A different way to achieve a single view of the customer


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There was an article in May of this year on MyCustomer.com that talked about the single view of the customer and how it is 20-year old idea but one that had still not really arrived yet.

The article went on to quote some data from Experian , a UK data company, who had found that whilst 72% of businesses they had spoken to understood the importance and advantages of a single view of the customer, only 16% of businesses said that they had one in place. They also found that the main barrier to achieving a single view of the customer was “a lack of resource to implement a solution”.

But, is it just that? Is it just about a lack of resources? For 20 years?

Customer experience strategist, Donna Peeples, in an interview on Business 2 Community offers an alternative view and believes that one of the issues stopping many firms and executives from achieving a single view of the customer is that “There is nothing sexy about these administrative systems”.

But there is more, Econsultancy in their own research finds others obstacles to achieving a single customer view that include:

  • The difficulty in estimating the cost or budget required to implement single view of the customer initiative;
  • The difficulty of predicating how long it would take to implement it; and
  • Achieving management buy-in (This is presumably connected to the first two).

However, the challenges don’t stop there. In an interview that I had with James McGourlay of OpenText, he added the following challenges into the mix:

  • The state of technology i.e. legacy systems and their compatibility;
  • Different departments are not working together to address this problem; and
  • The work itself is such a large undertaking.

What a complicated picture and what a big problem. No wonder not many forms have solved this in the last 20 years.

James, however, goes on to suggest that there is a danger that the current situation may persist as some firms are now getting distracted by the possibilities of big data. The problem with that thinking is that it ignores or underplays the fundamental benefits of having a single view of the customer and how it can enhance a firm’s ability to deliver better customer service.

This view is supported by Econsultancy’s research which also found that firms that had achieved their own single view said that the top three benefits they had achieved were:

  1. A better ability to target and optimise for specific customers;
  2. Improved customer service; and
  3. A better ability to segment customers.

But, despite these benefits still only a small number of firms seem to have achieved the single view.

Given that this idea has been around for 20 years now, does there not have to be a better, or different, way of achieving a single view of the customer?

If we review some of the challenges again what jumps out is that none of them are external barriers and none of them come from the customer. Most of them, if not all of them, are all internally focused.

Is that the problem? Perhaps.

Some companies are taking a different path and James told me a story of one such firm that has turned the traditional approach (i.e. overcome the internal challenges) on it’s head . That firm is DNB Bank group in Norway and, in particular, their car financing arm who have 300,000 vehicles that they are financing on the road at any one time.

What happened was that they were interested in helping their customers better manage their vehicle fleets and the associated costs that go with them as a way of enhancing their customer experience. As a result, they developed a system to do exactly that. In doing so they ended up achieving their own single view of the customer.

What’s great about DNB Bank’s approach is that they have missed out all of the internal challenges completely and turned their focus onto their customer and onto delivering value and better service to them. In doing so, a single view of the customer has been delivered by focusing on their customer and designing and delivering a customer value and service initiative.

This post was originally published on my Forbes.com column.
Photo Credit: mahalie via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


  1. I agree the quest for the single view of the Customer is difficult. I appreciate your thoughts on this in your article. I have suggested a Customer Department to replace the Operations department and the COO to be renamed the Chief Customer Customer Value creation officer. His role is to focus all his resources on the Customer, including his operations department consisting of new products, product management, marketing, sales and service, manufacturing. There is no better way to get a single view of the customer than this

  2. For companies that succeed in creating a single, integrated view of the customer across the enterprise, it takes a village, executive support and guidance….and a proven, effective management model to use as a template. Companies that have created a fully integrated customer view, where stakeholder value is the goal of every decision, have applied models like the McKinsey Seven S Framework:

    – Systems (generation, sharing, and flow of data),
    – Style (culture),
    – Superordinate Goals/Shared Values,
    – Strategy,
    – Staff,
    – Skills (capabilities of the enterprise)
    – Structure (organization architecture)

    The topics addressed in your post are extremely important. Two of my books specifically address customer-centricity, i.e. having a focus and a single view of the customer across the organization: The Customer Loyalty Pyramid (1997) and One Customer, Divisible (2005)

  3. It appears that the starting point for this article is the assumption that a ‘single view’ of a customer is a) needed, b) desirable, and c) valuable. For some businesses, especially financial services, I can see the appeal. It would be helpful for a bank in providing customer service, for example, to have a complete view of a customer’s finances.

    For other businesses, would there be value in providing a department with information that had little connection to what it does? For example, does a maintenance engineering department in a building management company need to see a client’s marketing information? Does Accounts Receivable need to know that a specific piece of air conditioning equipment is installed in a building in the UAE? Not to mention IT security and consumer privacy concerns. These become nagging issues as information silos are broken down. As the saying goes, ‘be careful what you wish for . . . ‘

    There are many other examples. The point is that some companies can spend mightily on providing a ‘single view’, without getting much – if anything – in return.

    Like many things in technology today, there’s danger in chasing bright, shiny objects without first specifying, let alone understanding, the strategic outcomes they must facilitate.

  4. Andy, sometimes maintenance has to be involved. When there is a huge customer demand, maintenance has to postpone routine work, and ensure higher alert levels to keep the plant running. You can say that is the job of manufacturing, but if involved and focused on customer needs, they will do this because it is truly important (to the company and the customer).

    When I ran a business for a Fortune 50 company in the US, we made QC the job of manufacturing (the QC manager only laid down specs and procedures, otherwise QC and production were in one department). It was the job of Manufacturing to make good product and QC happened simultaneous with production.

    Any production that was HFI (held for inspection), could only be released by the sales person handling a particular customer. He had to understand the issue that caused HFI, he had to take responsibility for shipping or not of the goods, so that later he could not accuse production (or his boss) of making him ship poor quality stuff. He therefore had to have a better relationship with the customer, and put him in the “know” of what the problem was and ensure the customer was willing to accept the defect. We found most customers were willing to work with us on such issues, and we were able to ship many HFI lots. We would send a process engineer to ensure the product worked well on the customer’s lines.

    Examples of seconds being sold in retail with a seconds tag exist, and the customer makes a choice to buy or not.

    With customer first, every person in the organisation has to be sensitive to and focused on the customer’s needs.

    Then we come to routine work, that can be outsourced, such as plain vanilla accounting, keeping track of payroll. By all means ‘outsource’ these. The recipient of these services in the company will still have to be customer sensitive.

    By the way, our customers loved us, and we had hardly any complaints.

    My boss (the Chairman of the company) loved to hear customers tell him that they loved us.

  5. Great post Adrian and I wholeheartedly agree. If we had a $ or £ for every time an organisation spoke about this subject, we would be very rich people indeed!! Just to add to the debate on it, I personally believe that the problem is very much connected to example of DNB Bank Group – they did what most are still not prepared to do – designed their technology to serve the customer journey. It is amazing how many businesses are still trying to fit technology into their organisation without even being conscious of the customer journey – often led by IT teams who are so removed from both the customer and the employee, that they implement systems that suit a technology strategy and not the business or customer strategy.

    Going forward, the most customer centric organisations will be those who are able to ‘redesign’ both the customer journey and the technology that enables it to meet the needs of BOTH customers and employees. Whatever they feel the short term cost challenges may be, the long terms benefits will be immense.

  6. Hi Everyone,
    Thank you for all of your comments. I have been away for a few days so must apologise for the delay in replying.

    Gautam, on your first comment…do you have evidence to support your statement that ‘There is no better way to get a single view of the customer than this’? Also, given the range of responsibilities of the Chief Customer Value creation officer that you suggest, that sounds alot like the role of the CEO, isn’t it?

    Michael, thank you for your comment and nice job on the book plugs 😉

    Andrew, thank you for your comment. It seems to me that you are assuming that when I say a ‘single view of the customer’ I mean that everyone has complete transparency and access to all systems and data across the whole organisation. That would not be appropriate for many of the reasons that you outlined in your comment.

    Ian, thanks for your comment and great point about tying the single view of the customer to the customer journey.



  7. I didn’t see an explanation of ‘single view’ in this article, but I found several online. The term appears to be used interchangeably with ‘360 degree view,’ and I based my response on that.

    One explanation that I found on econsultancy.com: “A Single Customer View is an aggregated, consistent and holistic representation of the data known by an organisation about its customers.” Clear as mud.

    “Now that’s a little maze of jargon in of itself and being as it also contains the word ‘holistic’ it immediately places itself amongst the very worst buzzwords of the damned,” Christopher Ratcliff wrote.

    Whichever term is used, not everyone is bullish about the benefits, as Guy Tweedale wrote in a blog, “360 degree Thinking is So Last Century”:

    “Why isn’t a 360-degree view the panacea that the CRM companies have been promising for the last decade? Because it isn’t really a 360-degree view of the customer that’s needed by your customer service agents . . . Information overload can cause as many problems as having too little! Even though all the information about the customer may be contained within one application, the way agents must navigate around the various screens is misaligned with the way a customer call naturally flows.

    And the more information that’s held, the more screens the agent is likely to need to look at per call. This can disrupt the call flow and slow the whole process down.

    360-degree thinking is so last century… it’s all about intelligent, intuitive views these days.”

    His remarks speak to an IT challenge that I’ve experienced from the beginning. How to present the right information to the right people in the right way, and at the right time. A ‘single customer view’ shouldn’t be a company’s goal or focus. If it’s to be used, it should be done in the context of providing something else – better customer experiences, reduced churn, shorter time for resolving problems, revenue growth, improved profitability.

  8. Andrew, to answer your question:
    You asked proof for the Customer Department where the COO is the Chief Value Creating Officer. We have done this in one smaller company, where the focus of the Operations Department (most everything minus finance) was on Customers, and the departments worked for the Customer, Because the COO was renamed CVCO (Chief Value Creation Officer) he viewed his role as creating Value for the Customer, not just on efficiency and being a good administrator. Everything was focused on the needs of the Customer, and all decisions had a question: Will it help the Customer and how?
    If costs were reduced, how would it help the Customer? Should we share savings?
    If a new product, how will it helo the Customer? Can we co-create with the Customer etc. etc.

  9. Hi Andrew,
    I agree that presenting the right information to the right people in the right way, and at the right time should be done with the objective of providing a better customer experience, reduced churn, shorter time for resolving problems etc etc.

    The reason that many 360degree or single view approaches have failed is that, like you point out, they have forgotten about the employee experience and how that is central to improving customer experience, reducing churn, cutting time for resolving problems etc etc.

    Hi Gautam, thank you for sharing that example. That’s useful.

    All the best, Adrian


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