Good Use of Your Customer Data

(Customer loyalty needn’t be a complex affair. The simple things can go far.)

Companies treat customer retention in funny ways. They organize ad campaigns, create new slogans, even train employees to parrot some cheerful phrase whenever you interact with them. With all that pomp and circumstance, they miss plenty of simple opportunities. That’s unfortunate. The simple things can have a lot of impact.

Consider the following, real-life events:

  • You popped an extra $20 on your transit pass today. The kiosk didn’t tell you that your transit pass expires tomorrow, so you won’t know that until you hit your morning commute. 1
  • Your recurring, automatic payment just failed, but you won’t know that till you get next month’s bill … along with the late fee.

  • Your provider takes you to a third-party service so you can pay your bill online; but the transaction amount exceeds the payment service’s per-transaction maximum.

The common thread here? In all cases, the service providers had the information to warn you of (and perhaps prevent) a mishap, but failed to do so.

On an individual level, it’s about frustration: companies can get so wrapped up in their “core business mission” that they never consider simple ways to spare you trouble. 2 On an aggregate level, it’s about missed opportunity: treating customer retention as a separate, reactive department (somtimes under the support umbrella) and someone else’s problem.

Think your company wouldn’t do anything quite so foolish? Maybe, maybe not. Consider all of the data you hold on your customers and their interactions with you: you know what services or goods they’ve purchased, how often, and so on. You analyze that data in order to market new goods to them, or to rent out your address list so other companies can market to them. How often do you mine and act on that data in a way that is genuinely to customers’ benefit? 3

Here’s a free business idea: turn your analytics tools inward, to reinforce the existing customer relationship, instead of outward, to support marketing efforts. Show your customers that you want to help them. It all boils down to sharing what you already know about the customer, with the customer.

Looking for some concrete examples? Consider WestJet and Amazon:

  • In December 2013, Canadian carrier WestJet setup a “Christmas Miracle” promotion. I won’t spoil it – you can watch the video – let’s just say that the airline used its data to create a feel-good moment. Not even big, expensive, needs-a-Hadoop-cluster type of data. Just something as simple as: “We know when Persons X will gather at Location Y, then move to Location Z.” 4
  • Shipping company UPS experienced a number of delivery problems during the 2013 holiday season, which caused knock-on problems for online retailers such as Amazon. As Stephen V. Smith explains in his article on Medium, Amazon had record of which shipments had arrived late and offered a proactive mea culpa to affected customers.

How do you use your customer data? Is it purely a marketing matter? or does it drive an outbound, proactive form of customer service?


Looking for creative ways to solve your business problems? Let’s talk about it. My consulting work is all about helping companies put their data to good use.


  1. Some, but not all, transit systems print the card’s expiration date on the card itself.

  2. My take is that “keeping customers happy” is a firm’s core business mission … but I realize that not all firms agree.

  3. The standard “goods and services that may be of interest to you” line does not apply here.

  4. Big thanks to to Jason Lobel for telling me about the WestJet clip.

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