Wynand Smit says with the right strategy in place, it is possible to work towards a single view of your customer that can dramatically alter your operating landscape. Photo: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG – Ask the majority of customer service, customer experience (CX) professionals and marketing directors if they can identify a customer at the first point of contact, and they will respond that they cannot. 

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 your 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 its 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 will be able to sell to you within a context that is 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.

The flipside of the coin is that your customers will not be getting that personalised feeling when interacting with you in a big business environment, they will feel like a faceless number speaking to another faceless number in an organisation, unless you are working on achieving that single view of the customer.

On average, 40 percent of businesses still store more than 80 percent 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 your 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 in order to remain compliant.

Multi-channel integration

Data created by customers comes from interactions across any number of channels your company may have – email, voice calls to the contact centre, social media, chats, website activity and more. Your 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 are not “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 your customer – their preferences and the ways in which those evolve – you cannot effectively use the data to speak more directly to them as individuals. 

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

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 your business requirements and your customers’ preferences. 

Once the basics are in place, you can then work with insights gained from data analytics, developing the right metrics for the right results, so that you have a fleshed-out version of your 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 is imperative that companies work towards that goal of seamless efficiency, since that is 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 is chief executive of INOVO, a leading contact centre business services provider.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.