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Why every business needs a single customer view

A single customer view is a consolidated, consistent, and holistic representation of the data a business possesses about each of its individual customers. It’s often discussed as a marketing tool, frequently in the context of retail customers or consumers. Yet having a robust single customer view has value to most medium or large businesses – those whose customer base is too large for any single person to know and understand. And it has value beyond the marketing department: to support, product development, finance, logistics, purchasing, and so on.

You may wonder then, if it’s so valuable, why don’t more companies organize their data assets around their customers? The answer depends on several factors. Is the company organized by sales channel, with each channel run by a separate team? Is the company oriented around products or solutions, with different business units for each product category? Does each function (marketing, sales, product, support, service, finance, etc.) within the business operate its own database in isolation from the rest? Each of these approaches make it hard to create a consolidated view of the customer without a lot of planning and effort. Because of these and other factors, only about 25 percent of companies claim they have built a single customer view.

But before arguing why creating a single customer view is too expensive, too difficult, or just not worth it, let’s step back and think about the value of not only knowing who your customers are, but of every function within your business having a strong understanding of what a good customer looks like.

As recent CNN article “Why facts don’t matter” points out that to some degree all of us suffer from the confirmation bias. This means that we are more likely to accept arguments (or “facts”), that support our existing beliefs and less likely to accept those that don’t. In brand terms, this means that fans are more likely to see the positive side of everything you do; detractors, the potential negatives. Let’s say, for example, your staff teams up to make a charitable donation that the company will match. Company supporters are thrilled by your philanthropy. Detractors will inevitably find something to criticize, like wondering why so little or what exactly the angle is.

As every company has both supporters and detractors within their customer base, isn’t is a good idea to better understand who’s who, what their interaction points are with the company, and what their expectations (or preconceived beliefs about the company) might be? Only then can you hope to grow your business and improve your reputation. As the article points out, the best way to influence ideas is not with a barrage of facts but by agreeing on common ground and aspirations. In simple terms, not “this product is better because it has more features”, but rather “our cultures and goals are aligned and our products/services support your needs”. Think Apple, Amazon, Virgin, and so on.

So don’t think of a single customer view as just another way to store data, think of it as a way for everyone in your organization to better understand your customers. Here are some of the things it can help with:

• Knowing the attributes of your best customers enables you to find more like them
• Understanding the purchase patterns of each customer segment helps better predict inventory requirements
• Locating where your best customers live can help logistics save money and identify optimal locations for store placements
• Identifying payment preferences can uncover credit business opportunities
• Categorizing lifestyles and life stages help with market sizing and product capabilities


Can you achieve all this without a single customer view? Possibly, but do you really want to risk the product team building products for a different audience than the one marketing is targeting? Or have finance developing payment options for yet another demographic? Having a consistent and reliable baseline helps to give you confidence that the departments across your organization are well-aligned and working to keep your top customers satisfied, while attracting the best new prospects.

A single customer view starts with accurate customer contact information. Learn more in our white paper, “Realize a single customer view.”