Single View Of The Customer. Holy Grail or Holy Hell?

At my current client, I dared to introduce the dreaded “Single View Of The Customer” concept and promptly got shot down in flames. Two years later and we are about to start implementing it. Why did my client change its mind and will it be worth it? This blog shares some insights into these dilemmas.

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I started my current assignment over 2 years ago.

I was brought into my clients Enterprise Architecture team to specialise in CRM (as a Strategist and Architect) and ensure that a new CRM project was being developed correctly and in line with corporate, rather than divisional needs.

My first question was: “What is the strategy driving the project?” There wasn’t one. “OK”, I said “Then what are they trying to achieve?”. The response I got is typical of many projects: The Division wants a CRM tool. Many months later and we had started to define and refine an overarching strategy, vision and objectives. These led to benefits to which we could link requirements. One of those benefits was to be better able to serve customers by providing pertinent, accurate up to date information ased upon all of their interactions with the organisations. I dared to introduce the dreaded “Single View Of The Customer” concept and promptly got shot down in flames.

Apparently, other consultancies had previously advised them against this approach as they cited numerous examples of failed implementations, huge overruns and massive spends. I would have been more popular had I suggested starting a Data Cleansing project!!!

Several months later, as we finally begin the implementation, a Single View Of The Customer is now accepted as a “must-have” and essential to help the organisation achieve several of its goals and realise benefits, not just for the organisation but for the customer (yes- a CRM Program that is actually delivering benefits to the customer too- hurray!!!).

It has gone from being the Holy Hell to the Holy Grail. I intend to unravel the reasons for this and what we are hoping to achieve. A seperate blog will look at some of the implementation considerations facing clients about to embark on the journey to a Single View Of The Customer.

My client has lots of customers. They also have lots of different sources of customer data. Each source has many duplicate entries and inaccurate information. The data is not shared between different divisions and there is a prevailing culture of departmental over protectiveness of their own “customer database”. Does this sound familiar? I have come across this on so many programs that I will be surprised when I discover an organisation with a single customer database of clean and high quality data!

As always, it was necessary to take a customer perspective to start the client understanding why change was needed. In most meetings I attend, I ask people to imagine a cardboard cutout sat in one of the chairs. Her name is Cathy. She represents a Customer. Whenever we get to a point where I feel we are becoming inward looking, I say “Let’s ask Cathy”. When we discussed improving the customer experience, I explained that Cathy is frustrated because she interacts with different parts of the organisation at different times but keeps having to repeat who she is and why she is calling, which surprises her as she thought these divisions were all part of the same organisation. In other words, her expectations are not being met leading to a poor customer experience.

I am not advocating that every organisation should develop a Single View of the Customer. Traditionally, the Financial Services industry has led in such initiatives, as the cross and up selling opportunities from this internal sharing of client data was perceived to be of high value. The reality in creating such a view proved harder than most thought. This is often due to poor data stewardship and data management processes. The projects often blow out in terms of time and cost. Quality suffers when organisations either cut corners (to save time or money) or have poor processes. Survivors from these initiatives told horror stories that gave the impression that achieving the Single View of a Customer is some form of Holy Hell. There is no doubt that if these obstacles can be overcome, there are benefits to both the customer (better customer service) and provider (increased retention and customer spend).

My client is not going to develop a full “enterprise” Single View of Customer. It is going to develop the “Contact Centre” view of customer. This is an integrated view based upon the records stored in legacy systems most frequently accessed in responding to customer enquiries. As these systems represent those most accessed on behalf of customers, it was agreed to limit the scope to this. It involves four “legacy” business systems and will utilise Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) to create a single view.

This “view” will be visible within the new CRM software accessed by the Contact Centre. Rules determining Push/Pull, Read/Write and Deduplication are yet to be established but the Data Analysts are currently finalising a Customer Data Model which will use Master Data Management concepts.

One of the key benefits will be what is termed the 360 degree view. This is the ability to view information relating to the customer from a single screen. For example, one might be able to see the Interaction History, Order History, Service Request History and Campaign Responses. This enables our Contact Centre agents to become the one stop shop for all customer enquiries. This would not be possible at present because we have no single view (multiple systems, duplicate records) and therefore cannot be sure that Customer X in the Order Management system is Customer X in the Service system. Enquiry time should be reduced and accuracy increased. These benefits formed part f our business case and the non tangible benefits (such as Improved Customer Perception and Image) only serve to strengthen the rationale. However, had we attempted to attempt the whole single view, the incremental benefit would be small whilst the incremental development large. It was therefore difficult to justify. Time will tell whether this decision will prove to be the right one.

In conclusion, the Single View is not easy but it will generate benefits for many organisations, especially those looking to support a single entry customer interface, upsell, cross sell or provide a strong customer self service capability. The expression “Knowledge is Power” is true but knowledge can only come from wisdom based on accurate information. A Single View Of Customer enables an organisation to have accurate customer information, if implemented correctly. Implementation Considerations will be the topic of the next blog.