Four barriers to building a single customer view, and how to overcome them

The ‘single customer view’ remains the holy grail for some of the country’s biggest and most successful brands, and even those that have invested in creating a single access point to each customer’s data still encounter numerous roadblocks before actually achieving that aim.

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At a recent roundtable hosted by technology provider Trillium Software, data professionals and marketers from a some of the top UK brands shared their experiences of planning and implementing customer data projects. To enable them to speak freely it was conducted under the Chatham House rule, but while the contributors can’t be identified Marketing Week recorded their key concerns – and how they can be overcome.

Poor data quality

Many companies’ databases are still populated by fabricated personal details or wrongly assigned genders, for example. One source of that bad data can be partnerships with third parties.

“We’ve had awful problems with our third parties giving a toss,” said an executive from a large national retailer, referring in particular to data shared by a financial services partner.

The brand’s solution to this has been to renegotiate the contract, with data quality requirements written into the terms.

Contact centre processes and incentives are also a key determinant of data quality. A data consultant at the roundtable, with experience heading a brand CRM team, told of a visit to a client in the transport sector where he observed customer service staff failing to update details after a specific customer request. On being asked why they hadn’t, they replied that it wasn’t part of their job.

call centre

Another attendee pointed out that employee incentives at many contact centres are based on the volume of calls handled, rather than accurate data collection or customer satisfaction, which would give staff more reason to manage records with care and attention.

Creating a company culture where employees feel similarly incentivised to keep data records accurate – either through rewarding them for doing so or making them aware of the legal penalties for failing – is key to any brand’s effort to collect good data. Without this, a single customer view can do as much harm as good.

Choosing the wrong partners

Partners not only matter in the acquisition of third-party data, but also when it comes to setting up an organisation’s data capabilities in the first place. Stories abound of external providers who don’t understand their client’s business model and data, or take on a technology implementation project that’s either too big or not big enough.

“I’d be wary of bringing a big systems integrator in to build a single customer view because they won’t understand the data.”

One delegate told the roundtable about a contract with a large technology provider falling through, because the initial scope of the data integration project underestimated what was necessary but the provider ultimately could not fulfil that without making a loss.

“I’d be wary of bringing a big systems integrator in to build a single customer view because they won’t understand the data,” he commented. The project was saved – and became very successful – thanks to the brand bringing in freelance software developers with prior experience in the same sector at a cost of £1,000 per day, guided on the strategic aims by managers within the business.

Input from those internally who understand the business emerged as a key theme at the roundtable, as a means of avoiding costly false starts or ineffective data processes.

“Your own company understands your business better than third parties,” said one executive from an insurance brand. “The worst examples are where a third party has been running your data and no-one internally has checked what they’re doing.”

Making the business case

Most company boards know that data is the fuel on which their business’s engine runs, however any investment in new technology or projects to improve data quality still requires a good argument. This is where those campaigning to build a single customer view often fall down.

Their difficulty isn’t that the investment won’t provide a return, the problem is in the “measurement and evaluation of your business case”, argued a drinks company executive.

At one retailer, the finance team allocated a value of £12 to each customer email address in its database as a benchmark to calculate return on investment can be calculated.

Others have successfully proved that having reliable data in a single customer view improves customer satisfaction through personalised offers and improved responses to enquiries. “There is a clear link there between satisfaction and ROI,” said a bank employee. “Satisfied clients also have far retention rates.”

DARPA_Big_Data

Yet one executive from a department store brand argued: “You shouldn’t have to convince your business. Any company that understands its customers should grasp the need to invest in data as an asset.”

How to get cross-department buy-in

Even if your company has identified a worthwhile investment that could improve its data marketing capabilities, and similarly benefit other departments that might want access to customer insights, that doesn’t mean anyone is going to agree to pay for it.

An executive from the retail sector gave an example of a project proposed by an external consultancy that would have improved the quality and efficiency of its databases, which got an enthusiastic response from across different functions.

The problem? The bill would have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds and nobody wanted to pay, so it never got off the ground.

A finance industry executive noted that departments that use customer data don’t always see a reason to put their own budget towards servicing that data.

Delegates agreed that gaining allies at a senior level is key to ensuring different departments’ contributions are commensurate with their demands on data resources.

Additionally, insight and data teams – under strong leadership – need to impress on other departments that they do not exist merely as a service function but one that must be recognised as a value creator, empowered to lead the business strategy and equipped with a budget appropriate to the task.

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