Did you know that over 40 million Americans change their address annually? And with email addresses changing to avoid spam and junk mail, not to mention the migration from land lines to mobile devices, the thought of maintaining a healthy customer database is daunting.
But a database is only as good as the effort you put into maintaining it. And when targeted sales, customer service, and personal attention distinguish independent booksellers from all the rest, a strong and accurate customer database is a must.
Here are three steps you can implement now to improve your database.
Step 1: Ask the customer.
One way to maintain it is to question your customers at checkout. Ask if they’re still on North Lincoln Avenue. Find out if their home phone is the best way to reach them, or have they abandoned their land line for mobile. Verify that their email address hasn’t changed recently. If a duplicate record pops up during your customer search, make a note of which record should be deleted when you have a few more minutes.
How often should you ask the customer? If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen them and it feels perfectly natural to ask, ‘Is everything still the same?’
Step 2: Look at your list.
I personally like printing out a physical list and writing any changes directly on the paper. You can break it down into a smaller less-daunting sections and pass them around though the staff.
Someone who’s been around for a while might know that this person moved or that couple is no longer together. And someone who hasn’t been around as long might be able to recognize that a certain zip code was entered with the numbers transposed. Every set of eyes helps.
If you marked changes on the customer list, take the time to make the changes directly in the database.
How often should you look at your list? This takes some effort, so I recommend once or twice a year. If you break it down by the alphabet, you could get through a letter every 2 weeks and get through the list in a year. Or you can do a letter each week and run through the exercise semi-annually.
Step 3: Read the obituaries.
I know this one seems a bit morbid, but if you live in a city of a certain size, and if you know customers by name, it’s a good idea to read the obituaries.
At the most basic level, names should be compared to the names in your database. But then the announcements should be given to someone on staff who really knows your customer base well. Mary Smith might not be in your database, but if you recognize her daughter’s name listed among the survivors as your best event attender, a card from the staff might be in order.
How often should you look at the obituaries? I recommend every day. Because sometimes a card isn’t enough.