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PHOTO: Kevin Grieve

These days, it seems customer data is always in the news.

Some recent activities include Salesforce announcing Customer 360 across all its clouds via a single customer ID and Microsoft, Adobe and SAP announcing the Open Data Initiative to share customer data across their systems.

Not to be left behind, Oracle announced Unity CX, an approach to managing customer data that is designed to provide a comprehensive view into customer interactions across channels and applications.

In addition to announcements like those, there has been a lot of negative news about customer data this year, including reports of security breaches affecting hundreds of millions of people, as well and as stories about an increase in privacy concerns stemming from mistrust of the way companies use consumer data.

And, of course, having access to reliable customer data is of paramount importance to companies these days — as it has been for ages. 

Related Article: Digital Experience Consistency Starts With Reliable Customer Data

Stopgap Measures Are Insufficient

For the most part, enterprises have largely taken stopgap measures to address the immediate data needs of individual departments, but they have been unable to find a solution to the data challenge that works at the enterprise level. Businesses have made many attempts to consolidate customer data using a plethora of technologies and various tactics, including “extending” customer relationship management (CRM) systems, data warehouses, master data management (MDM) platforms and, more recently, data lakes, but they have seen limited results from those efforts.

Why is getting a 360-degree view of the customer such an elusive challenge?

The reasons are many. For one thing, companies just can’t keep up with customers’ expectations of how digital enterprises should be using technology to meet their needs. Moreover, new regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are putting new constraints on the way companies collect and use customer data. Technologies are not agile enough to keep pace in this ever-changing business environment. New business models, new channels and new privacy regulations make new technologies obsolete before they see the light of the day.

The industry is full of scrapped projects that were designed to present 360-degree views of customers. To avoid such outcomes, companies considering taking on such projects should embrace some core principles about customer data management.

Here are five ideas to keep in mind as you create your customer data strategy.

Related Article: Clear These 6 Hurdles to Achieve a 360-Degree Customer View

1. Customer Data Is Enterprise Data

Solving customer data challenges or consolidating customer data for the use of just one department may not be a very prudent approach. When the marketing, sales, field services and support teams look for solutions to their customer data problems, they inadvertently create new silos. They do that because business users are tired of waiting, so they pick off-the-shelf tools to fulfill their immediate needs. For truly comprehensive views of their customers, enterprises must create a foundation of a single source of customer data with multiple viewpoints of the data, and that data source must be available for contextual use across the enterprise.

2. Customer Data Is Sensitive Data

New regulations such as the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) give customers more control over how their information is collected and used. Individuals can ask for access to the data companies are collecting about them. They can ask companies to make updates to the data or purge it altogether. In the event of a data breach, companies are obligated to inform the affected parties within a stipulated time frame. Organizations must adhere to these regulations or face severe fines. When forming customer data management strategies, enterprises must make sure that compliance and privacy requirements are taken into account. And again, companies must manage those compliance and governance efforts at the enterprise level, not on a department-by-department basis.

Related Article: Data Privacy Regulations: Marketing Symptom, Setback and Solution

3. A Holistic View Is More Than Customer Master Data

Building a customer master is one step toward a 360-degree view of the customer — and a true understanding of the customer. A truly holistic view of the customer must also correlate customer omnichannel interactions and transactions, uncover customer relationships with other data entities such as products, stores, consent and households, and provide relevant insights about the customer. It may also include intelligent recommendations about either the engagement or compliance risks. Forward-looking companies are also aligning their businesses with customer values and beliefs by, for example, developing eco-friendly products and procuring fair-trade commodities. They are also trying to be transparent by backing up their claims with data.

4. 360-degree Customer Views Need Context

Different business units need different types of information about the customer. Sales, marketing, field services and support will all need their own versions of 360-degree customer views with specific data and insights that are relevant to them. Even if you establish a single source of truth for customer data, different stakeholders will need their own versions of that information. Providing systems that support multiple versions of the truth is critical, because employees need information that is relevant to them so they can offer the right products and services to customers.

Related Article: The Danger of Believing in a 360-Degree Customer View

5. Customer Expectations and Data Sources Change

Customer expectations change, new data sources emerge, governments enact new regulations, and organizations go through mergers and acquisitions. Your data strategy and the technologies that support that strategy must be flexible and agile so they can accommodate changes and evolve. If they take months or years to adapt to changes, enterprises risk losing market share and customer loyalty. Make sure that your technology is not holding your strategy hostage, and take steps to ensure that you will be able pivot quickly when business needs dictate a change of course.

With all the recent announcements about systems that support 360-degree views of the customer, and in light of heightened concern about data privacy, enterprises have a new interest in organizing their customer data. This trend will gain steam in 2019. Keep these five core principles in mind as you work toward a holistic and agile customer data strategy.