filling a bucket with water
PHOTO: Zhu Liang

In a moment when most companies want to cut down on calls to customer support, one enterprise software company discovered the opposite — that there was a 10 times higher retention rate for customers who dialed in.

What may at first seem counterintuitive actually underscores a broader paradigm shift: from a CRM focused on using customer data for self-serving marketing, sales and service efficiencies, to a CRM (and CX) that uses customer data to drive value to customers first — with the understanding that customer success translates to company-wide success. In other words, rather than invest in data solutions to limit support center calls, organizations should use them to ensure those calls deepen relationships with customers. 

After all, if customers aren’t engaging with your product, they probably won't renew anyway.

This is where the future of managing customer data lies: in delivering experiences — be they at call centers, via targeted marketing campaigns, or otherwise — that create and strengthen genuine relationships with customers. To make it happen, though, companies must have a comprehensive, 360-degree understanding of their customers. This requires bringing together data from a variety of (often-siloed) sources and figuring out how to use it.

Here's how.

Related Article: The 360 Degree Customer View: Fact or Fiction?

What it Looks Like to Bring All Your Customer Data Together

Customer data exists in a variety of sources: transactional history from a CRM system; sentiment data from a Voice of Customer (VoC) platform; data collected from billing, product, marketing and customer service departments; unstructured data from social media and your company’s website; customer success (CS) platforms that track customer interactions/behavior with your organization/applications; and maybe even journey analytics and visualization engines that sit atop these platforms.

If this sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Yet companies are making strides to integrate all these data sources into a more singular (and manageable) view. We're seeing integration happen in the marketplace, with more expected in coming months and years: for instance, SAP (CRM software) has purchased Qualtrics (a Voice of Customer platform), while Salesforce has bought Mulesoft (data integration tool) and Tableau (a visualization engine). These integrations will allow new and creative ways to see important customer data in dashboards that make sense across the organization — not only to data scientists.

These integrations should help businesses, many of whom haven’t historically managed their data and technology in a unified fashion, become customer-centric. But it won’t solve the problem of, say, legacy data — in banking, healthcare, insurance, and utility industries — still sitting in legacy mainframe technology that creates roadblocks to centralization. Nor does it help companies, most of which were not built natively around massive data pipelines and distributed architectures (e.g. Amazon, Uber, etc.), find access to reliable, comprehensive data in the first place.

No one technology or product will solve these fundamental problems. Breaking down data silos starts with breaking down organizational and cultural silos first.

For instance, many companies looking to centralize their data will have to start by first outlining a broad, organization-wide vision — and then thinking incrementally about how to build a data/technology foundation that will drive engagement while balancing value and effort.

Related Article: The Path to Customer-Centricity Lies in Dismantling Data Silos

What Can Centralized Data Enable Your Organization to Do?

There’s a lot of exciting technology out there — but very few companies are digitally mature enough to take real advantage of it, even if they can bring all their data together.

That's why I’m a big proponent of orienting solutions around what Forrester calls "delivering the next best experience." In other words, what clear and impactful actions can you take right now with all this data and technology at your fingertips?

Here are four ways to deliver the next best experience, by using CX and data to drive value:

  1. CRM + Voice of Customer (VoC) integration — connecting customer sentiment to tangible action. Survey responses from a VoC platform, for example, can funnel into Salesforce, allowing customer service reps and salespeople to better understand what’s going on with customers. And because CRM systems like Salesforce have workflow built in, when someone gives a low score on a survey, the VoC system can alert the CRM system to generate a case for that issue, assign it to an appropriate person, and track its resolution.
  2. Customer Success (CS) platforms to drive customer engagement vs. mere acquisition. So much CRM software is simply concerned with acquiring a customer. But, as subscription-based services and customer expectations across industries continue to grow, companies must shift more focus on retention and loyalty. CS platforms that track, say, when users are logging in and how much time is spent using a specific area of an application, can provide intelligence that drives higher engagement throughout a customer’s lifecycle.
  3. Journey analytics that can trigger the next best experience through marketing actions. Marketing is no longer simply about personalization or timeliness, but relevance and smart touchpoints that communicate the right message, at the right time, via the right channel. A journey analytics platform that runs off centralized data sets can help develop these smart touchpoints. A multinational credit card and payment provider deployed a marketing automation platform that considered the overall CX journey. This way, the company’s marketing engagement strategy connected to specific life events in the CX journey — marriage, kids, buying a house — and created smart touchpoints with individuals tied into those events, ensuring their credit card was top of the wallet during these key moments for their customers.
  4. AI and predictive analytics to improve CX and manage outer loop issues. Though many organizations aren’t here yet, predictive analytics is undoubtedly the future of customer data management, and provides several benefits: from “do-it-for-me” customer service (next gear beyond self-service), to more targeted marketing campaigns, to aggregating themes and issues across the organization so as to better address fundamental challenges (closing the outer loop).

Predictive analytics use-cases, per industry
Predictive analytics use-cases, per industry

Related Article: Customer Experience Isn't About Fixing Discomfort, It's About Preventing It

Better CX Starts With a Better Culture, Not Just Technology Solutions

This month’s cover story in Harvard Business Review focuses, unsurprisingly, on building an AI-powered organization. Yet the key takeaway isn’t “The technology isn’t there yet.” Rather, the authors posit that the true challenge will be creating a cultural and organizational shift that can enable AI technology to succeed.

When it comes to customer data and CX, it’s no different. To let the technology reach its full potential and deliver value to customers, companies need to first make the shift to a customer-centric mindset. This means employees need to understand why these changes are happening, teams need to be reorganized to be agile and responsive to customer needs, and the entire organization needs to be held accountable to various CX-related measures.

The question, then, isn’t whether the future — of customer data, of CX, of AI — is here. The question is whether your organization is ready to make customers feel like you truly know and value them.