Building a Single View of Customers

Excellent customer management depends on getting the right information to the right people at the right time in the right format. Everyone knows the frustrations of being contacted by companies that believe they are being customer-focused, integrated, and global, but cannot seem to get even the basics right. Waiting for these problems to resolve themselves is no longer an option. Customer acquisition and retention efforts will eventually be imperiled. Just as important, government regulations worldwide create severe penalties and a narrowing window for noncompliance. Why is having a single view so important? Information flow has become the blood supply of global business. Companies rely on accurate customer data to establish supplier networks, create better cross-business processes, enhance revenue through customer retention, implement continuous improvement processes, among other functions. Corporate strategists can picture a near-term future in which easy access to a single, standard customer record is a fundamental business asset. The benefits case is complicated by the fact that having a single customer view is just an enabler (i.e., value is derived from using the data, not just having it). For example, to increase cross-selling an organization requires not just a single view of the customer, but skilled sales people with a thorough knowledge of available solutions and an understanding of product gaps. The customer view must somehow capture not only who a customer is and what he has done, it must help employees decide what to do next. Planning is an important aspect of the initiative, but where to begin? Permission, security, and access control
Any standardization effort should begin with an audit of customer permissions, system security, and business rules for accessing customer data. Customer privacy regulations are increasing in importance and will only become more strict. The E.U. model of mandatory opt-in status for all customer data is gradually becoming a world standard. The sector approach in the United States, including the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA), and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), defines responsibilities for security, access, permission, and retention of customer data. Other legislation like the Patriot Act define specific procedures for compliance with government investigations. To be blunt, every initiative to build a unified view of customer data must begin with an understanding of what information can be stored, the way it will be secured, who may access it and when, and how long it can be (in some cases must be), held. The potential risks of legal action, financial penalties, and damage to the company's reputation are imposing. Data hygiene and standardization Developing a complete, correct, and consistent standard for all customer records is a top priority. Good processes and software exist for data integration, correction, augmentation, and standardization. Use them, even if they delay the overall initiative. Prioritizing requests What constitutes a standard customer record varies by company. There are some data elements that must be available (name, address, telephone, etc.), there are others that may be necessary (email address, credit worthiness, contract status), and many that are useful (last contact date, customer score, preferences). You will need to evaluate the as-is situation and determine which data should be included in your to-be blueprint. Be assured, even the most complete records will have, and should have, some empty fields. Developing a road map Once these priorities are in place, the next step is to layout the overall roadmap. Because of the rate of technological change and the increasing importance of standardized data, it is almost inevitable that your company has several current initiatives that involve customer information--this is both an opportunity and a risk. Part of the benefits case involves aligning and enabling other initiatives. Requested capabilities may be delivered simply by coordinating the customer data streams in existing projects. If interdependencies are not given due consideration early enough, any new single view initiative will become another standalone project. As such, it will struggle to gain traction with the unsexy topic of data and an opportunity to harmonize existing initiatives will have been missed. Building a program plan Once a road map is laid out, a program plan of projects can be built for capabilities to be delivered in the next 12 months. All the classic program management disciplines apply here--setting objectives before defining activities, adopting measure/trial/measure, and plan/do/review approaches using RACI planning to assign accountabilities, and so forth. It is critical that the process and people elements are considered along with data and technology. Basically, to understand the root causes of why a single customer view isn't visible today, you need to work through each of the steps from a people, process, data, and technology perspective. Continuous improvement The most compelling reason for implementing a single customer view is the strategic imperative for more revenue, improved profit, and demonstrable compliance. Once an initial project has been completed there are limitless opportunities to improve update processes and add more information to the standard customer record. About the Author Extraprise Executive Vice President and CMO William Blundon leads the global consultancy's corporate marketing, strategy, and thought-leadership efforts. He can be reached at william.blundon@extraprise.com
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