The 360-Degree Customer View Fallacy
IT’S TOUGH to have a conversation about customers or customer experience these days without encountering the “360-degree view of customers” at some point along the way. It seems every vendor has some variation on the same slide: a customer in the center with rings of stuff around them—whether data sources, channels and touchpoints, or capabilities.
No wonder so many companies have prioritized creating their own 360-degree view. And that’s too bad. Because as laudable—even necessary—as it is to build a comprehensive, shared, accurate view of customers, the concept of a 360-degree view is rife with miscues and misdirects. Failing to recognize the pitfalls risks making such initiatives costly, protracted, and ultimately ineffective at delivering the promised value.
Here’s where the 360-degree customer view goes wrong:
It is a perpetually elusive goal. The main premise of a 360-degree view is that it brings all sources and types of customer data together in one place, in a form that is always accurate. In truth, there will always be new sources of customer data and insights. New channels of communication. New behaviors to track. Simply keeping up with and incorporating them all is a big job. Even then, you’ll never know everything there is to know about your customers. Then there’s the issue of timeliness and accuracy. Something is always changing in customer data—look no further than the basic fields of name and address. Just ensuring these are up to date, everywhere they need to be, can pose a significant challenge. No single tool or system is going to automatically address both these issues. El Dorado, anyone?
It focuses on the wrong thing anyway. Precisely because there are so many different and disparate sources of customer data—think purchase transactions, social media engagement, customer service calls, clickstream data, loyalty programs, etc.—data collection dominates much of the dialogue about 360-degree views. Yet data consolidation and management are just one part of the challenge. The whole reason for trying to pull it all together is to make sense of it in some way—and that’s only possible when you have a clear view of what you’re trying to do and why. Focusing too much on amassing data without considering how and where it will be used inevitably leads to data storage, not useful and actionable insights.
It lacks perspective—and perspective matters. Something unmentioned in the 360-degree view discussion is that, as humans, our field of vision is only about 170 degrees, often less. While that might not pose a literal or real-life problem, it does pose a metaphorical one: No one ever really needs to see everything about a customer. Different roles and different contexts produce very different needs—or perspectives—on customer data. These perspectives may require making connections across multiple types and sources of data, though they certainly don’t require seeing everything at once. It’s the right data and insights, in the appropriate context, that produces value.
The customer service agent, for example, needs a pertinent view into a customer’s purchase history and account information. It’s also helpful to know that someone has tweeted a scathing critique right before calling in. But that same agent does not need to know everything the customer has browsed in the previous six months. Or that their credit card was denied three years ago.
For someone in marketing or strategic planning, some of those additional insights can be extremely valuable. But in those roles, they need an analysis of all those data points and behaviors, not necessarily all the detail that goes into the analysis.AIM FOR THE HOLISTIC VIEW OVER THE 360-DEGREE VIEW
Instead of a 360-degree customer view, what we really need is a holistic view—one that recognizes customers as individual people, with preferences and motivations that help us to anticipate their needs and serve them well in any context.
A holistic customer view strives to connect the important data and insight we hold as businesses to address all aspects of our relationships with them: responding effectively to their immediate needs, anticipating their preferences, and even predicting their behaviors. Yes, this approach demands major investment and effort. But from a design standpoint, it makes it much easier to identify important gaps, fill in blanks, and avoid keeping or exposing data unnecessarily. It helps us to focus on the things that matter and avoid the things that don’t.
By all means, let’s up our game in understanding customers. Let’s just be clear on why we’re doing it.
L. Nicole France is principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research. Over the course of 20 years as both analyst and marketer, she has helped customers harness technology to improve customer engagement and drive business results.