customer data management

Customer data management, data security, data backups… there are a lot of moving parts when it comes to managing your business’ data, and a lot of best practices to follow. Poor data management can lead to incorrect information, numbers you’re unsure if you can trust, and if you aren’t careful, a disgruntled customer base. So we put together our top data best practices recommendations for customer data management, data software, security, and backups.

Customer Data Management

It’s disconcertingly easy to get duplicate customer information, customer profiles with missing fields, inconsistently formatted information, or run into any other number of data snafus. However, luckily for you, cleaning that data up doesn’t necessarily require a manual review of every single customer’s information.

Data scrubbing, aka the practice of removing or fixing incorrect information in your database, can take place in a number of ways. Typically, you set up rules, algorithms, or lookup tables that run through the database looking for outliers. You can use some excel tricks if your information is still in spreadsheets, or there are data scrubbing tools you can use that do the heavy lifting for you.

Here are a few tasks you might want to put on your data scrubbing to-do list:

  • Merge duplicate records
    • Example: Customer Jane Smith has two entries in your database, one that has her phone number and name but not address, and another that has her name and address. You can combine this information into one customer profile instead of two.
  • Standardize data
    • Example: Correct customer address information so that only abbreviations (“st,” “ct,” “ave,”) are used, rather than the full word.
  • Fuzzy matching to correct misspellings
    • Example: Fuzzy matching finds words or sentences that are similar, but not exact matches to a set term. So if a customer misspelled their street address, your data scrubber could compare the street name to a list of street names in the zip code, and if none are an exact match, use a fuzzy match to find the correct spelling of that street name.
  • Name parsing
    • Example: Some customers are listed FirstNameLastName in one field, while others have their first and last name in separate fields. An intelligent name parsing algorithm can separate the parts of a name

These are all retroactive customer data cleaning strategies, but you can also head messy customer data off at the pass by implementing tools that prevent customers from entering obviously incorrect information in the first place. One example would be setting up address validation at checkout. If your business has address validation set up, customers are not allowed to enter addresses that can’t be found in a database of real addresses. You might also want anti-spam tools like reCAPTCHA on your forms to prevent useless spammy accounts clogging up your beautiful data stream.

Update Your Software

Here’s an easy one: if you’re using software to automatically manage your data in any way, the system can get buggy and start making mistakes if it isn’t up to date. So stop ignoring those “system update” notifications!

Keep Your Data Secure

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but data security is a foundational part of your data strategy. While the prospect of “making everything secure” seems daunting, there are a few basic steps that can go a long way towards establishing better data security.

First, get the lay of the land. What data does the business have access to, and which types of data are essential to keep private? Where does that data live now? Is there anyone in your company who handles data security, or does everyone think it must be somebody else’s job? Getting a map of security priorities and giving someone ownership over the task of data security are critical initial steps.

55% of small and medium businesses experienced a data breach last year –Forbes

If you’re using cloud services like Google Drive for business operations, there are steps you can take to make your information extra secure. Did you know that you can encrypt sensitive files before putting them on Google Drive? If you are doing this in large volumes, you can even set up automatic file encryption services, so you don’t even have to think about it.

Make sure you aren’t using the same password for multiple services! Nobody thinks their account is the one that will get hacked in a data breach, but you can avoid that risk entirely by creating unique passwords for every account, then storing them in a password manager so you don’t lose track of them.

While protecting yourself from outside hacks, you also want to make sure you don’t have an internal data security risk. We don’t mean that one of your employees is involved in a cloak-and-dagger data theft conspiracy, just that it’s a good idea to restrict access to sensitive data only to relevant employees. Internal security policies decrease the chance that someone within your business accidentally shares private internal information just because they don’t know the protocol.

Protect your business in the event of lost or stolen company laptops by installing disk-based encryption. Disk-based encryption makes the data on your hard drive unreadable, except for users with the correct authentication key. From a user perspective, disk encryption is conveniently hands-off. Simply enter your key, then all files are readable. Log out; then all files are encrypted again.

Finally, remember that most data breaches aren’t a result of a sweatshirted hacker in a dark room furiously typing code into a command console to break through firewalls, they’re a result of mundane phishing schemes. So make sure everyone at your company is familiar with the basic rules of internet security (i.e., check the URL of the website you’re about to type your password into,) so that they don’t fall prey.

Back Up Your Data

You never want to find yourself staring at an empty void where your data used to be, so it goes without saying that backing up your data is essential. If you have information stored on your hard drive, back it up to the cloud (securely! Remember the last section,) and if you have data  stored in the cloud…back it up elsewhere.

Even though cloud services are the default backup solution, that isn’t because they’re immune to crashes, hacks, or your finger accidentally hitting the delete key. Save yourself the worry and give yourself a fallback option.

An ounce of prevention… (…is worth a pound of cure)

Getting off on the right foot is essential when managing data, because if things go wrong, you could be facing:

  • Lost time spent diagnosing and fixing problems that could have been avoided
  • Sales funnels that are more like labyrinths because your customer tracking is faulty.
  • Confused customers getting duplicate emails and mixed-up marketing messages.
  • Wasted marketing dollars spent on obsolete, duplicate, or spammy prospective customers

Save yourself the trouble. Get your data squeaky clean early on.

Now that we have the scary stuff out of the way, let’s talk about the fun ways to use your customer data. Read on to learn about the potential of customer segmentation.