A Single View of the Customer: Perception and Reality

Recognizing and removing the obstacles in obtaining a single view of customers.
Customer Experience

It's time for reality check: We've heard for some time that marketers are on the cusp of obtaining the Holy Grail known as single view of the customer. The fact is, marketers are nowhere near obtaining a unified view of customers. But here's the good news: They finally have a road map to do so. And the unified customer view is not the Holy Grail, but a means to an end of better marketing and better customer experiences.

Certainly the basic notion of the single customer view and its promise are as compelling as ever. A single customer view means collecting, creating, and using an identity:

  • Collecting: aggregating all the right customer data from the touch points where you interact with customers (ranging from a website to mobile to in-store).
  • Creating: resolving customer identity, or a composite profile of a customer's actions across multiple channels and devices, including the platforms you own and those you do not.
  • Using: making that identity available for a customer experience or marketing purpose.

With a single view, a marketer can make more personal, relevant offers to customers based on their interactions with the brand -- because everything marketers need to know resides in one repository.

And yet, arriving at a single view is a muddled, difficult affair, involving a considerable amount of confusion, hand wringing, and disappointment. Few marketers can claim to have achieved anything close to a single view. (By our own reckoning, only 6 percent of marketers say they have attained the single view of the customer even though nine out of 10 marketers believe a single customer view is a top priority.) So what are the obstacles?

  • Marketers are ill equipped to hit a moving target. Customers, and the touchpoints they use to interact with your brand, keep changing. New technologies like beacons or connected TVs come along and upend your assumptions about the customer journey. Unfortunately, too many marketers rely on legacy data collection technologies that fail to keep pace with changing behaviors and new data sources.
  • Brands view the single view as a one-off project. Obtaining a single view is not a matter of connecting your CRM and web data to support a campaign launch and then moving on to the next project. Your customers are constantly using mobile and web devices. Likewise, collecting and merging your engagement data is an ongoing process requiring constant attention and updating.
  • Brands often think of building richer customer profiles as an end unto itself, not as an outcome. They don't ask, how are they going to use this information to personalize customer experiences? To make their offers timely? To acquire customers and build loyalty?

If you are among the vast majority of brands encountering roadblocks to achieving a single customer view, take heart-you can and will succeed. Here is how to get on track:

  • Create a road map. Define your marketing and customer experience goals and objectives, the tactics and analytics required to execute on the strategy, and the road map for how your cross-channel marketing capabilities will develop. When you define your goals, be very specific (e.g., "I need to make media buying more effective"). Then collect the data you need to create a unified view that addresses the challenge.
  • Collect and integrate your data. You cannot build a customer identity without cross-referencing the data sources and data points you need to create a holistic profile. There is also more to identity than collecting data and dropping it into a data base. You also need a data management infrastructure to do synchronizing, profile development, and identity work before you make that data identity information available to personalize a website and create targeted media campaigns.
  • Protect your data. Having a unified customer view means having first-party data and identity resolution that you control. Walled gardens can certainly help you extend your reach. But the customer information you accumulate in a walled garden such as Facebook belongs to Facebook. Consider these giant players as an important part of your customer ecosystem. But don't fail to invest in building deep, rich profiles that you can call your own.

Finally, bear in mind that having a unified customer view is a long-term commitment. For instance, you will need to monitor your customer data. You will need to track data volumes, sources, match rates, processing speed, profile depth, and which data is activated for analytics and measurement. A single view is an ongoing view.