Featured Image for the blog: Experts Weigh In: Obstacles To A Single Customer View [Plus Bonus PDF]

A single customer view is essential, yet difficult to execute.

Customer service expert Jeff Toister recently wrote about the importance of meeting customer expectations, and captured the essence of what it means to really “know” a customer:

“When you reach out for help, the associate and/or the self-service channel already knows who you are (name, status, loyalty, VIP, etc.) and demonstrates strong knowledge of your recent interactions.”

Toister was quoting a study, but his message was that organizations today need to be able to gain a complete view of each customer – otherwise known as a single customer view (SCV).

However, leveraging customer data to provide personalized service is hindered by deep-seated operational and organizational barriers.

In fact, only 2% of companies are doing cross-channel tracking of data, according to Esteban Kolsky at thinkJar.

Adrian Swinscoe, customer engagement author, and speaker, says the main internal obstacles to achieving SCV include budget, time, perceived labor involved in implementing a new solution, using incomplete data, mending incompatible technologies, lack of vision, lack of a strong business case, and the inability to track ROI.

These barriers are real and worth recognizing. But how can they be overcome?

The crazy part is that it’s actually relatively simple to do this with the right technology.

It should be noted that this post focuses only on internal, operational challenges, though there are numerous and significant other barriers you need to know that stand in the way of many organizations’ ability to gain a single, 360-degree view of customers.

Let’s take a look at the organizational challenges companies face in implementing SCV.

Siloed teams and disconnected customer service channels

Chris Ward of MyCustomer.com said it best – “silo mentality is the biggest organizational hurdle to improving customer experience.

Many customer experience professionals agree. 41% consider operational silos as a significant barrier to providing a seamless customer experience.

Silos stem from the fact that when adding new customer service channels, many often take the seemingly easiest route available by setting up each of these channels in discrete applications (using different vendors). As a result, data which should live in the same house instead sits in isolated quarters. Forrester summarizes:

“The easiest and quickest option [for companies] has been to treat each channel separately, having agent silos and treating each interaction as being independent rather than part of a wider customer journey. If the customer changes channel or contacts the business later about the same issue, they tend to have to start again from the beginning.”

Though this kind of “pick-and-choose” philosophy might seem easiest, the disconnect becomes apparent to customers when they experience friction in their experience. Friction happens, for example, when customers repeat their issue when transferred to a new rep or are not routed to the right agent in the first place.

To execute a smooth experience, all customer service operations and communications must be integrated into a single, seamless system. Expert investor and entrepreneur John Rampton elaborates:

“…Companies are building solutions…that allow for seamless integration and encourage the unification of customer data from different places…” — John Rampton (@johnrampton), entrepreneur and investor

It’s not worth sacrificing the long-term value that a SCV offers for the perceived and short-term reward of quickly plugging in a few independent service channels.

“Our customers no longer use a single channel to interact with our organizations. They are utilizing our websites, mobile apps, social media accounts, and of course, traditional channels as well. A single customer view enables contact center agents, directors, and executives alike to have an uninterrupted view of the customer experience that provides complete context on who the customer is, where they’ve been, and where they are most likely to go next. This is critically important as the nature of the contact center is growing in complexity and without a single customer view, we are certain to miss information, inconvenience the customer, and cause further complication and degradation to the customer experience.”For our own organization, this means removing any silos as they relate to people, processes, and technologies; ensuring that information is shared across teams and touch points; and enabling the frontline with the tools, resources, and authority to effectively serve their customers.”       — Justin Robbins (@justinmrobbins), contact center expert and consultant

Think about this: Consider reorganizing the way your internal teams interact, share information, and use that information to connect with customers. Multiple engagement channels in-and-of-themselves aren’t bad—customers should have a plethora of avenues they can use to contact you. But this strategy needs to be executed using one system. Problems pop up when more vendors and isolated channels do. When separate channels are added to the mix, the less visibility and flexibility a company will ultimately have. Consider the value you’d see in storing all vital customer information from one spot instead of several.

Cross-functional buy-in

The challenge here essentially becomes starting the conversation around a SCV, then showing how and why it’s important to have.

“While technology and data play essential parts in the achievement of an SCV, vision, alignment and coordination between people and departments are just as important.” — Adrian Swinscoe (@adrianswinscoe), blogger, author, and consultant

Companies can’t reap the true rewards of a SCV without a culture that values positive change, and employees (and leadership) open to guidance and training on the value of a SCV.

“Be sure to provide training and guidance so that everyone can buy into the new customer view and understand how they can facilitate it.” — John Rampton (@johnrampton), entrepreneur and investor

One of the biggest hurdles is getting buy-in from leadership. It’s important to “gain allies at a senior level…to ensure different departments’ contributions are commensurate with their demands on data resources.

Experian outlines seven steps to proving the business case and outlining the need for a SCV within your company:

Think about this: Make sure your culture reflects your commitment to customer-centricity. The best way to set the stage is to identify the value that a SCV provides. An underlying customer-focused organizational philosophy and firm belief that “the customer comes first” is important for SCV to stay a valued and relevant piece of your CX strategy.

Moving from legacy tech to a scalable cloud-native contact center

Many companies resort to using subpar, legacy technology because that’s just how it’s always been.

“Unfortunately, existing technology may not always align with the ability to get a single view of the customer. That’s because existing legacy systems serve as barriers and make it more difficult to share data.” — John Rampton (@johnrampton), entrepreneur and investor

These organizations might face technological barriers to implementing a new solution, including:

  • Viewing investment in alternative cloud technology as a risky endeavor
  • Seeing implementing a cloud solution as an unnecessary project
  • Being intimidated by the prospect of a new solution, seeing it as a complex and unneeded long-term project
  • Viewing an upgrade as something that would be slightly beneficial, but not critical
    • The inability to see how technology should connect to the customer journey

Customer service expert Ian Golding believes that last point, specifically, hinders many operations’ pursuit of SCV:

“It is proving to be difficult, if not impossible, for businesses to achieve a single customer view because most organizations purchased, designed, and implemented technology without being consciously aware of the customer journey. Failure to develop technology without understanding your customer’s journey will make it very difficult to align it with a business process that enables the delivery of that journey. It is, therefore, no surprise that, so few are able to achieve a single customer view.”  — Ian Golding (@ijgolding), Certified Customer Experience Professional

Unfortunately, outdated tech just won’t scale or seamlessly stitch together every channel for the cohesive experiences customers need. What makes things even trickier is that given the pace of innovation in the contact center industry, “outdated” could refer to a system that’s only a few years old.

To meet customers when and where they are, your customer service team will need to access all available data on each individual customer. Over the course of time and across channels, that’s a lot of information…and collecting, storing, and organizing it isn’t easy.

So don’t.
Let your communication platform do that part for you.

The right technology will help you bring cross-channel customer information together, building a more complete picture of each customer’s entire journey. Once you have this rich data, the right system will also have tools to process, view, and draw insights from it.

Think about this:
Quit worrying about enabling this channel and that channel—that’s mere table stakes. Begin researching cloud-native solutions so you can think beyond channels, and begin using comprehensive data to improve customer service. That starts by unifying customer data so agents can see everything about a customer on screen.

The majority of Americans’ customer service expectations have increased significantly

Customer expectations continue to trend toward quicker service, more proactive service, and the ability to jump among different communication mediums—whenever, wherever.

SCV is the conduit that’ll help you meet those expectations. SCV brings all the different customer communication channels you have into clearer focus. It’s the centerpiece of the experience you provide to your customers.

Most service teams agree and realize this value. Four-fifths (79%) agree that a shared, single view of the customer empowers agents to provide consistency and continuity in every customer interaction.

As Brad Cleveland, contact center expert, puts it quite simply, “a single customer view enables a better customer experience.”

The central piece to all of this? Putting data at the center of your customer’s experience.

According to Walker Research, to be relevant in the next few years, “companies must focus on leveraging big data to create a single source of truth and making customer intelligence accessible throughout the enterprise.”

The value of having a single customer view is the ability to gain a complete view of who your customers are and provide better (proactive and reactive) service to them based on that knowledge. Such a strategy will reap handsome dividends not just now but in the future.