By Swati Sahai

According to a recent survey, 48% of enterprise CX leaders agree that lacking a single view of the customer and customer journey is the #1 challenge for effectively measuring customer experience.

Without a single customer view and real-time insights, organizations struggle to deliver the quality experiences that customers are looking for today.

We’ve all had customer service interactions where we had to repeat the same information at every interaction, sometime multiples times within the same interaction! Wouldn’t it be nice if companies already knew the context when we reached out? Is that too much to ask for?

Unfortunately, most customer experience teams are struggling with legacy systems and data residing in disparate silos. They have no way to arrive at a single customer view, which is necessary to fully understand each customer and provide her with a personalized experience.

The result? The opportunity to wow the customer is lost forever.

In this post, I will explain in detail:

  • What is a single customer view?
  • Barriers to creating a single customer view
  • 4 steps to create a single customer view and deliver better CX
  • Benefits of a single customer view for customer experience

What Is a Single Customer View?

The concept of the single customer view (SCV) is often defined as an aggregated, consistent and holistic representation of the data known by an organization about its customers.

A single customer view enables companies to understand and better engage with customers by knowing who they are and what they are looking for. It acts as the single source of truth about your customers. It gives you the ability to analyze past behavior in order to better target and personalize future customer interactions.

A single customer view is achieved when you are able to:

  • Unify customer data across all your internal systems
  • Capture each customer’s activities across all your channels and devices
  • Use this information to seamlessly engage with each customer across touchpoints

For instance, a global hotel brand reconciled poor quality and conflicting customer data to improve data accuracy and significantly improve customer service.

This hotel chain now learns about customers’ interests through unified data so that the staff can go the extra mile across all its properties. Staff members can, for example, give a guest who is a yoga enthusiast a list of local studios and class times proactively, provide a list of local haunts to sports fans to watch their favorite team when they check-in, or simply stock the mini-bar with a guest’s favorite beverages. The outcome has been an improvement in customer satisfaction scores across board and increased customer lifetime value.

Achieving a single customer view, however, still seems out of reach for many businesses. 89% of companies still have challenges creating a single customer view (as per Experian) resulting in poor decision making due to poor customer insight and process inefficiencies.

Customers do not split their interaction with a company into separate experiences by channel, they just experience the company as a whole. So by not having a single customer view, customer expectations are not being met, resulting in dissatisfaction and even churn.

Barriers to Creating a Single Customer View

As per a Harvard Business Review Analytic Services study of more than 400 customer experience executives, one of the top challenges of customer experience management is achieving a single customer view.

Top challenges to deliver CX

Why do most companies struggle in this endeavor? Let’s take a detailed look.

1. Legacy Systems

Businesses today have access to an unprecedented amount of customer data, but in most cases they don’t know what to do with all this data. In fact, this data deluge has created more headaches for organizations because they still operate with legacy systems that make it difficult to achieve their goals for data integration, standardization and quality.

barrier to creating single customer view

It has become clear to customer experience teams that to delight customers throughout their journeys requires organizations to integrate data from channels that have been traditionally residing in silos. This is the key obstacle to creating a consistent customer experience.

Silos often arise as companies add new customer service channels. They take the easiest route available by setting up each of these channels as a discrete application using different vendors or software. Data therefore resides in isolation and each customer interaction is viewed independently rather than as part of a bigger customer journey.

Obstacles to deliver CX

2. Poor Data Quality

Poor data quality regularly hampers efforts to create a single customer view. Without accurate and reliable data, the effort to create a single customer view is wasted.

CX teams need to align with data owners across the organization to better understand the data collection process and how it can be improved to reduce or altogether eliminate the chances of human error. Validation software can be implemented at key data capture points in order to enforce consistent data governance standards across the organization.

Data also becomes redundant or outdated quickly. It is important to monitor your data sources over time to ensure that the quality of data is not deteriorating.

3. Organizational Silos

“Silo mentality is the biggest organizational hurdle to improving customer experience.” – Chris Ward, Editor

Most customer experience professionals agree with that view. Operational and departmental silos that exist within organizations are a big barrier to delivering a seamless customer experience and achieving a single customer view.

Organizational silos also arise in processes and teams. When the entire company is not focused around the customer and instead is individually thinking of their own KPIs, channels and metrics, no one is thinking of delivering a superior experience across the entire customer journey. This environment is not conducive to building a single customer view.

This disconnect is visible to customers when they experience problems in service. With every interaction through a new channel, they have to repeat their issue and provide information about themselves and their situation all over again.

Instead, align your KPIs and targets so that all your teams are incentivized to pull in the same direction—towards the customer. This will encourage employees to take a more customer-centric view and make an effort to unify your customer data, so you can deliver a better customer experience.

4 Steps to Create A Single Customer View and Deliver Better CX

To achieve a single customer view that enhances customer experience, you need a process that integrates cross-channel data, eliminates the silos that are holding your data hostage and enables customer experience teams to gain a complete, unified view of each customer throughout their journey.

But simply gathering this data is at best a half measure. To be successful, one has to think of how customer experience will be best served through a single customer view. What is the best mindset to approach this process? What do you do once you have this data?

I describe below, in detail, four steps that you can take to achieve a single customer view from beginning to end, how to think about the process and how to utilize the data.

This approach is a fundamental shift from traditional data extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) processes. It puts an emphasis on providing rich, contextual customer information at blazing fast speeds to help you serve your customers better.

1. Take a Journey-based Approach

Before you start on the path to creating a single customer view, it is important to take a journey-based view of customer interactions. By thinking in terms of end-to-end customer journeys that span multiple channels, rather than isolated touchpoints, you can start to put together the pieces required to solve the single customer view puzzle.Pointillist Customer Journey Analytics

Focusing on customer experience involves treating each interaction as part of a cohesive whole, taking into account the customer’s past history with the company and anticipated future needs.

So if taking a journey-based view of customer experience is so important, why is it not the norm? Because it isn’t easy. As new channels are continuously added, they are usually not integrated with each other and it becomes harder to unify customer data.

A large number of companies state that they’re a long way from having integrated channels and a complete customer picture, let alone speaking to them in one voice. The result is fragmented customer experiences that can result in churn.

Customer journey analytics is a breakthrough approach that provides the power to look across millions of complete journeys connecting multiple touchpoints over different channels and time periods.

2. Integrate All Your Customer Data

A single customer view can be created by pulling together all customer data available to you from different touchpoints. Customer data can include:

  • Demographics
  • Web and mobile browsing activities
  • Customer preferences
  • Sentiments
  • Customer support team interactions
  • Firmographics
  • Sales team interactions
  • Social media
  • Transactions

Data Integration to create single customer view

This data will typically reside in data warehouses, point-of-sale systems, email marketing platforms, marketing automation systems, call center data management systems, etc.

The traditional method of data integration through ETL involves first cleaning, standardizing and then loading data into the right tables. This is a mammoth effort requiring effort, time, high costs and specialized IT data analyst skills. Moreover, it is inadequate to deliver timely results with the exponential growth in the volume and velocity of data.

Sophisticated customer journey management software, which support journey analytics and orchestration, can also integrate data rapidly and easily without first requiring customer identity matching, schema setup or fixed field mappings for different event types. These advanced customer journey data hubs may have built-in ETL capabilities that allow you to extract data from your system in the format that is easiest for you to use.

Customer journey analytics platforms excel at omnichannel integration across all customer touchpoints. All you need to do is identify the channel or touchpoint you want to include.

The most impressive part in this data integration is the lightning speed with which it takes place. A typical integration that begins with 2-3 data sources can be completed in under a week. Compare that with the weeks and months it takes using traditional processes.

This data integration is also extremely fault tolerant, meaning that if an error is discovered, the journey analytics software can go back to the source without requiring you to resend the data.

3. Enable Customer Identity Matching

Perhaps the most crucial step in building a single customer view is to bring together the separate pieces of data that have been collected on an individual customer by recognizing that they actually refer to the same customer.

This is the process of customer identity matching.

The goal of identity matching is to join data associated with a specific person across events and sources. This way, if 50 people interacted with your company through three different channels, your data shouldn’t look make it look like 150 interactions from 150 different individuals.

How does Identity Matching Work?

Customer identity matching

This diagram shows how an identity matching process pieces together individual customer identifiers into a unified identity.

There are many identifiers that can be used to pinpoint the person who engaged in any specific interaction. These may include, among others:

  • Email address, credit card number, transaction ID, device ID, cookie ID or IP address for customers
  • Agent name or agent ID for customer care representatives
  • Account number, company name, or salesforce ID for business accounts

If the software detects a value for any of these identifiers, it then knows exactly who participated in an interaction. For instance, interactions or events in a website data log are going to have different identifiers than those being recorded in a call center’s data stream, but there will be some overlap. Indeed, the more overlap there is, the easier identity matching becomes, and the more useful your results will become.

Customer identity matching for single customer view

In this diagram, three different events each capture a variety of customer identifiers. The overlapping identifier between the first and second event is ‘Email address.’ If the value is identical, an identity match is established confirming that it is the same individual customer. The overlapping identifier between the second and third event is ‘Registration Id.’ If the value matches, an identity match is again established between second and third events. By extension, it can therefore be determined that the customer identifiers in the first and third events also match. This helps build a robust customer profile quickly.

De-Anonymizing Identities

When no identifiers are available to link events across a set of channels, it is possible for data generated by the same individual to appear as two separate identities. Anonymous web browsing and in-store purchase records often present this type of challenge in the retail industry, and nearly all consumer-facing businesses face the similar issue of cross-device identity matching.

The most sophisticated identity matching systems can handle such cross-channel linking. The moment an event enters the system that provides a bridge between two identities, the connection is recognized, events are merged, and any related data analytics (e.g. dashboards, real-time triggers, etc) are updated in near real-time.

The new merged identity is applied to all associated historical data, meaning that all current and future analytics will reflect that the data is associated with the same person.

Customer identity matching to create single customer view

In the diagram above, retail customers’ interactions or events are recorded for three different channels—Store purchases, Web purchases and Mobile purchases. For instance, store purchase data records could include product type bought, amount spent, store location etc. The color for each event indicates the records that belong to the same customer.

Merged customer identities to create single customer view

Customer journey analytics software can compare the values in the identifiers collected in each of the events and look for matches, thereby establishing an identity match for an individual customer across channels.

After a robust identify matching process has been completed, this clean and unified data makes it possible for you to discover your customers’ unique journeys, create dynamic behavior segments, perform custom analytics and make personalized offers to better serve your customers.

4. Give Your CX Team Access to the Single Customer view

After integrating all your customer data and achieving a single customer view, it is important that your CX team has real-time access to this information, so they can deliver a consistently good customer experience.

At every touchpoint throughout the customer journey, think about the difference it would make if the customer interaction was contextual based on preferences, spending habits, recent interactions, order history, ratings, satisfaction scores and other such attributes.

In industries such as telecom or banking which receive high volumes of customer support calls, a single customer view based on integrated data will help agents to resolve queries quickly and make customers feel valued. With current technology, agents have to put customers on long holds while they frantically search through different systems or worse have to end the call and revert to the customer later. A single customer view can provide the agent with all relevant information about the customer, which can have a major impact on First Call Resolution (FCR) scores.

Benefits of Single Customer View to Customer Experience

As per a study by Experian, the successful implementation of a single customer view can have a significant impact, as “three-quarters of all customers would take positive action in response to experiencing the benefits of a single customer view,” including recommending the company if asked (57%), proactively engaging with others to tell them about their experience (45%), leaving a positive review on the company website (26%), and forwarding email offers from the company to family and friends (12%).

Achieving a single customer view is a true win-win situation—it works to the advantage of both the customer and the company.

The table below captures it well.

Benefits of single customer view to customer experience

Here are two ways in which a single customer view can help you deliver a better customer experience.

1. Boost Customer Service and Support

Access to a single customer view can dramatically improve customer service levels, mainly by improving efficiency levels of customer service representatives. A shared, single customer view empowers customer service representatives to provide consistency and continuity in every customer interaction.

According to CEB, customer satisfaction really suffers after high-effort or time-intensive interactions. Customers cited these as the most frustrating issues, “62% had to re-contact the organization, 56% had to re-explain their issue, 59% were transferred, and 59% had to put forth moderate to high additional effort to resolve their issue.”

Naturally, customers want to interact with a company and want the company to be knowledgeable about their issue. But this is getting harder because they are now contacting companies through website, mobile, phone, chat, twitter and communities to initiate service.

Customer experience teams are feeling overwhelmed.

When every interaction, online or offline, is contextual and shows a customer that a company knows who they are and what they need, they are far less frustrated by the time they reach a human interaction. This, in turn, provides much-needed relief to customer service representatives and their job satisfaction and service levels rise. Burnout and attrition, naturally, start to come down.

A single customer view can also be used to gather post-purchase data about product issues, bugs, what customers are looking for in FAQs, support manuals etc. This information can be proactively analyzed to solve issues, provide documentation and training to ultimately deliver better customer support.

2. Provide Data for Additional Insights

Unified customer data has many additional advantages for a company. This data can be used to:

  • Conduct Customer Journey Analytics
    Use integrated customer data as a first step to track and analyze end-to-end journeys through customer journey analytics. This technology reveals the actuals paths your customers take as they interact with your company and helps engage with them in real-time.
  • Create Dynamic Behavior-based Segments
    When you unify customer data, you can more easily classify your customers into behavior-based segments. This enables you to assess the impact of each segment on key metrics and KPIs and determine the optimal engagement strategy for each customer.
  • Create Dashboards and Reports
    Integrated customer data can be used for creating dashboards and reports that help you deliver a superior customer experience in real-time, as well as monitor KPIs over time.
  • Identify Key Customer Segments
    Unified customer data can be fed into models that analyze sentiment and interest or use predictive analytics to identify the next best offer.

In Conclusion

Implementing a single customer view is an essential step in meaningfully improving customer experience. By taking a journey-based view, integrating data and matching customer identities through customer journey analytics, and making this single customer view available in real-time, you can more easily bridge the disconnect between customer expectations and customer experience. The result will be better retention, increased loyalty, greater customer satisfaction, improved process efficiencies and enhanced customer service and support levels.

Remember that achieving a single customer view should not be the end goal for customer experience. A unified view alone will not magically transform customer experience and produce the desired results.

A single customer view should be the starting point on your path to track end-to-end customer journeys, so you can get actionable insights to engage with customers with the right message at the right time through their preferred channel. By integrating all of your customer data, a single customer view provides you with the right launchpad to become truly customer-centric and reap its rewards.