How many versions of the truth exist? And, no, this is not a philosophical query. In my conversations with companies keen to improve customer engagement, this is one of the first questions I ask. In most companies, the answer is – too many. Brands that capture customer data – and, what company doesn’t – often retain multiple records or views of the same customer that are inaccurate and incomplete.
Today, more than ever, creating a single view of the customer – one version of the truth – is essential. If no single view exists, a brand cannot know, understand, or anticipate what customers want in any sales channel. The fall out is imprecise marketing spending, diminished engagement, and lost opportunities.
What’s more, data may reside in different places that don’t communicate – customer relationship management and marketing systems, even the commerce platform. So, no consolidated data base or master view of the customer exists. This is the root cause of highly fragmented, utterly forgettable customer experiences.
Think about it. You receive an email about a winter coat sale in February and you live in Australia – where it’s 90 degrees. Conversely, venerable U.K., retail brand John Lewis excels at recognizing customers – whether they are in-store or buying online. Through integrated technology, the department store does an outstanding job of recognizing and marketing to buyers, including VIPs who receive special offers based on this status.
Fuel in the eCommerce Engine
The fact is, data is the fuel in the eCommerce engine that drives customer engagement. Not just any data, though. The source of a single view of the customer is good, clean data that’s well managed across the commerce environment and kept relevant. That’s what elevates a brand, creates engaged, loyal buyers, and enables sellers to control, monitor and manage customer journeys.
Customers who feel looked after and understood keep coming back. Another U.K. example is Wagamama, an Asian restaurant chain. They know who you are and what you like based on your ordering habits. So, you go to their site and they serve you the right content, simplifying decision making and ordering. Presto. Loyalty increases. You become a brand evangelist and convert other customers.
So how is this utopia achieved? A tightly integrated commerce infrastructure — back-end, middle and front-end — creates the opportunity to build a single view of the customer. One source of the truth across three systems. Does this mean that a single record will be maintained for each customer? No, a master data base collects, retains and serves up relevant customer data, making it accessible across the technology ecosystem – online, in stores, call centers, and in distribution centers. Today’s commerce systems are more connected and intelligent, so data can be aggregated and reconciled for useful insights. Cloud-based environments also simplify data access, making it easier to capture and share customer insights.
The challenge for many brands today – both B2C and B2B — is modernizing legacy systems that don’t talk or share data, and infusing systems with intelligence. I have consulted with companies that are 10 years behind the curve when it comes to their backend systems. If they could afford it, they would rip out their tangled, disconnected infrastructures and begin again. They look enviously at pure players, who started a few years back, and that can create seamless and contextual shopping experiences effortlessly across all channels.
If the choice is available, one of the smartest places to store customer data may be on the commerce platform. In doing this, you are moving some of the logic forward in your commerce stack, towards the front-end, providing a more agile and cost effective place to add functionality… Data can be pulled from the customer relationship management system or resides on the commerce platform but one source must be the master. Flexibility and speed are important factors in delivering a contextual based customer experience.
Short of replatforming or investing in customizations, what can you do to start on the right path?
- Collect the right data – find out from your marketing teams what they need to develop more personalized campaigns. Keep in mind, the right data drives results.
- Clean your data – if, for instance, you have multiple email addresses for a single customer, think about a re-engagement campaign that will help you identify more accurate information.
- Don’t be afraid to purge questionable data – and, if you end up replatforming, you won’t want to move unreliable data into the new system.
- Consider new technology – you may not need to replatform, but it might be smart to add intelligence into the equation. Cognitive technology, for instance, can identify patterns that you may not see and even make predictions.
Get your data right and you are empowering marketers to work their magic – to innovate and engage customers, create customized and personalized campaigns, using fewer resources and time. One unambiguous version of the truth works – make sure your eCommerce environment is set up to capture it.