The 360 degree customer view is dead


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I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the phrase “360 degree customer view”. I remember hearing it for the first time in a Siebel sales pitch. The sales guy put up a slide with a customer on one side and a series of connectors – like spokes of an umbrella – connecting to all of the different silos of customer data – the call centre, the field sales force, the finance department and so on. The assertion that followed was the Siebel would connect all the silos of customer data allowing anyone who interacted with the customer to have a complete history of the customer. It was argued that greater customer insight, in turn, could be used to build stronger, more profitable customer relationships.

Thinking back to my early days as a CRM practitioner, I also remember the first CRM training course I attended, run by Francis Buttle. One module of the course described the inability of many organisations to understand their customers and think from their customer’s perspective. The training course gave a case study of a Swiss bank who had launched a new savings product designed for pensioners. Now two caveats… firstly, I have no idea if the case study was a true story and secondly, I’ll probably do it an injustice as I’m sure I don’t remember all the details. But if I remember correctly the jist of the story was that the Swiss bank had completed a market research exercise that suggested that pensioners in rural locations represented a large untapped market for savings products. They designed a new product, specifically designed for pensioners and they employed a marketing agency to come up with a tailored campaign to target pensioners. To ensure that bank staff would execute on the anticipated success of the campaign, the bank initiated a training program to teach their staff how to interact effectively with pensioners. They built booths in some of their branches and put on coffee and biscuits for their potential new clients. The new product launch was an unmitigated disaster. Despite the research that showed that Swiss pensioners had savings funds stashed under their mattresses and despite the large investments, the bank barely signed up any new customers. In desperation they undertook a research program to try and find out what went wrong. They travelled to villages in Switzerland and ran focus groups with pensioners. When they asked them why they were reluctant to take out the new savings products of the bank one theme emerged above all others – the pensioners were scared of getting mugged on the way to the city banks. With that insight the bank overhauled it’s branch model and used large mobile banking vans to visit the local villages to interact with their potential clients on their terms. Knowing that security was an issue they also introduced an insurance policy to offer unlimited protection on savings funds stored with the bank. Again, I have no idea whether that story is true, I suspect some of it was embellished to make a key point of thinking outside-in from the customer’s perspective, but the story stuck with me.

So back to the “360 degree customer view”, my unease with the term comes from that fact that although it may be possible to build a transactional view of all of a customer’s interactions, orders, complaints etc with your company, those transactions only represent a tiny fraction of a true “360 customer view”. A consolidated list of transactions with one company tells us nothing about how a customer is thinking or feeling at any given point in time (this changes constantly based on a whole range of factors that are entirely outside of our control). For example, a transaction that tells me that a customer had broadband installed, probably doesn’t tell me that the engineer was late, rude and left a mess in the customer’s living room. An inside-out list of transactions tells us nothing about a customer’s dealings with competitors, their pain points, their value drivers and more importantly how these change, chameleon-like, according to the situation the customer is in.

Now before you ask, social media is not the panacea. Social media is not the missing link in the 360 degree view. Yes, of course you can supplement CRM data with social data and yes, this can sometimes give you more of an indication as to who the customer really is and what they really think. But, one of the dangers I see with adding social data to CRM is that it can make marketers act like kids in a candy store and it can perpetuate inside-out thinking. With so much data to slice and dice, it becomes even easier to perform a segmentation and blast more and more inside-out offers at customers (people aged 21-25, living in NYC, who wrote a product review of an MP3 player in the last month, who clicked on an add must surely want a targeted email offer for a pair of headphones so let’s keep spamming them???).

A harder position to take, but in my view, one that can yield better results (in the form of long terms profitable, win-win relationships) is one that seeks first to understand the things customers value, the journeys they go through and the critical moments of truth within those journeys. Second, to acknowledge that you can’t control how a customer thinks, feels, buys, complains but you can give customers tools to help them create value for themselves and you can sense, respond and fix things when they go wrong. When I first heard the story of the Swiss bank all those years ago the simplicity of listening to customers, rather then making assumptions about them stuck with me. Today, we are awash with data, the challenge is in how we use it.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Laurence Buchanan
Laurence is CEO of EY Seren and leads EY’s global Customer & Growth practice. He works with clients to help them re-imagine growth through human-centered design, innovation and the transformation of Marketing, Sales & Customer Service functions. He is a recognized authority on digital transformation, customer experience and CRM, he has worked across a wide range of sectors, including telco, media, life sciences, retail and sports. He received an MA in Modern History from the University of Oxford.


  1. Laurence, I remember those sales pitches too!

    To be fair, the idea of a 360-degree view was proposed at a time when marketing, sales and customer service departments each had their own silos of technology and customer information. So CRM sales reps were fond of the story about the sales call when the rep was blindsided by the customer about a service problem.

    The solution: CRM! With one database of customer data, the problem is solved, right? Sorry, but no. To this day, despite the growth of multi-function CRM suites, customer data is still scattered around, and now we have social and other new forms to consider.

    To my mind, having a more complete view of the customer is a good idea. But as you’ve pointed out, in this era of Big Data it’s impossible to know everything. And more to the point, it’s not worth it.

    Taking a customer-centric view and understanding what customers really value first will lead to a more effective plan to capture and use customer information. The marriage of CEM and CRM is what great companies do.


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