• December 1, 2009
  • By Paul Greenberg, founder and managing principal, The 56 Group

The New Customer Record

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For the rest of the December 2009 issue of CRM magazine please click here.

For so long, the single view or 360-degree view of the customer was CRM’s Holy Grail. In customer-data lingo, it’s called the unified master—a complete record in a single place of all transactions (sales) and operational interactions (marketing response or customer service tickets). In whatever lingo you prefer, it’s what all companies drooled over.

The Utopian ideal of that single customer record (SCR) was that it would provide a rich source of data when it came to making important decisions, especially around either optimized offers (sales) or ticket resolution (customer service). Marketing folks could target a customer more specifically if they knew that she was inclined not only to purchase (and preen in front of) full-length bathroom mirrors, but also to call customer service fairly regularly because she broke the mirrors whenever they didn’t confirm her as the fairest of them all.

Companies could more easily sell that particular princess a mirror made of reinforced glass with steel backing—upselling the customer and decreasing her likelihood of calling in again to replace a broken mirror.

But that actually never became the case. The SCR we ended up with really offers nothing more than a dusty perspective that doesn’t lead to much action beyond placement on wish lists. It’s not that businesses don’t recognize the value of an SCR. They do. For example, a 2007 Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) study of the information, communications, and entertainment industries found a strong push toward convergence, meaning consolidated customer knowledge. EIU interviewed Peter Skarzynski, senior vice president for strategy at Samsung Telecommunications America, who said, “We are spending more and more time to understand the customer better. It’s become a very competitive market.”

The study also had 92 percent of the companies claiming they had a strategy for staying focused on their customers—which I doubt is accurate. I’m sure 92 percent of them said it, but most of them also claimed that the strategy had been at least somewhat successful, which makes me doubt their collective grasp of reality. 

Despite the bias, what’s interesting is that when asked to name three “main obstacles preventing your company from being as customer-centric as it would like to be,” the top response was “incomplete customer data” (41 percent) and then “lack of clarity about what customer data should be measured” (32 percent). (“Fragmentation of” and “inaccuracies in” customer data were the next two.) It’s hard to aggregate the accurate customer data that you need when you’re not even sure what customer data you’re looking for.

That confusion is compounded by a massive expansion in the breadth of data available on individual customers—which itself creates a new dilemma: Which of that highly personal profile data is valuable to a business? Things are getting more complex, because the historic transactional and demographic information is no longer sufficient for getting you what you need to ascertain what to do with that individual customer clamoring for personalized relationships with your company.

Even with all of the declared commitment to customer centricity, the idea of the 360-degree view is often decidedly old-school. Here’s how EIU framed the concept: “My company has a 360-degree view of customers, including purchases/contact history, preferences, and demographics.” That’s wonderful, except for the fact that the definition leaves out everything that matters for the new customer record. What’s worse is that, even with that not-so-modern parameter, only 33 percent could muster a “we do have that for sure” response, with the rest either neutral or saying no.

The New Customer Record

What should the new customer record include? Before we answer that, we need to review the traditional customer record—the totality of which would comprise everything a company traditionally could or would want to know about a particular customer. (See “Something Old, Something New: Building the Customer Record,” far left.)

Historically, the idea of the SCR was encapsulated rather easily into the three traditional CRM buckets: sales transaction data, marketing-response data, and customer service inquiry data. That was that. (Well, mostly: There’s obviously a lot of overlap among those three buckets, but you get the idea.) It would all be in a singular place and just oh-so-easy to deal with.

Unfortunately, those three buckets are no longer sufficient for a contemporary customer record. Just as  social CRM is an extension of traditional CRM, the new customer record is an extension of the traditional. 

All of the informal, unstructured information listed on the bottom half of the chart can be harvested and incorporated into the customer record through text analysis, which effectively aggregates and structures that data so it can be integrated into traditional databases. Many existing tools, in fact, already integrate unstructured data directly into CRM systems, making it even easier to construct the 360-degree view that the customer record has always promised.

The challenge that the new customer record presents isn’t so much in finding the data—with the proper tools, it’s doable—but using that data. As in all data harvesting, there are issues that involve privacy and transparency. Are you “stealing” information that is easily available on the Web, but still owned by the provider? Even more difficult to pin down is identifying the benefit that data provides you in developing insights into individual customers: Is it just more noise or is it really valuable?

In other words, you have to make decisions beforehand on what data is going to be important, whether it’s traditional or new. Ultimately, what data you use is based on how you want to use it. For example, don’t monitor the blogosphere for customers’ conversations if you merely need to know their transaction histories. 

I happen to think that’s insight suicide right now, but you get the point: Use what’s valuable. 

Something Old, Something New: Building the Customer Record

The traditional customer record includes:

1. Account data

2. Order data, including in-store (if such a thing existed), phone orders, e-commerce 

3. Billing information 

4. Credit information, including third-party info (Dun & Bradstreet rating, bank information, credit-agency inquiries)

5. Customer cost-allocation data

6. Interaction data that involved communication with the customer, including emails, phone calls, online chats at the company Web site

7. Service data, including open tickets, successful and unsuccessful service requests, standard inquiries (overlap with interaction data)

8. Marketing data, including campaign responses, promotions offered, successes and failures

9. Segmentation data, including standard demographic data, household information

The new customer record will include all of the above, but will also comprise informal, unstructured information:

10. Records of unstructured individual customer conversations found via social-media monitoring and text analysis, which might include comments, discussions in threaded forums, blogposts, etc.

11. Profile information gleaned from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks and communities

12. Records of content created by the individual influencer or customer

13. Third-party information associated with an account, including competitive intelligence or contemporary news

14. The nature of the customer’s role as a decision-maker within a business (in a B2B transaction), the influence she wields, and how and whom she influences.

Paul Greenberg (@pgreenbe on Twitter) is president of consultancy The 56 Group (the56group.typepad.com); cofounder of training company BPT Partners; and chair of CRM Evolution (www.destinationCRM.com/evolution), CRM magazine’s conference (Aug. 2–4, 2010, in New York). The fourth edition of his best-selling book, CRM at the Speed of Light (McGraw-Hill)—from which this article is adapted—will be out this month.

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