The majority of companies handle a lot of data and sensitive information every day. Appointment-based businesses, in particular, regularly keep track of individually identifiable customer details. Keeping the personal information of your recurring customers safe and confidential is increasingly vital for maintaining a positive brand reputation.
You may not need to ask for every piece of information you’re currently collecting from customers. Unnecessary information contributes to database clutter and makes the information that much more susceptible to malicious attack. The first step toward keeping a firm grip on the integrity of your data is to collect only what you need in the first place.
Start with the basics. You’ll of course need a first and last name. Other than that, you may not need many specifics. You can ask for general demographic info if you’d like, which may help with future marketing efforts. While information such as age, gender, and ethnicity are useful, they aren’t often required unless you work in a medical field where the information is relevant.
Sometimes it can add a personal touch to gather some information even though it’s not required. Birthdays, for example, provide an opportunity for you to reach out. With that piece of information, you can send the client a personalized message with a unique offer just for them to enjoy.
To protect your customers from identity theft, make it clear what information you will be requesting and what you don’t need. Knowing this will protect them should a hacker posing as your business attempt to scam them. For example, make certain that your customers know not to give their Social Security number to anyone, even if they claim to be speaking on behalf of your company.
Being able to contact your customer when needed is extremely important for appointment-based businesses. For starters, sending appointment reminders cuts down irritating no-shows. In addition, appointment reminders enhance your customer service strategy, as the lack of a reminder can be frustrating to clients juggling busy schedules.
There will be situations where an appointment time needs to be changed. Being able to contact affected customers will prevent confusion and alert customers about an adjustment before it’s too late. Ask for either a phone number or an email address, depending on customer preference. Let the customer decide whether they want to be notified via phone call, text message, or email.
The information you collect at this stage will depend in large part on the industry you’re in. For example, a doctor’s office will record symptoms, prescriptions, and diagnoses to patient files to provide the best care possible with each appointment. Hair salons will record information about haircuts and treatments to easily refer to past appointments. Appointment-based personal trainers will keep track of workout information and so forth.
This type of customer information enables you to provide a personalized experience to each individual. Given the nature of this information, you might need to create your own documents to store information where it can be easily — and securely — accessed. Be sure to keep the notes section of your online appointment software or customer portals up-to-date with any necessary specifics.
If a customer makes payments at your store location, there’s no need to record payment information. They will have to authorize their payments each time and may want to switch cards on occasion, so saving payment information does you no good. Given that credit and debit card information is a primary target for hackers, you don’t want to store this information unless it is verifiably secure. Data that is not maintained on your servers can’t be breached.
Using online appointment software presents an interesting dilemma. Typically, a customer will continue to use the same payment method online since cash is clearly not an option. Online shopping is also more convenient when card info is saved to a local device. In this case, leave the option to the customer. Allow them to decide whether your system stores their payment information or not instead of collecting it by default.
Wherever you do store financial data, place the highest priority on keeping it safe. Look at options for encrypting data, make sure your website has a firewall in place, and choose storage options with state-of-the-art security. This way, even when your customers willingly provide their information, they can do business with you knowing their info is in good hands.
What brought customers to your business in the first place? Did they see your billboard while driving by, or were they attracted to your business by social media? Collecting this information holds no value or sensitive details, so acquiring it poses little to no security threat. Knowing which marketing strategies are successfully bringing in business will also help you adjust your efforts to focus on the most effective ones.
Additionally, you’ll probably want to keep track of customer referrals if you have any sort of incentive programs in place. That way, you can make sure loyal customers who are bringing in friends and family are properly rewarded.
Any information you don’t collect from customer intake forms can be solicited through surveys and questionnaires. This is how you can get volunteer feedback either on-site or through online messaging. Examples of information you might want to pursue include:
- Likelihood to refer the company to a friend
- Customer service rating
- User experience feedback for the website, mobile app, and online appointment software
- Reason for not returning, if applicable
Knowing how your customer thinks and feels allows you to better cater to their needs. Without this information, your business can grow stale and out-of-date while customers move on to greener pastures.
As you seek to make improvements, you’ll want to refer often to the feedback you’ve been given. It’s easy to miss the mark if you focus on making changes based on the thoughts of employees and management. Prioritize customer experience first, then move on to making changes manageable for everyone else.
What data your business chooses to collect is ultimately your decision to make. Just be sure to start out only asking for what is absolutely necessary. You can always open up the information funnel later on.
Spend the extra time and care to protect your customers by being sensitive to their privacy and security concerns. Customers enjoy getting birthday coupons, sure, but that bit of company goodwill will go up in smoke if you’re responsible for exposing them to a serious data breach.