Finding new business and retaining existing customers is needed to sustain and grow a business. Gathering good customer data is important to helping increase sales.
Gathering customer data
Collecting customer data requires some effort- but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some great sources you can use to collect data:
- Website Analytics: Your website may be the most common way customers interact with your business. Google Analytics, Piwik and other web site tracking software can provide a tremendous amount of detail about your website results. You can see which pages of your website generate the most traffic and can adjust your site’s design based on data to build your customer traffic.
- One of the most important measures of customer experience is repeat business. Gathering data on customer retention is a valuable measure of how successful the business is at meeting and exceeding customer expectations. In order to help improve that performance one valuable tool is to ask the simple question: “What one thing could we do better?” The questions is simple; creating a management system that takes that data and uses it to continually improve your value to customers is not nearly so easy.
- Gathering data on the experience your customers have is also important. There are many obvious frustration points customers face that any business should be able to identify. How easily can someone find an email address to contact your company? How quickly are matters resolved by email? Do you force customers to fight their way through phone menus instead of letting them talk to a person? How many customers hang up while being forced to waste their time fighting through your companies phone system? This is just a few examples, getting 10 such ideas for your company shouldn’t be hard.
Many companies instead of having measures customers care about, only have measures accountants care about – such as how much your phone center costs to run. That is fine, but you likely will waste most of your time worrying about collecting customer data if your organization isn’t interested about what the customer experiences. Those companies just are interested in taking as much money from customers as they can without concern for customers. In that case don’t bother pretending you care about customers, it is just a waste of time. Instead just focus on what your business model is and hope no company comes along that has a business model to treat customers well.
- Surveys can collect data from customers but the danger of relying on expressed desires rather than actions must always be remembered. SurveyMonkey is an easy to use tool that makes this process simple. You can create a short survey for free, then place the survey link on your website.
- Ad Responses: Online ads allow companies to easily collect data on customer responses. You can run several types of online ads, and see which ad generates the most clicks to your company website.
Use all of these tools to gather useful data while always remembering that customer data is only a proxy for understanding customers, and there is a gap between what is measured and reality.
Storing customer data
Because you use this data to meet your customer’s needs, the information is extremely valuable. Many businesses use internet security software to protect customer data. Every week it seems there is another high profile leak of customer data from hacked company servers. It is very important to isolate sensitive data and use cloud security system to reduce the risk of data loss.
Many companies use personas to target different customer segments they aim to capture. A business can use customer data to create an ideal customer ideal customer for specific products or services. And personas can help you target your web site to meet the differing needs of various target customers.
Using data to improve your organization’s performance is powerful. But the power is mainly from designing a management system that uses that data effectively. That is much harder than collecting data in the first place. Our management blog discusses how to use data to manage most effectively.
European government debt has been sold at negative interest rates recently. The United States Treasury has now come as close to that as possible with 0% 3 month T-bills in the latest auction.
The incredible policies that have created such loose credit has the world so flooded with money searching for somewhere to go that 0% is seen as attractive. This excess cash is dangerous. It is a condition that makes bubbles inflate.
Low interest rates are good for businesses seeking capital to invest. These super low rates for so long are almost certainly creating much more debt for no good purpose. And likely even very bad purposes since cash is so cheap.
One thing I didn’t realize until last month was that while the USA Federal Reserve stopped pouring additional capital into the markets by buying billions of dollars in government every month they are not taking the interest and maturing securities and reducing the massive balance sheet they have. They are actually reinvesting the interest (so in fact increasing the debt load they carry) and buying more debt anytime debt instruments they hold come due.
The Fed should stop buying even more debt than they already hold. They should not reinvest income they receive. They should reduce their balance sheet by at least $1,500,000,000,000 before they consider buying new debt.
Unless the failure to address too-big-to-fail actions (and systems that allow such action) results in another great depression threat. And if that happens again they should not take action until people responsible are sitting in jail without the possibly of bail. The last bailout just resulted in transferring billions of dollars from retires and other savers to the pockets of those creating the crisis. Doing that again when we knew that was fairly likely without changing the practices of the too-big-to-fail banks. But I would guess we will just bail them out while they sit in one of the many castles their actions at the too-big-to-fail banks bought them and big showered with more cash in the bailout from the next crisis.
How to invest in these difficult times is not an easy question to answer. I would put more money in stocks for yield (real estate investment trusts, drug companies, dividend aristocrats), I would also keep cash even if it yields 0% and actually a new category for me – peer to peer lending (which I will write about soon). Recently many dividend stocks have been sold off quite a bit (and then on top of that drug stocks sold off) so they are a much better buy today than 4 months ago. Still nothing is easy in what I see as a market with much more risk than normal.
I am almost never a fan of long term debt. I would avoid it nearly completely today (if not completely). For people that are retired and living off their dividends and interest I may have some long term debt but I would have much more in cash and short term assets (even with the very low yields). Peer to peer lending has risks but given what the fed has done to savers I would take that risk to get the larger yields. The main risk I worry about is the underwriting risk – the economic risks are fairly well known, but it is very hard to tell if the lender starts doing a poor job of underwriting.
Related: The Fed Should Raise the Fed Funds Rate – Too-Big-to-Fail Bank Created Great Recession Cost Average USA Households $50,000 to $120,000 – Buffett Calls on Bank CEOs and Boards to be Held Responsible – Historical Stock Returns
The number of USA households spending more than 50% of their income on rent is expected to rise at least 11% to 13.1 million by 2025, according to new research by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies and Enterprise Community Partners.
The findings suggest that even if trends in incomes and rents turn more favorable, a variety of demographic forces—including the rapid growth of minority and senior populations—will exert continued upward pressure on the number of severely cost-burdened renters.
Under the report’s base case scenario for 2015-2025, the number of severely burdened households aged 65-74 and those aged 75 and older rise by 42% (830,000 to 1.2 million) and 39% (890,000 to 1.2 million); the number of Hispanic households with severe renter burdens increases 27% (2.6 million to 3.4 million); and the number of severely burdened single-person households jumps by 12% (5.1 million to 5.7 million).
Enterprise Community Partners argues for more government action on affordable housing. I am worried about such efforts being done in a sensible way but I do agree with the concept of supporting affordable housing. I would use zoning to require affordable housing construction along with market rate housing.
Doing such things well requires a government that is not corrupt and fairly competent which isn’t so easy looking across the USA (unfortunately). An example of somewhere that does this fairly well is Arlington Country, Virginia (which also has a good non-profit focused on affordable housing). Good non-profits can play a vital part in affordable housing over the long term.
My comments on a post by Kiva about their decision to end the Kiva Zip (direct to people loans – no intermediary financial institution) program in Kenya.
I do think it is very important to retain an infrastructure for those people you got to try the new effort with, as I believe Kiva will. This has to be part of any innovation efforts – a budget to include unwinding the effort in a way that is in keeping with Kiva’s mission to help people. I strongly believe in efforts to avoid abandoning those who worked with you in general, but for those taking loans from Kiva it is much more important than normal.
Keep up the good work. And keep challenging Kiva to get better and not get complacent when things are not going as well as they should. I am happy to continue to lend to Kiva but I also am concerned that the focus on making a difference and making people’s lives better can be lost in the desire to grow.
The Curious Cats group on Kiva has made over $27,000 in loans to entrepreneurs around the world (the way Kiva works the groups, they don’t include Kiva Zip loans). You can join us. I believe in the model of micro-finance (Investing in the Poorest of the Poor [this one is grants instead of loans]), though I also believe we need more data on real experience of borrowers. Kiva Zip gives loans directly to people with a 0% interest rate. Normal Kiva loans have financial institutions (some of which are charities but they still have expenses) make the loans and Kiva lenders provide capital (at 0%) but the borrowers have to pay interest (the idea is they pay lower interest since the financial institution has a 0% cost of capital).
The USA economy is far from strong. The global economy seems even weaker. Inflation is not an imminent risk. Under such conditions the USA Federal Reserve adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates makes sense.
The issue I see is that a .25% Fed Funds rate is adding gasoline to the economy via low interest rates. Many people are saying an increase is like taking away the gasoline and taking out a fire extinguisher. But it really isn’t. Raising the rate to .25% is slightly decrease the amount of gas you are adding to the fire. A .25% Federal Funds rate is pouring nearly as much gas on as you are able to but not quite the absolute most you are able to.
It is also true that the Fed bailing out the too-big-to-fail bankers and banks resulted in them not only opening up the gasoline as much as possible (taking rates to 0) they even went far beyond that with new methods of pouring on gasoline that hadn’t even been considered until the bankers’ risk-taking doomed the economy (and bankrupted their institutions – without government bailouts propping them up).
The Federal Reserve has finally turned off the massive extraordinary dumping of gasoline onto the economic fire (via quantitative easing). But they have kept not only dumping lots of gasoline on the economy but doing so to the absolute maximum possible via a 0% Fed Funds rate.
Arguing for slowing the amount of fuel you are dumping into the economy is not the same as saying you are constricting the economy. We have been put into a crazy global economic condition by the too-big-to-fail bankers and the massive amounts of government and personal debt taken out. So simple analogies are not effective in making policy.
The analogies can help explain what the intent and expectation of the policy is. It is true we have created a very tenuous economic foundation (and we haven’t in any way substantial way addressed the risk too-big-to-fail bankers can throw the global economy into and we still have massive debt problems). The main beneficiaries of the central banker’s policies the last nearly 10 years are too-big-to-fail bankers and those borrowing huge amounts of money.
Those suffering from the policy are savers and I fear those that have to cope with the aftermath of this massive intervention with likely bubbles (government debt, personal debt [including education debt in the USA, etc.]). The main reason I believe rates should be raised are to begin the path to stop transferring wealth from savers to too-big-to-fail bankers and those with massive debt problems.
The Leading Causes of Bankruptcy
The most important thing you can do to avoid bankruptcy is understand why a million people a year end up filing bankruptcy. 4 out of the top five reasons starts with medical expenses. This is followed by:
- Job loss
- Unexpected disaster
In some ways, all four items can be categorized as unexpected disaster. If we expanded the list just a bit more, it would include failure to have a proper financial plan. By now, the unexpected is so common, we ought to be expecting it. When the vicissitudes of life catch us completely off guard, bankruptcy is often the result.
Learn to Properly Use Credit
I separated poor or excessive use of credit from the rest as it is the only one of the top five that is self-inflicted. By now, it should be clear that using credit appropriately is important for a successful financial life.
Many people advise those struggling with debt to cut up the credit cards. Other financial advisors say just the opposite. Store credit cards such as those from Walmart can actually prove beneficial in the right hands.
Click here for more information on the advantages of properly using the Walmart store credit card. Today we have many personal financial tools at our disposal, if we use them wisely they can be very helpful, if you use them foolishly we will pay.
Live Below Your Means
One of the biggest mistakes people make is to live up to their means. They commit to all kinds of services they can afford at the time. But because Job instability is such a real and present reality, the loss of even a little bit of income suddenly leaves us living above our means. We need to adjust our lifestyle expectations to something lower than what we think we can afford.
Even applying this advice to the best of your ability, you still might have to file for bankruptcy. It is important to know that bankruptcy is not the end of the line. There are those who can help you recover. Bankruptcy is not a punishment, but a solution. It is the ultimate second chance.
Bankruptcy is not uncommon even for those who make fortunes every year: famous people who have fallen into it. If you fall into bankruptcy the important thing is to change your habits and practices to take advantage of your second financial chance.
the Census Bureau predicts the working-age population will grow just 50,000 per month over the next 15 years.
The amount of time I spend focusing on economic data is fairly limited (compared to people doing so for a living or as a large part of their job). I stick with general rules of thumb that I can tweak a bit to let me keep up with economic conditions without a huge amount of time devoted to such efforts.
Due to my temperament; to my belief that markets often overreact in the short term; and partially to my less detailed understanding of economic data (that professionals focused on it all day) leads me to get less excited about individual data points. This is helpful for my overall investing performance, I believe.
Occasionally changing conditions require changing those rules of thumb. The 150,000 figure is one I have used for a long time; though I also adjust that for major medium term influences (such as the great recession dumped so many people out of jobs that I bumped up my “we need to add” monthly job figure to 175,000 to 200,000 to bring those people on board.
My 175,000 to 200,000 included a slight adjustment down from the 150,000 that I had made. In addition to using simple ideas like 150,000 monthly job baseline I incorporate the idea of not overreacting to variation in short term data as well as tweaking those numbers for medium term economic conditions (things like recovering from the great recession – though that is about the largest “tweaking” factor that I remember).
This article made me realize how much I should adjust my expectations for a neutral job growth reading in the USA going forward. I also gather data and opinions as I think about making major adjustments to my thinking. I’ll adjust from what I had been using of a base of 125,000 plus 50,000+ for great recession recovery to 75,000 + 50,000 for great recession recovery now (and adjust more later if other sources indicate it makes sense). The great recession recovery factor will likely go down to 25,000 for me by the end of this year.
Related: There is No Such Thing as “True Unemployment Rate” – Long Term View of Manufacturing Employment in the USA (2012) – USA Individual Earnings Levels for 2011: Top 1% $343,000, 5% $154,000, 10% $112,000, 25% $66,000 – GDP Growth Per Capita for Selected Countries from 1970 to 2010 (Korea, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Brazil
When you sell your primary residence in the USA you are able to exclude $250,000 in capital gains (or $500,000 if you file jointly). The primary test of whether it is your primary residence is if you lived there 2 of the last 5 years (see more details from the IRS). You can’t repeat this exemption for 2 years (I believe).
It doesn’t matter if you buy another house or not, that exclusion of up to $250,000 is all that can be excluded (you must pay tax on anything above that amount – taxed at capital gains rates for long term gains).
For investment property you can do 1031 exchanges which defers capital gains taxes. Otherwise capital gains will be taxed as you would expect (as capital gains).
When you inherit a house the tax basis will be “stepped up” to the current market rate. So if you then sell your basis isn’t what the owner paid for it, but what it was worth when it was given to you.
Credit is the ability to buy now and pay later. It takes credit to get an auto loan, a mortgage and other types of financing. Your credit score says a lot about your credit habits. This is a three-digit number ranging from 300 to 850, and it tells creditors how likely you are to pay your bills. The higher your credit score, the better your chances of getting approved for financing and the lower your interest rate will be.
Credit has many benefits. Most people can’t pay cash for homes, college education or new cars. Without loans, buying a house or car would be impossible for many. And since it takes credit to build credit, many people apply for their first credit card in college to establish a credit history. A credit card also provides emergency funds when we’re short on cash.
Although we use credit regularly as consumers, there are dangers associated with credit. We can avoid some of these problems with responsible use. But unfortunately, credit management education isn’t taught in high school, and many adults don’t learn about credit management until after they’ve made mistakes.
Potential Dangers of Credit
Credit puts a lot of things within our financial reach, so it’s easy to get in over our heads. We might not have enough in savings to purchase an electronic device or take a vacation, but with one quick application, we can get approved for financing and take advantage of life’s pleasures. There’s nothing wrong with getting a loan. But some people can’t stop using credit and they get into serious debt.
Too much debt has a significant negative impact on your personal finances. Paying off that debt will reduce your available disposable income to build an emergency fund (if you haven’t done so already) or save for retirement a house or other large purchases.
Of course, debt isn’t the only thing to be concerned with. Getting credit also means you’re vulnerable to identity theft. This is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. And while some people think it can’t happen to them, no one is invincible.
Keeping Your Credit Report Accurate
Identity theft involves someone stealing your personal information and purchasing items in your name or opening new accounts in your name. It can drive down your credit score and take several months or years to fix. Identity theft often goes unnoticed because some people never monitor their personal credit reports or file credit disputes
You might wonder, what is a credit dispute? As a consumer, you have the right to check your credit history and receive one free credit report from each of the bureaus annually. Also, according to CreditRepair.com, you’re entitled to ask questions about anything included within your credit reports.
The 10 publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalizations. Since October of last year the top 20 list has seen quite a bit of profit for stockholders (mainly in Apple and Chinese companies).
|4||Exxon Mobil||USA||$352 billion|
|5||Berkshire Hathaway||USA||$346 billion|
|6||China Mobile||China||$340 billion*|
|7||Industrial & Commercial Bank of China||China||$306 billion**|
|8||Wells Fargo||USA||$292 billion|
|10||Johnson & Johnson||USA||$273 billion|
Apple’s market cap is up $115 billion since the last list was created in October of 2014. That increase is more than 50% of the value of the 14th most valuable company in the world (in October 2014).
China Mobile increased $100 billion and moved into 6th place. Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) increased $78 billion to move into 7th place.
Exxon Mobil lost over $50 billion (oil prices collapsed as OPEC decided to stop attempting to hold back supply in order to maximize the price of oil). Alibaba (the only non-USA company in the last list) and Walmart dropped out of the top 10.
The total value of the top 20 increased from $5.722 trillion to $6.046 trillion, an increase of $324 billion. Several companies have been replaced in the new top 20 list.
The next ten most valuable companies:
|11||JPMorgan Chase||USA||$250 billion|
|12||China Construction Bank||China||$250 billion**|
|13||Novartis (NVS)||Switzerland||$246 billion|
|14||Petro China||China||$237 billion|
|19||Hoffmann-La Roche (ROG.VX)||Switzerland||$231 billion|
Market capitalization shown are of the close of business last Friday, as shown on Yahoo Finance.
The current top 10 includes 8 USA companies and 2 Chinese companies. The 11th to 20th most valuable companies includes 4 Chinese companies, 3 Swiss companies and 3 USA companies. Facebook (after increasing $21 billion), China Construction Bank (increasing $68 billion – it is hard for me to be sure what the value is, I am not sure I am reading the statements correctly but this is my best guess) and Tencent moved into the top 20; which dropped Procter & Gamble, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron from the top 20.
A few other companies of interest (based on their market capitalization):