Data has become a dirty word for some small and medium-sized Irish companies. But digital insights can save you money and win you extra business.
Data has had a tough year, mired in controversy. Facebook and others have been accused of misusing people's personal information, provoking political storms either side of the Atlantic. But small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) in Ireland have also been dragged into the wider drama, with the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
GDPR has been tough for Irish SMEs because it subjects everyone to the same regulations, whether it's a small boutique hotel in Limerick or the Dublin branch of global retail empire. Research published by RTE suggests that nine out of ten SMEs spent up to €5,000 to ensure compliance .
However, GDPR isn't something anyone can afford to forget about either. Already, there's been a significant increase in the volumes of data breaches and complaints, since the arrival of GDPR, according to The Irish Times . So it's no wonder that whenever data is mentioned, SMEs in Ireland may just feel like running for the hills.
However, treating data like the plague is a big mistake, because it can help to transform your fortunes. And you don't need to be a Google, Amazon or Facebook to benefit. For example, getting information from Elavon about the spending behaviour of your overseas customers can provide some unique and valuable insights.
Here are three ways that data can help SMEs...
#1: Understanding customers better
Few Irish SMEs can afford expensive market research. But spending data can provide a wealth of actionable information that's personal to your business. You can rely on hard facts not vague guesses.
Using data from transactions, you can start to see the big picture ... which countries your customers are coming from, when they visit, how much they spend and which audiences are the most profitable. From there, you can spot patterns and peaks and also predict when some nationalities may be more likely to visit you.
#2: Improving the visitor experience
Armed with the facts, you can find ways to make your business more appealing to visitors, whether it's about providing signs and information in different languages (online and offline) or hiring staff who speak the languages of your most lucrative guests.
Extra tips and training on cultural preferences and greetings could help everyone in your team — and those nice touches could help to encourage return visits from customers.
#3: Driving up profits
Knowing more about overseas visitors means you can provide special offers when different groups hit their peaks, for example, during national holidays when visitors from different countries tend to travel.
You can perfect your digital campaigns too. More than a third of companies in Ireland say that they plan to increase their spend on marketing in the year ahead — with social media, content marketing and search campaigns being the most popular . But with more data about your visitors, you can make sure every euro counts by targeting the right visitor groups with the right offers at the right time.
Finally, don't keep the data to yourself ... share the most relevant stats with your employees. It's not only good for teamwork and morale, but transaction totals can easily be turned into targets for employees to beat each month.
They may also want to compete against their colleagues at other sites, such as your Cork team versus your Galway operation, for any incentives you offer them, based on who earns most revenue from different groups of overseas visitors.
 'Companies report little change to operations after GDPR - survey' (RTE, June 25, 2018)
 'DPC receives over 1,100 reports of data breaches since start of GDPR rules' (Irish Times, July 30, 2018)
 'Marketing spend by Irish companies forecast to rise in 2018' (Irish Times, Jan 25, 2018)