How to save customer data in a database
If you have a customer database or are creating a customer database, you’ll want to know what information is typically saved in a consumer database.
The direct mail industry also calls a customer database a “house list” or “house file”.
Typical data collected for consumer databases
You’ll want to be sure to collect and update:
- Contact details
- Customer preferences
- Communications history – what you’ve sent to them
- Sales history
- Response – to all your marketing programs
- Payments (if this is relevant to your business)
From there each business may want to track different information. For example, orthodontists will want to track all children as the younger siblings are “prospects”. Realtors may want to track properties owned and sold and dates for these transactions.
Basic information to collect and update for a consumer database
- Unique identifier # – you decide what this will be. It can be account #, patient #, customer #, etc.
- First/last name
- Address include zip code
- Phone number
- Length of residence at this address
- Marital status
- Family data (kids, pets, etc.)
- Household income (HHI)
- What they have bought
- When they purchased (how often purchase)
How to organize and store the information?
You want easy access to use this data for creating mailing lists, analyzing customer purchase histories to develop sales plans. And you need to easily be able to update information to keep your database current.
Most modern software packages can exchange data in standard formats, so there is no need to re-enter the data if you already have it in an accounting or a point-of-sale system.
Pros of using a single database to store all data:
- Minimizes the hassle of synchronizing multiple sources of data
- Improves data accuracy since all people at the company are inputting data into the same system
Do you have business-specific software? Check to see if your line-of-business software company sells a module for a customer database. If not, you will need to figure out how to maintain and synchronize the two systems. Database experts say the best option is to use your industry-specific software as a primary source of information and copy the customer records from that software into the customer database, where you add more information related just to marketing (response rates to direct mail, when you mailed, etc.)
It’s another system to maintain. If you have a very small business, you may be able to use a simple spreadsheet to maintain mailing list information and other key data.
How to keep the systems synchronized
Export+Import is the most universal and popular method of copying the data, but may require some effort to set up properly. To do this successfully, be sure to:
- Make sure the fields in one system correspond or match
For example, an address in the accounting program may have separate fields for line 1 and line 2, while the customer database may have one long field instead. The easiest method to get around it is to have two address fields on the customer database as well.
- Set up data entry rules to avoid duplication of records
- You’ll need to decide and document data entry rules. Should customer information be tracked in a separate record type or linked to a family or mailing address? Do you want to mail to a “family” or all the different individuals? Do you want to mail to all the people in a family or at a particular address, do you need to know specifically what different people have purchased? Can a customer be included into multiple lists? If the answer is yes, then that data should be tracked separately and linked to the customer records. If no, they can be incorporated into the master customer record.
- Maintain a solid link between customers and their sales records
Best to link all sales by a person or family to a “unique customer identifier” number so that all their purchases are connected to them.
From our experience: If you are doing a lot of direct mailing and/or have a nationwide on e-commerce business, your customer database is one of your most valuable assets. It may be worthwhile to hire a marketing freelancer who specializes in customer databases and/or a customer data analyst to set up your customer database correctly.
Add new data to your database for customers and prospects
Keep your database up-to-date
- Train and reward customer-facing staff to update data as part of their daily routine.
- Allow customers access to their records on your web site so they can make changes (corrections and updates).
- Invest in cleaning and maintaining your list.
- Be sure to back-up your database daily and weekly. It’s a very valuable.
The best marketing articles, blog posts and reports from around the web
7 Customer Data Elements Every Organization Should Have by Gareth Hershel at Gartner outlines more advanced information you may want to consider collecting. He groups raw data into four categories: descriptive, relationship, social and psychological.