Reality or timidity? Is a single view of the customer possible?
In a recent article on where CRM is headed in the next five years published on MyCustomer.com, Gartner analyst Ed Thompson shared his views on the challenges of building a single view of the customer. He said:
“What we’re not really predicting, which we used to do, is say one day people will put together a single view of the customer and have an all-in-one CRM and it all works seamlessly together. That’s not really happening. There are a few people that can get there but very few; it’s just too politically difficult to do.”
Since reading the article, some questions have been rattling around my head. Is it a pragmatic reality of corporate life to simply label things ”too difficult” and choose to dismiss them? And, has this practice too easily stifled the vision and belief in the benefits of building truly customer-focused organizations?
I do not underestimate the significance of the challenge, but to say it is too difficult is defeatist and therefore doomed from the start. Plus, it’s slightly contradictory. If “…a few people can get there…,” then it certainly can be done.
Personally, I know it can be done; we have done it and we work with our customers to help them achieve it.
I also know we have the advantage of being a relatively small and young company but we made the strategic decision early on to have one core CRM-based system to support all our sales, service, accounting, and marketing activity. The only add-ons are a marketing automation package and our own application. Marketing automation software manages our out-bound communications, while Clicktools captures and populates much of our customer data, not just survey results. In fact, Clicktools gathers information and enhances our CRM-based single view of the customer at every stage of the journey, including capturing information from our Facebook page. It is the fuel that drives much of our relationship activity.
The result is a true, real-time, 360-degree of the customer available to everyone across the company who deals with customers. We do not constrain what people can see, other than some of the detailed financial data (including salaries and other personal data) and data constraints imposed by our customers.
The benefits of this single view of the customer are significant:
- Staff can shape each customer conversation based on an up-to-date and comprehensive view of all interactions.
- Activities are automatically created in CRM.
- Communications with customers can be tailored based on their complete history through differentiated campaigns.
- Integration of information improves the quality of insights a company can generate.
- Reporting across all activity is automated, significantly reducing the time and effort involved and leaving people free to focus on action.
- One platform simplifies platform management and reduces costs.
- Managing when people are on leave or sick is easier and has less impact on our customers.
I am not suggesting that a single view of the customer is easy; even for us, it has been a challenge. Sure, different departments wanted their own, preferred systems and to focus only on their needs. Sometimes it would have been easier to acquiesce to their wishes, but that would’ve missed the bigger picture and negated the collective benefits, particularly in improving customer experience.
Is the challenge bigger for large companies? Undoubtedly. They have more diverse systems, more vested interests, and bigger change challenges. It will cost more in time and money, and probably leave more scars on those driving the change. But in the end, the biggest obstacle to a single view of the customer is lack of vision. A determination to drive the change is required as well as an honest answer to the question: do your leaders really want it?