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Can marketers really have a single customer view?

Single customer view (SCV) is an elusive creature, often talked about amongst marketing experts but rarely seen in action. Most of the discussion centres around all the great things this ideal database will enable marketers to do and what’s holding them back.

But with seemingly few marketers achieving SCV success, a more important question is: does it even exist? Is a single customer view really possible for the majority of marketers?

The short answer is yes, sort of. SCV is possible, but we may need to redefine what it looks like in the real world. The long answer? Here goes…

What’s the purpose of a single customer view?

Before we start looking at what it takes to achieve a single customer view, we need to have a clear understanding of why a company would want one.

I recently heard a speaker at a conference say: “Customers aren’t channel-driven, they’re goal-driven”, and it’s an excellent reminder. In a way, it should be common sense – as a consumer, how often do you think to yourself “Hmm, I really fancy some mobile shopping today”?

Probably not much. As consumers we’re driven by the goal of buying a particular product (or researching it, or returning it) – the device or channel we use is simply whichever happens to be the most convenient at the time.

Yet as marketers, we frequently approach customer interactions from a channel-specific perspective. This typically leads to a fragmented customer experience, because each channel has been addressed on its own, using its own technology, processes and data.

So what does this have to do with a single customer view?

The purpose of a single customer view is to join up these channels – recognising a customer no matter what channel they choose and providing a consistent experience. With every interaction driven by the same profile of data, each customer has a more personalised and relevant experience.

Defining a “single customer view”

The ideal picture of SCV that marketers often strive towards encompasses every last piece of data available – everything the company can possibly know about each customer. But in reality, this simply isn’t feasible – and it’s not necessarily helpful either.


With the purpose of a single customer view in mind, it’s important not to get caught up in collecting and compiling data for data’s sake. Yet with the overwhelming amount of customer data now available, it’s an easy trap to fall into.

But a functional single customer view depends on relevant data – information about your customers that has a distinct purpose or usefulness. For example, knowing a customer’s job title, age bracket or weekend hobbies may or may not be important depending on the product or service a company sells.

Otherwise, the single customer view – and the marketing insights generated off the back of it – can become far too granular and lose their usefulness.

So, here’s our definition of a realistic, functional single customer view:

A database of customer profiles which holds all the relevant data a company knows about each customer, in a consistent, homogenised format.

This data should be actionable and exportable to other software for the purpose of joining up and personalising each individual’s experience.


What gets in the way of a single customer view?

Most marketers agree that a single customer view is key to personalised, relevant marketing. Yet only a small proportion have managed to achieve it – 20% according to the latest Econsultancy report.

Not that it’s their fault. The truth is, the way most organisations – and specifically marketing departments – are set up presents several challenges to the SCV.

So what obstacles are getting in the way?

According to one survey, marketers rated moving data between systems their most “painful” challenge, and 40% said they struggle with disparate data.

Customer information tends to be spread across different systems, often based (again) around the channel. Data from a company’s ecommerce system might sit separately from that in their CRM platform; in-store data from the ePOS may not connect with the information that drives their mobile app.

This is driven in part by the disconnected nature of marketing teams. One report found that 33% of teams are split up by channel and another 32% are broken up in other ways – meaning 65% of marketers don’t work in a completely integrated team. This leads to an array of different software platforms addressing different channels or needs – and often chosen in isolation, so they don’t always integrate easily.

On top of this, marketing teams don’t always “own” all the data they need to drive personalised, relevant interactions. Some of it may sit with entirely different departments – such as IT, ecommerce, or loyalty – depending on how the business is structured.

Between disjointed teams, separate software platforms and disconnected data sources, pulling together a single customer view can be a struggle.

It also means that if a marketing team is able to pull together a single customer view, they’re not always able to apply it effectively across these different systems and technologies. Their customer data might all be in one place, but the right data must be able to get back out to each system to create personalised, joined up experiences.

Different teams, different systems and different sets of data – it’s a significant challenge.

What can businesses do to overcome these obstacles?

To start with, it requires buy-in and collaboration across the company. A clear understanding of why SCV is being implemented and how it will be used to improve the customer experience is key, as well as a cost-effective plan for making it happen.

Once everyone’s on board, creating a single customer view really comes down to having the right technology. Rather than a standard customer database, look for a marketing hub, which is specifically intended to connect the various technologies and data sources within a company.

These platforms integrate with existing systems and software – usually through APIs or packaged integrations – to create a database of customer profiles that become the “single version of truth” about each customer.

Once all of the data is in one place, the hub also transfers relevant information back out to be used for personalisation – allowing social sentiment or purchase history, for example, to drive tailored marketing emails.


Still, getting various data sources to feed into a central repository isn’t the end of the story. The different data points will need to be matched up, so finding a “unique identifier” for each contact is key.

A unique identifier is some piece of data – often a customer ID number or an email address – that allows the hub software to determine whether the John Smith in a company’s CRM is the same John Smith that’s subscribed to their email list. This prevents duplicate customer records or two customers with the same name being combined into one record.

This is a key challenge and the main reason I added a “sort of” to my assertion that SCV is possible. The issue is, for most businesses, there will always be customers and interactions that can’t be linked back to a profile.

This could be a privacy-conscious customer who doesn’t want to share any personal information, or a repeat customer who pays in cash one day and forgets to use their loyalty card.

For some businesses, such as online retailers whose customers have to provide their email address in order to make a purchase, this will be less of an issue. But for many companies, it’s a key obstacle to a complete single customer view, and one that technology (as yet) can’t fully solve.

Still a functional and fairly complete SCV for most customers is certainly possible, and is essential for creating the personalised, consistent experiences consumers are coming to expect.

Making the SCV a reality

Pulling together a single customer view requires agreement and joint effort between different teams and departments, as well as the technology to integrate the various systems and data sources.

Here are the top four things marketers need to implement an SCV:

  1. Agreement across the marketing department (and business)
  2. The right technology – with the ability to integrate multiple systems easily and in real-time
  3. A defined unique identifier to match up data across channels
  4. A plan for how (and where) the SCV will be used – to ensure the necessary insight can be exported and applied to various touchpoints

So there you have it. It’s certainly not an overnight project, but with the right technology behind it, a working single customer view is possible.

And these days, it’s transitioning from a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have”. Customers expect to receive a consistent experience no matter what touchpoint they use, and brands must be proactive in finding ways to deliver.

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