A (Form)ula for Success: Insights on Collecting Customer Data

The customer input form is a double-edged sword. It can be the best method of gathering useful information to calculate customer profiles, compile email distribution lists, and plot data points to understand buying psychology.

Do you know what else it is? Work.

Filling out a form is work (and mostly thankless for anyone that must do it).

  • When you enter the doctor’s office, you need to fill out a form.
  • When you deal with a government agency, you need to fill out a form.
  • Every applied for financing? There’s a form.

Yet, it is such an essential tool for gathering the business intelligence you need for stronger data-based decision making. Collecting customer data is critical to growing any business. You can’t scale with luck and hunches alone. You need to know certain things about your customers, and forms are an easy way to go about getting that data.

How to find a balance

As with anything, you want and need to understand your customer experience through their eyes. If you require your customers to fill out a form for any reason—whether it is to purchase something, register a product for an extended warranty, fill out a survey, or download a document from your website—you need to acknowledge what you’re asking of them.

Have empathy for the process

Be aware that it can be a very frustrating and illogical experience for them. Like I said at the beginning, it cuts both ways. Make sure your customers know that you know what you are asking them to do. You can do this with humor: add comedic language to the form to give your customers a laugh. You can also make it very clear how grateful you are that they are filling out the form. Load it with ‘Thank You’ in various places. You could also offer incentives when they fill out every field. In a competitive marketplace, the customer has minimal obligation to answer every question. If you can make it seem less like work and more like a partnership, your customers will appreciate what you are trying to accomplish, and it will feel more like a means of improving their future experience.

Consider ways to minimize the inconvenience

Once upon a time, when you purchased something from Best Buy, they would ask for your ZIP code during the checkout process. It was a simple throwaway question. It didn’t have anything to do with the product you were buying, and it was vague enough that it didn’t feel like it was intruding on your privacy. What they were doing is identifying where their customers were coming from. When they aggregated all those ZIP codes at the end of the month, they had an excellent plot chart of where the majority of their customers were coming from, and it was the No. 1 decision point for where to build their next store. There were no clipboards, no pens, and no forms. Yet, it was a key data point that identified critical information needed to make a targeted business strategy.

When collecting data that will help you make better decisions, can you find ways to break it up into multiple points during the customer journey? Can you think of how to hide it in different ways to make it seem less like an interrogation?

In the end, it may need to be a form. Sometimes there’s no getting around it. As with anything else in your customer journey map, try to understand how the customer will encounter it and how it is likely to make them feel. If you can include your customer in the creation and purpose of the form, it can help build trust and create empowerment. If you can make the experience pleasurable, that’s the best option. You need the data; more importantly, you need the customer above all else.

Dana Curtis

Dana Curtis


Dana Curtis is the founder and CEO of Biztools, a strategic consulting firm that helps small businesses multiply revenue through improved customer experience and pivot to new markets.

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