which specializes in video marketing. "For example, we're not only tracking what videos they click on throughout the day, but how long they watch a piece of content, helping us better infer their interests and intent," he says. "Getting visibility into their actual engagement in our marketing assets gives us incredible context on each and every customer and helps us create very targeted nurture programs and drive sales efficiency."

5. Use customer data to create new products or services. For example, "industries that have access to information from device sensors can turn this information into new service offerings," says Jean-Michel Franco, director of product marketing, Talend, a provider of open-source integration software. "For instance, a sports equipment manufacturer could create a complimentary service providing guidance to athletes on how they optimize their workout regime, or a healthcare provider could use information from a fitness watch to provide personalized healthcare services to their clients," he explains.

6. Use customer data to provide better customer service. "Use historical customer data from multiple functions, like purchase or support history, [to] provide more personalized customer support," suggests John Fanelli, vice president of marketing at DataTorrent, which helps large organizations make sense of mass amounts of data in real time. "For example, when a customer calls, [agents could greet him] with a customized response along the lines of, 'Hello, Joe. Thank you for being a customer since 1995. I see that your last call was regarding product X. Is this the same product you're calling about?'"

7. Use customer data to improve organizational effectiveness and reduce risk and fraud. "Many companies see customer insights as opportunities for cost savings," notes Jeffrey Hunter, vice president, North America, Insights & Data, Capgemini, an international management consulting firm. "As a matter of fact, 65 percent of respondents from a recent Capgemini report [saw] big data as a key enabler for organizational effectiveness/competitiveness," he says.

For example, "by analyzing customer data, such as customer churn rates and behaviors, companies are empowered with the insights needed to maximize efficiency, reduce risk [and] better [detect and] deter fraud," which can result in substantial savings.

8. Use customer data to create shareable content. Use the "data you've gathered -- from surveys, for example -- and turn it into a well-designed, interesting infographic," suggests Termeh Mazhari, a PR, marketing & SEO consultant. Then share it on social media to generate buzz about your business.

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