A single customer view - one central database of all customers and every interaction with a business - is the holy grail of data-driven marketing.
It should allow marketers to close the loop on their activities, really understand every facet of every customer interaction and the commercial benefit that they deliver and to deliver their marketing objectives.
But in an era of Big Data and exploding customer touch-points, is it really feasible to have once central ‘pot’ of data and does it justify the time and resources to try to deliver?
What is a single customer view?
It's one database of all customer data and customer interactions that can be accessed by business users.
So it could include customer contact details, purchase data (both on- and off-line), customer service information and how each customer was acquired.
Typically it would be a source for analytics, reporting and selecting customers for marketing campaigns.
Without straying too much into technical speak, a single customer view could be a simple database or a large data warehouse that is fed and accessed by multiple systems (such as business intelligence, CRM and Finance).
The risk if you don't have one is that you can end up with "multiple versions of the truth" meaning marketing decisions being made without a complete view of potential opportunities and issues and, much worse, you deliver poor customer experiences.
It does sound great but can be hard to achieve.
Sounds great but what are the pitfalls?
It can be hard to achieve because of the sheer volume of data and datasets within a business. This illustration by @chiefmartec paints a picture of the vast number of technology systems that now exist only within the marketing space. If you think that each of these contains data that could be needed to have a holistic view of customers then it is quickly apparent how difficult it could be to piece everything together.
The biggest challenges are however more often cultural.
Data ownership with businesses are often poorly defined or not centralised.
Marketing departments might ‘own’ the customer database, the Retail or Sales department might ‘own' the transactions database and the Digital department might ‘own’ third party data from online marking and SEO.
Few businesses yet have Chief Data Officers or Data Management Offices tasked with knitting together requirements and data from across the business.
Gaining buy-in to a programme of change and getting disparate business areas to adopt standards and share information can be a huge challenge.
Delivering something at pace so that confidence builds and business areas remain committed is even harder.
Within large organisations, the budgets and timelines for delivering a single customer view can be enormous and out of kilter with the marketing imperative to be responsive.
Do we need one?
You definitely need a way for information to readily be exchanged within your business and for their to be standard definitions and standards.
We often observe multiple business users reviewing information that is ostensibly the same but because of differing data sources and definitions, the data tells wildly different stories.
You need standard definitions (and clear ownership of those definitions).
You should have agreed standards for the sharing of information - between different systems and also between different systems. As new data sources emerge (as they inevitably will), it will be much easier to start integrating these sources.
You should have primary sources. For particular KPIs or activities you should choose what your primary or preferred data source is.
For example, you might get conversion data from both a PPC agency and a media agency; the data may be similar but they may well use slightly different attribution models or collect the data at different times. You can and should receive data from both parties but you should also define one as your preferred source when measuring or reporting on conversion.
Start small and 'hack' a solution
It’s often difficult to get a single customer view for the reasons outlined above but this shouldn’t stop you:
- having one centralised database of the essential customer data that you need for your marketing. This doesn't need to go to the Nth level - focus on what is critical for your marketing activity and measuring it.
- using only this dataset for all reporting and campaign analytics
- accept that you will never have a truly single version. Know what the known knowns are and focus on these. Don't get bogged down in trying to measure everything - it's better to learn from doing.