Pinning down the elusive 'single customer view'

Understanding customers, their preferences and the ways these evolve allows companies to speak directly to them as individuals.

Read time 5min 20sec
Wynand Smit.
Wynand Smit.

Ask the majority of customer service, CX professionals and marketing directors if they can identify a customer at the first point of contact, and they'll respond that they can't.

This foundational process is too often overlooked, rendering any customer experience efforts futile.

The good news, however, is that with the right strategy in place, it's possible to work towards a single view of the customer that can dramatically alter your operating landscape.

The butcher's eye-view

Local businesses, now sadly becoming rare in an era of malls and franchises, understand this principle. Your butcher may have had that store open for decades in your neighbourhood, and its ongoing success is not simply because it's nearby (big chains may offer reduced prices, for example, to entice local crowds) but rather because of the personalised service offered.

The more you go there, a great local businessperson will know your needs and preferences, even as you enter the shop. They'll be able to sell to you within a context that's intimate and reliable and add value to the interaction at every turn. They may even know about your family and more, information not necessarily related to the transaction itself, but central to the interaction between customer and business.

On average, 40% of businesses still store over 80% of their customers' data spread across different systems in their organisations, representing the challenge faced.

The flipside of the coin is that customers won't be getting that personalised feeling when interacting with you in a big business environment. They'll feel like a faceless number speaking to another faceless number in an organisation, unless you're working on achieving that single view of the customer.

On average, 40% of businesses still store over 80% of their customers' data spread across different systems in their organisations, representing the challenge faced. In other words, many partial faces are available, while one view is evasive. This can come down to the ways in which customers interact with the company.

Company-driven interactions

Defined by Experian, a 'single customer view' is a readily accessible, consistent summary of a customer's product relationships with an organisation, combined with essential customer data such as name, address, date of birth and credit information.

The original concept of the single customer view was geared towards facilitating transactions in the financial services sector.

In order to undertake transactions such as payments within a certain time frame so as to be compliant across industry, financial services companies needed to be able to provide the same data on each customer, such as identification details, transaction histories, etc. Without the means of compiling this data, companies were left scrambling to remain compliant.

Multi-channel integration

Data created by customers comes from interactions across any number of channels a company may have: e-mail, voice calls to the contact centre, social media, chats, Web site activity and more. The customer may have multiple credit cards and other account details, and may use channels interchangeably, shifting from online chat to voice calls.

In terms of the single view of the customer, in recent years, the concept or goal of omni-channel communication has dominated in customer service; a seamless means by which customers can shift between channels while their data is centralised by channel integration.

This remains the golden goose of communication, but channel integration is one of the first steps a business needs to take to build towards creating an environment that comes close to representing that single view.

More than the data produced by interactions, the single view also relies on reducing the "noise" created along the customer journey. By "'noise", this means that irrelevant information can obscure the view of the customer. For example, if the customer is a long-term one, that customer may have opened accounts that are now closed, changed addresses or contact details and perhaps even surnames. This information is sometimes stored in different places that aren't "talking" to each other.

The inconsistencies in accuracy and accessibility must be removed by integrating and consolidating systems and updating them to only retain data that is necessary for seamless interactions to take place and a consistent, current view of the customer obtained.

The data key

Even with contact channel consolidation, unless you understand the customer, their preferences and the ways in which those evolve, you can't effectively use the data to speak more directly to them as individuals.

In other words, the more you understand how customers want to interact with you, and what they are (and may be) interested in, the more you are able to personalise the service to them, whether that equates to sales campaigns, customer service interactions or any other reason you may have for interacting with clients.

That's the goal of having a single view of the customer: personalised, authentic customer service. It's possible to attain, provided that data across departments and channels is integrated, updated and relevant to business requirements and customers' preferences.

Once the basics are in place, work with insights gained from data analytics, developing the right metrics for the right results, so that you have a fleshed-out version of customers' data that can be fed back into the business to inform day-to-day customer interactions.

This is an ongoing process, and while the goal may seem unattainable at first, breaking it down into practical, measurable and achievable steps is a realistic target that all businesses can work towards.

It's imperative that companies work towards that goal of seamless efficiency, since that's what will impact CX. More than that, data-based insights can give you a far clearer picture of your customer (the single view of the customer) that will drive personalisation. With a concerted strategy in place, you can speak to your customer with confidence, and create an interaction environment that's as close to the "local butcher shop" experience as you can get.

Wynand Smit


With over 10 years of operational and strategic experience in the South African contact centre industry, Wynand Smit's understanding of technology and its application to business has benefited multiple organisations across a variety of industries. As CEO of contact centre solutions provider INOVO, he is passionate about using the contact centre as a platform to drive positive change in a business.

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