Debunking Marketing Myths: Single View Of A Customer

How many times have you heard that marketers need a “single view of the customer”? A Google search on the term turns up 46 million links including:

“You and everyone else in your organization want to know everything possible about your customers. You want a single view of the customer that everyone across the enterprise can use. There’s nothing new about this. Businesses have been trying to get a single view of their customers and prospects for years.” Informatica

“Bausch & Lomb realized that without a single view of its customer, its goal to drive customer satisfaction and loyalty would be difficult to attain.” CRMAdvocate

“Most companies know what a single view of the customer is and its value in a multichannel retail operation.” DMNews

My take: Truth is, most companies don’t know what a single view of the customer is, and many place way too much value in the concept.

And the Bausch & Lomb comment is perplexing. Which customers are they talking about? Customers like me who buy their solution? Why in the world do they need a single view of me to drive satisfaction and loyalty? Or customers like Wal-Mart? What does a “single view of the customer” mean in that context? If B&L wants to drive satisfaction and loyalty, it might want to start by making products that don’t cause eye fungus.

The need for a single view of the customer is a myth that, while well-intentioned, is really quite a silly goal and concept. Here’s why:

  • The need for customer data is function or task dependent. The statement that “everyone wants to know everything possible about your customers” is ridiculous. Whether it’s a cross-sell offer being made, or a service request being executed, there’s a subset of all potentially available customer data that is relevant to that particular interaction. Having a single view of the customer not only doesn’t facilitate that interaction, it potentially makes it more difficult. Why? Because it forces employees to navigate through the customer data to figure out what’s there and what’s relevant. Yes, business rules can be developed to provide guidelines, but that’s a lot easier said than done.
  • Creating a single view of the customer potentially subordinates important business issues. Focusing efforts on integrating all sources of customer data potentially ignores important business-oriented questions like: 1) which data elements are most important to a particular task? 2) what customer data elements don’t we have that would be valuable? and 3) can we use existing data elements as proxies for or to predict the elements we don’t have?
    • A single view of the customer is a blatant violation of privacy. Personally, I see no reason why the teller in my bank branch needs to know that I recently applied for a loan. Or worse, to see any of the details of that loan application. Oh sure, once again, business rules can be set and applied to control who sees what data. But this is asking for trouble. If you think the rules can’t be skirted, then don’t talk to anyone at Societe Generale.

It’s important, however, to distinguish between the notion of a “single view of the customer” and customer data integration (CDI). To me, the objective of CDI is to establish a single, logical instance of a customer with a consistent identifier for that customer that links internal and external data sources.

Unfortunately, too many firms ignore this aspect, and focus instead on integrating their existing, internal data stores. But for many firms, it’s the integration of external sources of data with internal customer data that holds the key to getting a more comprehensive picture of their customers.

But as long as these firms obsess over having a single view of the customer — or worse, that potentially perverted 360 degree view of a customer (it makes me think they’re looking at my butt) — the business goals they’re really trying to achieve will remain beyond their grasp.

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