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Single Customer View: Hype or Help?

Most marketing strategies aspire to a ‘single customer view’. From what we’ve seen, however, few achieve it.
What are the benefits to creating a single view of your customers? And how can the challenges be overcome to ensure the vision becomes a reality?

Benefits:

Strategic planning

Simple reporting to review and make decision is challenging when data is disorganised and spread across multiple systems. If you’re working with disparate or messy data sets, it becomes difficult to trust your own data like who your best customers are, who’s bought what, what your churn rate is, where the up-sell opportunities are and how to personalise future campaigns. Successfully creating a single view makes these assessments reliable.

Sales and marketing effectiveness

A central view of prospect and customer interaction, gives you data to help prioritise and plan action effectively. Data points might include people browsing your website, opening your emails, giving permission to you in app or web push messages, or calling your sales team. As you build a more detailed picture of potential customers over time, and overlay this with geo-demographics or firmographics you’re able to quantify potential lifetime value.

An engaged, high value prospect may merit an immediate outbound phone call, invitation to meet or a time-bound offer. Those with less engagement might be more efficiently nurtured through email to further inform and trigger a purchase down the line.

Improved customer experience

As consumers we’ve probably experienced the frustration of not being recognised as a customer, having to re-register or having previously stated preferences ignored. A single view gives you the ability to recognise and learn about customers, and supports sensible predictions. This helps build a more meaningful relationship and increases the possibility of winning loyalty. If you’re delivering here, and competitors aren’t, it can be a powerful differentiator.

Risk management and compliance

It’s often helpful (and frequently required through regulation) to understand the risk of dealing with specific customers. You may want to decide whether to deal with certain organisations based on their fraud risk and the reliability with which you can expect payment or delivery of services. Third party data can help here, but you may be sitting on valuable customer insight in your own records. You’ll be able to surface it much more efficiently with recourse to a single view.

Challenges to overcome:

Single ownership

Organisational ownership tends to be the most common barrier to delivering the single customer view vision. Data tends to sit in departmental silos and with no single department owning the customer in full, it can be hard to assign a single point of responsibility. Your business case may be made by the marketing department, but they generally can’t execute alone. Assigning responsibility to a central owner or team is the obvious first step, but this person needs mandate to make decisions that affect multiple departments. What’s required is sponsorship from the very top of the organisation. With that in place issues should be more easily resolved.

Understanding channel data

A central owner is unlikely to understand all the channels and know what data is vital and what is more ‘nice to have’. It may be easy to understand customer purchase history data but less clear what is important in email engagement, web browsing, display ad and telephony data, for example. That’s why the knowledge of channel specialists is still required to make sense of what’s there. Data compliance also needs to be understood and respected by channel, with local regulations and customer instructions adhered to.

Actually getting to the data

Once data requirements are clear, channel specialists need to be willing and able to make the data available. Whether by batch or APIs, channel specialists are often constrained by the systems they use. If the call center or email system doesn’t have an accessible API, providing data can be hard. They may need technical support or be required to choose a new system that can expose the underlying customer data. For example, a web analytics tool that presents data neatly through a web-browser but lacks an API may need to be upgraded.

‘Matching’ identities

Unless you’re dealing with vast volumes, data storage and access is rarely complex. The more challenging aspect of a single view is matching seemingly disparate records to one prospect or customer. It’s a complex topic with a multitude of terms to describe it: identity matching, stitching, linkage, cross device tracking, cross channel identity management, to just name a few.

For example, is johnsmith@hotmail the same as john.smith@hotmail that lives at the same address, or are they father and son? Is Sarah at 1 The Crescent the same person as Sarah Jones, whose mobile number is 07900 966 876? In a B2B context, is Aviva the new name for Norwich Union? Does a prospect cookie link to an existing customer deviceID? Now that someone has registered on your site and allowed cookies or device recognition, you should be able link in their previous browsing activity to guide personalisation.

For this challenge, third party data and specialist firms can help create matches that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see. It’s also worth noting that you may need to respect someone’s preference to be seen as more than one person. They may have purposely registered with two email addresses – one as a customer for service messages and another for your marketing messages and offers.

Summary

Given the scale of the potential benefits in both B2C and B2B contexts, the challenges involved with creating a single view are generally worth tackling. In isolation, each challenge isn’t insurmountable but it’s often the combination of all at once and the usual pressures of budget and competing priorities that mean the single customer view is left as more of an aspiration than a reality. Understanding the business case and challenges should help you decide whether the journey involved will be worth the destination for your business.

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