The single customer view

I just found this sitting in my drafts folder. The company name has changed (we are now Kana Software) but the premise is the same. Interestingly, the parallels between our thoughts on customer service and the thoughts in tech comms of better integration within a support system (providing information as part of call deflection) are striking. I’m going to try and pull these together in a future post.

I was asked to write an article for Credit Control Journal on behalf of the company I work for, and for the sake of historical archiving (and so I know I have it somewhere), here is that article.

Reap the Rewards of a Single Customer View
Author: Gordon McLean, Graham Technology

Like many people, I have a couple of products from the same financial company, specifically a credit card and house insurance. I recently moved house, so I phoned the customer-service department to update it with my new details. Unsure of which department deals with basic account details, I selected the first option in the menu and was put through to the home insurance department. After confirming my details, I spoke to a very helpful contact-centre agent who confirmed that my new address details had been added to the system.

A couple of weeks later, I realized I still hadn’t received my credit card bill, so I phoned the customer-service department once more and was informed, by an equally helpful contact-centre agent, that my old address was still on record.

Confident that I had already taken care of the address change, I enquired how this was possible, and the ever-helpful contact-centre agent informed me that the account details for my credit card are held on a different system than those for my house insurance.

Multiple systems can cause headaches
Such flaws, with customer information spread across multiple legacy systems, are all too common, leaving customer-service agents unable to deal with anything outside of the system to which they currently have access and inevitably creating highly frustrated customers. Also, with customer information held in disparate systems, companies have no visibility of the patterns their customers follow, and every time they start a conversation with a customer, they are obliged to start from scratch.

For customers forced to interact with a company that uses multiple systems in this way, the frustration level after enduring this kind of customer experience is high. Equally important, employing this kind of approach to manage the contact a company has with its customers can be costly, risking not only its customer-service reputation and further sales opportunities, but also perhaps the customer’s business altogether.

Such a scenario is just one of many that customers may experience. Regardless of whether a company is in the early stages of a marketing campaign, the final stages of a sales campaign, or dealing with an everyday account enquiry, the way it interacts with its customers sets the tone of the relationship.

Introducing the single customer view
With the customer experience fast becoming the key differentiator in the battle to attract and retain customers, it is important to consider how business rules impact customers and how customer information can best be gathered and levered into further business opportunities. The more open the market, the easier it is for loyalty to be swayed, and as customers hop from one deal to the next, it is important to make sure the experience they are offered is the best possible. This is where the single customer view comes into play as it allows companies to tailor their customer experience on a uniquely individual basis, whilst adhering to, and promoting, the business rules that differentiate it from its competitors.

So, what is the single customer view?

Simply put, it means giving all of a company’s customer-facing departments access to complete and up-to-date customer data, including records of recent interactions, decisions made, and other personal factors. This allows customer-facing staff to handle multiple, varied requests in a friendly and efficient manner, improving the customer experience, as well as the productivity of the staff.

With a single customer view in place, companies will gain:
• An improved reputation for customer service,
• Increased customer satisfaction,
• Increased customer retention,
• An increase in opportunities to cross-sell and up-sell., and
• An increase in staff productivity.

How does CRM play a role?
Today, no company can afford not to worry about customer relationship management (CRM), which is fast becoming the yardstick against which every company is measured by its customers.

In the context of CRM, the single customer view allows interactions to be tracked across the lifetime of a customer, helping companies deal with the changing relationship and changing risks associated with each individual customer. By maintaining a history of all the interactions and previous contacts with customers, their frustration levels can be lowered by ensuring they are dealt with in accordance to their history with the company rather than basing decisions on each individual interaction.

The single customer view also benefits the sales and marketing of products. With established customer patterns available for analysis, companies are able to accurately target prospects with new products or initiatives that best suit their current situations, cross-selling or up-selling to maximize the value of the customer on an individual basis.

Effective collection of customer data
Obviously, tracking customer information is important and, whilst many companies are already very efficient at gathering all sorts of data, those data usually end up being fed into a multitude of different systems, managed by different teams, each of which has its own aims and processes in place. To achieve a single customer view, these systems need to be integrated and processes put in place to help a company act intelligently on the gathered information, empowering staff to make better decisions, increasing customer confidence and offering better business opportunities through smarter usage of the collated data.

Understanding the decisions made by customers and building the relationship with them allows a company to take myriad advantage of the data it is gathering. With the focus on a single customer view, the gathered information can be processed and driven by business rules that the company controls to create unique experiences for each customer, reinforcing the relationship with them, encouraging repeat business, and enhancing the company’s customer-friendly reputation.

Benefiting from a single view
Once a company has integrated its systems and redefined the business processes that drive customer interactions, it will be able to present a detailed customer record to its customer-service representatives. With the history of interactions and outcomes recorded and easily accessed, companies can start to take advantage of the information, creating new value for both customers and the business. As staff learn how to make best use of a single customer view to make better decisions, customers will be assured of a unique, consistent experience every time they make contact with the company.

It is important to note that staff must be capable of handling many varied requests; if a company has a full view of the customer to give full customer service, it then needs contact-centre agents who can do everything the customer requires. Of course, not every company is prepared to train its staff to this kind of level, and the single customer view can also help in these situations by providing the ability to ensure that high-value customers are connected to dedicated teams, for example.

Properly implemented, there is no limitation to the number of contact channels the customer can use to interact with the company, since the business rules that drive the single customer view are applicable whether the customers are phoning a contact centre or accessing their accounts online. With a central point of customer information being maintained, the company will always know what the customer has done, and how and when they did it, giving it further information that can be used to improve its relationship with them.

Gain more insight into your customer
The single customer view is not just about fixed data, payments and addresses, purchases and one-off contacts. It gives an insight to the trends and patterns for each customer. Financial matters can be traumatic, and so it will be useful to know the history of each particular customer. Do they pay bills on time? Have they switched accounts recently? Has anything else in their background changed? All these snippets of information can be captured and processed to the benefit of the business.

With a single customer view available to contact-centre agents, the customer is given much more confidence that the company is organized and trustworthy. For example, a call to update an address is handled swiftly and, as the customer just moved house, the system can prompt the contact-centre agent to suggest that he may want to review his contents insurance as there currently is a special offer available to him. Or, perhaps, a particular customer phones the contact centre twice every month to get a balance update. With that information to hand, she can be offered a new SMS service, allowing her to receive a weekly balance direct to her phone via SMS.

With the correct business processes in place and access to a single customer view, companies will have the ability to offer uniquely tailored services to their customers, combining products that best match their circumstances at any given time, and increasing the chances to cross- and up-sell, maximizing the value of each customer to the business.

Linking disparate systems, handling a variety of data, training staff and manipulating interactions in accordance with business rules are all part of building a successful single customer view. With all of that in place, customers can be assured that, when they call, they will deal with one person who will be knowledgeable about their needs, understands their history with the company, and so they’ll receive the high-quality service they desire.

With a single customer view in place, customers will need to deal with only one contact-centre agent regardless of their request. The contact-centre agent will be following defined business processes that match both the needs of the customer and the organization, promoting cross- and up-selling opportunities where appropriate. All of which provides a superior customer service to the most important asset of all, the customers.