single customer view

Why the single customer view fell out of favour - and why it's time to reignite our interest


Recently, the concept of creating and managing a single customer view database has fallen out of fashion. However, a few things have happened recently that make having a single view of a customer as important today as it always was.

14th Jul 2021

Over the last few years, the concept of creating and managing a single customer view database has fallen out of fashion. For many companies, these projects became massive enterprise-level beasts with spiralling costs. As such, the underlying reason as to why you would want to know which customers transact in multiple ways was lost. 

However, a few things have happened recently that make having a single view of a customer, or prospect, as important today as it always was. And this will hopefully help those companies who see their single customer view as an old fashioned offline-only tool becoming central to their full multi-channel engagement. 

First of all, there are more ways for a consumer to engage with your band than ever before – signing up to email lists, following on social media, browsing and not buying as well as all the ways to actually purchase from a brand. In general this data does not get loaded into a single view of customer database (SCV), which means that there is a lot of very valuable data that is missing or not being used. However, all of this data is stored somewhere, and almost certainly doesn’t need to be copied and kept in a massive data lake. But knowing that it is the same person on the email list who recently bought is obviously very useful.

Secondly, with the new changes to cookie laws, it is going to be harder to use a consumer’s browsing history to deliver ads or offers. As such, what you know about them as an individual from the engagement they have with you becomes even more important. This is what is called first party data.  At the same time, the permission to engage with an individual across any channel is absolutely vital. The SCV can be a very useful repository for holding not only transactional data but also ad hoc engagement data and permissions.

And finally, but definitely not last, we have the recent changes in law with GDPR, which means that if a consumer wants to know what you hold about them then you have to oblige and deliver back all the information you hold. At present this can be cumbersome for many organisations as the SCV holds a lot of the main data but often doesn’t have any of the social or digital data. Therefore, a lot of work is needed to go and find the raw data in individual systems.

Building connections – real and virtual

One of the previous issues with building enterprise level database solutions for an SCV was the volume of data that had to be copied and held centrally. The prevailing wind today is that holding a copy of all data just doesn’t make sense.  And with the increase of data in the digital world – pages visited, posts, likes, comments and so in – it could be massively cost prohibitive. 

In general, what we want to know in the SCV is how people have engaged and where the detail is on that engagement. Having connectors in place makes that much easier. For example, if we have an email address on a mailing list, we can use that to prospect to them.  As and when they buy and we get a physical address we can then connect that email address to a physical household where we also have another customer email address. Ditto with other connectors like IP address or mobile number.

There are now many spine files combining these connectors that are commercially available to help create these connections.

Another key issue is how we determine an individual. Previously that would generally have been a name and address, then an email address and now an IP address or social handle. The truth is that all of this is true. We have to keep our perception of who a prospect or customer is relatively fluid. An IP address is a potential sale even before we connect it to an email address, who is in turn a customer even before we get a physical address to deliver a product. 

As such the overall volume of prospects, enquirers, customers and suchlike will increase with the understanding that once the connections are made, the data associated with each will be rationalised. The raw data itself about the connection can reside in the host systems and be used on an ad hoc basis as and when needed. 

Keeping data up-to-date – it’s the law

There are many different levels of understanding of what is required under GDPR in terms of keeping data up to date. This isn’t that surprising as most of the concentration to date has been on consent and ensuring that we have permission to contact the consumers we want to engage with.

However, we also have an obligation to keep the data we hold current and clean. And to archive or delete what is no longer needed. In some cases, this has not been considered, while in others it is seen as a lower priority.

However, in GDPR, the advice is very clear: Article 5 requires that personal data be kept clean and accurate (or be deleted!).  As such, choosing a trusted location to hold the key information on your customers, optimise the quality of your data and maximise compliance is now business critical. Tackling GDPR compliance from an SCV point of view isn’t a luxury but a necessity. Keeping the data current, tracking permissions and consent and ensuring that SARs can be responded to quickly and accurately are all part of the new world of data management. 

Use the data, don’t lose it

Another crime committed in the name of the SCV was building vast quantities of data into a database, and then doing not very much with it. This feels like the biggest crime of all. 

Why hold information about your customers and then treat them all the same? Or know that you have a name on your email list and who buys online yet send them competing offers? Sadly, this happens every day.

Building a single view of customer is not a technology solution, it is a mindset change. The companies who have succeeded in the use of data, for example Tesco and Sainsbury’s, have done so not just by investing in big database solutions (which they undoubtably have) but also by investing in campaign planners and data scientists to mine the data, make some judgements, test theories and operationalise the ones that work. 

Again, this is as important today as it ever was, with an increased need to be structured and organised. Just like the data in your SCV. 

Scott Logie is Customer Engagement Director at marketing data and insight company REaD Group and Chair of the Customer Engagement Committee of the DMA (Data & Marketing Association).



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