Why you don’t want a 360-degree on the customer


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Everyone (and their dog) tells you that you need a 360-degree view on your customer, right?

According to Techtarget, the “360-degree customer view is the idea, sometimes considered unattainable, that companies can get a complete view of customers by aggregating data from the various touch points that a customer may use to contact a company to purchase products and receive service and support.”

And you are fully sold to this famed concept and term.

In this case, I am sorry for spoiling your day. You in all likelihood do not have it, you do not need it, and here’s the kicker: You do not want it. The 360-degree view on the customer is just another case of too many people using too many too big words.

You are asking why? Let me explain.

I fully get it. The customer is your North Star, the guiding light, the one reason for your company to exist. Your company is customer centric, you are looking outside-in. Your company’s purpose includes to help your customers fulfilling their needs and desires, thereby making a profit. And you are successful doing this.

No doubt, you are on the right way.

And indeed. What is needed to follow this way in reality involves collecting data about your customers. A lot of data. Master data, transactional data, behavioral data, consent data, structured and unstructured; you name it. Over time, this becomes a veritable treasure trove, if collected and used correctly.

Even if not.

When doing it right, you have already broken down many, ideally all, of the data and organizational silos that prevent you from communicating with your customers effectively and offering them the information and solutions that they want, the way they want it.

Don’t get me wrong: This is commendable, the right thing to do if done with the customers’ interest at heart (apart from being within the limits of what is legal and not creepy, while also keeping own commercial interests in mind), and a precondition for what you really want.

But then, what you have implemented until here is something akin to what big data was. A data lake. Yet another concept of earlier days. This is not helpful. What this result resembles is the big box of unsorted Lego blocks that my kids have in their playroom – yours likely, too.

It is an unsorted collection of data, maybe even all data about the customer that there is. Some of it is valuable, some of it is not. Some of it loses value over time. Some of it is valuable only in some situations.

And here we are touching the crux of the matter. This data is valuable only if it is applied to a situation and with a purpose.

Of which there are mainly the following four:

  • The customer’s current situation or position in her particular journey
  • The customer’s objective: the job she wants to achieve at this very moment, along with her state of mind
  • Your current situation and ability to support the customer’s journey
  • Your objective: providing the best possible solution for the customer first in this step of her journey, then for her destination

Combined, these four points make up the main part of the context of the interaction. And this context is crucial for meaningful interactions that potentially need to happen in real time or near real time. All the more if the interactions shall happen in an automated way and/or at scale.

Let me exemplify this with two analogies.

What you want to achieve is similar to navigation. Just, for the sake of the example, let’s simplify navigation a little as it is quite a science.

The customer is your North Star. The North Star provides you with all the data that you need. The customer’s and your current situations give the current or starting position, your respective objectives provide the destination. In between lies the customer journey. In order to get from the current position to the destination you need to keep the North Star visible, not obscured and at a constant angle. In other words: You need to have a certain view on it.

Another way to explain is an analogy used by Nicole France in a conversation that we recently had: What an ER doctor needs to know about a patient is different to what a GP needs to know. The purposes of the visits and what needs to be done are totally different. Still, to make good decisions, both doctors need to have a good base of customer data.

What you therefore really want and need, is not a 360-degree view, but a contextually relevant and actionable view on the customer. At any given relevant point in time, via any channel, whether the customer initiates an interaction or whether you initiate it. At any given point in the customer journey.

Jon Reed, co-founder of diginomica finds that a 360-degree view is aspirational, we “at best can try to anticipate what they are looking for in a focused moment” and that ”opt-in data, earned over time reduces the need obsess about fully understanding the customer every moment” He continues with the question “Which contexts can we help them with?

The goal is contributing to the fulfilment of the customer’s job to be done.

This requires having a comprehensive and accurate view on the customer as a precondition. It is therefore also important that the customer voluntarily and explicitly provides information to reduce the guesswork that algorithms need to do and to increase the accuracy of your actions and replies.

You see? You do not want a 360-degree-view on the customer, but something far better.

What do you think? Ask me!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas helps organisations of different industries and sizes to unlock their potential through digital transformation initiatives using a Think Big - Act Small approach. He is a long standing CRM practitioner, covering sales, marketing, service, collaboration, customer engagement and -experience. Coming from the technology side Thomas has the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions that add value. In his successful leadership positions and consulting engagements he has initiated, designed and implemented transformational change and delivered mission critical systems.


  1. Now, so many experiences/needs cut across traditional demographics. So big data’s value is one of ‘in the moment’ . When the customer is taking an action within the brand relationship. And don’t let’s pretend is a ‘continuous’ relationship, as increasingly today’s customers don’t care about brands until they need them, and all other brands they don’t ever care about. it’s about hyper-personalisation and relevancy with an individual consumer with the brands they are willing to transact and share information with. 360 views become somewhat irrelevant in this ‘new’ norm. Little to do with Covid – all to do with changing behaviours and purpose through Gen Z/Mill increasingly becoming the majority consumer.

  2. This is an excellent post. Your GP vs ER doctor analogy eloquently sums up the crux of the issue. We need to know what is required to effectively address the customer’s needs and desires in the context of the moment. It is like a lot of contact center metrics. We sometimes capture data because we can, not because it adds value to the effectiveness of the customer’s experience thus adding to the success of the organization.

    When you are not well and visit your physician, how does your doctor-patient journey begin? Most physicians start with “How are you feeling?” or “How did your symptoms begin?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put your pain right now?” This is all highly subjective data based solely on the report of the patient at the moment. Why not just do 360 degree tests and inform the patient how they are feeling? Why involve the patient in the diagnosis at all? We could just ask the CAT scan or blood test or X-ray and learn all the truth about the patient, right? Physician don’t because, just like the customer, experiences are co-created through a messy, non-quantitative relationship that is as emotional as it is objective. The customer is a crucial component of the need-fulfilling equation, not just their data. Getting enamored with the capacity to do data-gathering can be an attractive rabbit hole. However, customer research that does not need to be done, does not need to be done really well.

  3. I like the direction of this Thomas – and the sentiment that “data is valuable only if it is applied to a situation and with a purpose.” The concept of mining data for data’s sake has become ubiquitous. What we really need to know is, what is the role that our product/service play in our customers’ lives? How do we play that role to it’s fullest? What are the opportunities to expand that role?

    The problem with the obsession with quantitative data and big data is that it pretends that individual mindsets, needs and decisions either don’t exist or don’t matter. Why are we insisting on leaving people out of equations involving customer experience? Case in point:

    There is a printing company that we use for about 90% of our printing needs. Our relationship began quite transactionally, and we had only been giving them around 20% of our business. About 8 years ago, I got a call from the manager asking about a few specific recent pieces we had sent them, and what we were doing with them. When I told him, he asked for a meeting, and in the meeting, he began showing me some options for a whole different way of doing things. It went beyond printing. They were different (better) strategies that made all of our materials more engaging, more functional and (get this) at a lower cost.

    Here was an individual who had just small amounts of quantitative data on our usage patterns. But by applying a few simple qualitative questions, and a genuine interest in making a difference in our lives, he was able to generate about $80k more a year in incremental revenue for his company. (And saving us around $10k)

    Not bad for a company that didn’t have a “data lake” to swim in.

  4. Provocative argument. Like the terms “digital transformation” or “customer data platform” or other tech industry buzzword, a “360° view of the customer” loses its meaning unless applied to a specific context.

    I agree that the information needs to be contextually relevant and actionable and this ideal future state is the North Star.

    Each system that interacts with the customer along their journey requires consolidation of their offline interactions and online digital body language. These systems would act appropriately and respond accordingly to signals about the interaction.

    So like these other buzzword, a “360° view” of the customer needs to be appropriate to the organization’s go to market strategy and their customer engagement philosophy as well as the full customer engagement technology stack and maturity of supporting processes.

  5. Your perspective feels a bit like “a rose by any other name”. The objective of comprehensive, relevant, individual and micro-group customer behavior insight is higher business outcomes, growth, and superior value delivery. Less a North Star than a Wayz to help reach initiative goals, the more that concise, actionable knowledge which can be amassed, the better.

    Lao Tse – “To attain knowledge, add things everyday. To attain wisdom, remove things everyday.”
    Find what’s of value about customer behavior, collect it, store it, share it, apply it. Evaluate it, and toss what isn’t useful. Repeat.

  6. Thomas I totally that the “degree” of information that should be available should be based on the context of the conversation being had with the customer. At Thunderhead we go further that that. We translate the customers data to insights which includes using advanced AI mechanisms to anticipate customer intent and then select the relevant data and insights more relevant to that intent. Glad to do a call with you and Ralph on this topic.

  7. Michael, 360 was always irrelevant, not as a concept, but as a term. What is relevant is to have and offer the right information at the right time the right way. I do not fully get what you mean with purpose, but if it is making sure that you help your customer achieving her goal, then you are right. Own success becomes a consequence of customer success then. if you think of purpose like it is currently hyped, then it hasn’t anything to do with it, unless this is a genuine corporate desire (which it normally is not). Even then, it is only part of the message that is sent – and this “purpose” at best is a constraint that the customer gives herself in selecting a solution.

  8. Ray, yes, we should talk again and I think we are fairly close to each other. What you write is about providing customer with the right solution. Even with the best AI there is a lot of “guesswork” involved, though 😉 – Thunderhead is imo one of the very few companies that really gets the outside-in nature of this type of interaction!

  9. thanks Chip. Agree, it is always good to ask the customer. Then the results of the AIs that are empoloyed, improve, too.

  10. Seth, thanks for commenting. I meant the North Star to be the customer data. While it is correct that the (use of the) data needs to be ” appropriate to the organization’s go to market strategy and their customer engagement philosophy as well as the full customer engagement technology stack and maturity of supporting processes” it is far more important to look at it outside-in, meaning with the customer’s objective in mind, not with the own one.

  11. Michael, it is not about roses 😉 – Lao Tse is right in our context: in a sense that it is better to ask than to just gather, but this is not the main point. One main point is that businesses think of themselves and their own sales and not about what their customers need and how to address this need. They do not consider their success a consequence but the goal. And this thinking often prevents them from having said success.

    Apart from it quite physically being impossible to look at something from 360 degrees at the same time – and even if it were possible, the view would be what it is. So let’s cut through this BS bingo (next word to cut away, probably would by hyperpersonalization 😉 )


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