How Your Customer Database Can Improve Your Bottom LinePosted 11/16/2005
Your customer database consists of the people who keep the doors of your business open. Without them, you wouldn't have a business. Your building, your software management system, your tools would mean nothing without this database. Hold your database in high esteem and most importantly, remember that the database is yours and only yours.
Ensure easy access to your database
If you use a software management company to manage your database and marketing materials, make sure your data isn't so "protected" that only they can get to it. Understand that the data is yours. Your customer database is a listing of your customers, not your software management company's customers. You need full access to it, and retrieving it should be convenient.
Software management systems
Some shop owners have purchased software management systems that include database software. There are many excellent programs available. If you are in the market for such a system, try to find one that allows you to move your history from your old system to your new one. Talk with people in your industry who are the actual users of the system before you buy. Ask them how easy it is to learn, what they use it for, how easy it is to get to your customer database and export it to send to a vendor to do a mailing for you. Most importantly, ask how easy it is to work with the company's support line. Also, make sure the software management system company that you purchase from understands that the data is yours, not theirs. Some companies may threaten to have your database become "corrupt" if you touch it and send it elsewhere for marketing purposes. If you hear this, shop elsewhere for your software management system.
Shopping for database software
Following are the basic criteria to look for when shopping for database software. The software should be:
Make sure you understand the basics before purchasing the software. Your customer database will change as people move away or become deceased. Hopefully, you will also be adding customers frequently. People also change their address - they may still be in your area but have moved to another home.
Failing to maintain your database is like failing to maintain your vehicle
When you are first starting a database, think of all the possible uses it has. You can use it to send mailings to your customers if you capture their name and address. You can use it to send e-mail reminders if you take the time to ask your customers for their e-mail address and permission to use it. You could call and remind your customers of a service due or thank them for their recent visit if you keep their telephone number in your database. You could also note how many times they come in a year for service and repair and the dollar volume they do with you. Make sure the person(s) inputting the data does it correctly and consistently. This will save you many headaches down the road.
We often get databases sent to us that are in such disarray we have to re-key the list. We can always tell when a shop has multiple users inputting their data and no one has stressed the importance of doing it in a consistent manner. If the shop's data is kept on an Excel spreadsheet, for example, one person has entered the customer name and address all in cell A. The next person who comes along enters the first and last name in cell A, the address in cell B, city in cell C and so on. The next user has entered the last name first, then the first name in cell A. As you can see, not much time or effort was taken to make the listing consistent. All the information may be there but it is extremely disorganized and someone somewhere is going to have to "fix it" if you need to send it to a vendor for marketing purposes.
How to use your database to make money
Your database represents each person who has come through your doors and each vehicle that has been in your bays, which equals dollars for your business. To get even more money from your database, use it to keep in touch with your customers. Customers get busy and on average come in for service three times a year instead of four. Keeping in touch makes them more aware of the urgency to come in quarterly. Here are some uses of databases for keeping in touch:
Your customer database brings order to your business. When properly maintained, your database is an invaluable tool that can improve your bottom line. Remember, it is your database and yours only - use it wisely.
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