Mastering Data Requires Attention to Detail

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Nowadays, every company wants to service its customers more effectively. And customers expect no less from the companies with which they do business. They see one company, and they expect all employees to respond to them in a consistent, cohesive manner.

But businesses are broken down into departments that provide different services during the customer journey: marketing, sales, product development, product delivery, and post-sales support. Corporations have hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of employees performing various tasks.

Adding to the complexity, customer information is stored in so many different applications that wide gaps exist among data sources. Bridging those gaps so every employee in the organization has a consistent view of clients is possible. But the task requires large investments of money and manpower and sweeping process changes, steps that most organizations have not been willing to make thus far.

It’s not an easy task, but it is getting simpler, particularly as a wide and growing variety of applications emerge. Vendors are now building solutions to streamline workflows for employees inputting data or responding to various triggers, like customers calling in with a problem.

One difficulty that still remains is that these various applications collect customer information in different ways. “CRM solutions focus on process management and not on data management,” says Bill O’Kane, research vice president for data and analytics at Gartner.

Consequently, customer data is entered into numerous autonomous systems that were not designed to talk to one another. Client data is housed one way in a sales application, another way in an inventory system, and yet another way in contact center systems.

Other organizational factors further splinter the data, which can vary depending on the products in which a customer is interested, where the product resides, and who (the company or a partner) delivers it.

In addition, information is entered in various ways, including manually, either by the customer or an employee, or via voice recognition. And applications store the information in unique ways. One system might limit the field for customers’ last names to 16 characters while another could allow for 64 characters.


The challenge is further exacerbated by software design and vendors’ focus. CRM vendors concentrate on adding application features and do not spend as much time on data quality. “If they want to, customers can input their personal information 10 different ways,” O’Kane says. Most applications do not check for duplication when new customer information is entered.

And then human error creates additional problems. “No employees are compensated based on data hygiene,” says Allen Pogorzelski, vice president of marketing at data orchestration platform provider Openprise, who points out that these same employees are often quite busy, move frequently and quickly from one task to the next, and, consequently, sometimes do not follow best practices fully.

All of this leaves applications resembling a series of landscape paintings, where the basic customer outlines are similar but the hues and brushstrokes are unique in each system. “CRM data is very fractured,” says Michele Goetz, a principal analyst at Forrester Research. “While CRM is often considered the system of record for customer data, other capabilities—from marketing automation, [enterprise resource planning], commerce, databases, and master data hubs to identity resolution and permissioning systems—also operate as the source of truth for various customer activities.”

It also doesn’t help that companies have dozens and sometimes hundreds of systems that identify a person, all with their own set of identifiers, like name, address, email, telephone number, social media handle, and purchasing history. The data features a tremendous amount of duplication, inconsistencies, and inefficiencies.

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