You could fill up a well of memes with personalization gone wrong examples. A marketing message about the latest winter snow shovels to someone that just bought theirs for the winter. The classic, "Hello, XXXX" beginning an email.

CMSWire Contributor Monica Mullen discusses these gaffes in her piece, "Do You Really Know Who Your Customers Are?" "Personalization is a tricky business, and it’s getting trickier all of the time," she wrote. The data is always there, and customer experience and marketing professionals inherently understand the value of data when connecting with customers, Mullen contends.

But when was the last time you really examined what you are doing with your data? Not just how you use it to run a campaign or to comply with privacy regulations, but how you manage it to maximize its value to your organization? 

Mullen asked these important questions in her piece, and we caught up with Mullen for a Q&A on the topic. Editor's note: This transcription has been edited for clarity.

Who Needs to View Customer Data?

Dom Nicastro: Hey everybody, Dominic Nicastro of CMSWire. We're here with one of our longtime contributors, Monica Mullen, marketing director, master data management at Informatica. What's going on Monica?

Mullen: Hey, not much, just glad to be invited to speak with you today. This is exciting. 

Nicastro: I know you're part of our growing community of CMSWire contributors who are totally the lifeblood of the website. And we also have a sister website Reworked as you know, so we're growing that community, and you've been a part of it since 2016. So the first thing I want to say is, thank you.

Mullen: Hey, you're welcome. It's fun. It's been a great thing. And I appreciate having the ability to share my knowledge out there with your readers.

Nicastro: Yeah, no problem. And we love it. We love having you on the site contributing. Now, the article we're talking about today is customer data. I mean, I guess that's important, right, for marketers and customer experience professionals to get a grip on that. So you talk about how it's changing so fast, you know, every day, every minute, five minutes from now could be different. How possibly could marketers keep up? And what are the common blockers that happen?

Mullen: You know, I think that's a great question. And, and when I think about data changing so fast. We had a customer tell me one time that they spent $10 million to have somebody come in and fix their customer data, to do it once. And they were done.

And this customer who mentioned this to me, he works in the data side, he works on the IT side, I know as soon as they walked out the door, that it was all different. It would be changed already. So there's so much that that is wasted on that. And I think the first rule of customer data is it has to be actively managed. So there's so many different systems that contain customer data that get out of sync.

So how do you start understanding the data? What's right, what's not right? And we end up creating all of these different 360 degree views. Marketing gets a 360 degree view. Sales gets the 360 degree view. Customer service gets the 360 degree view. Everybody gets a 360 degree view.

But there isn't that one single 360 degree view in so many cases. So whether you're a marketer, and you're sending out a marketing campaign, or you're updating your CRM system, organizations really need to get behind and really need to understand that good, clean, complete and accurate customer data is needed from the start, right?

Oftentimes, it's an afterthought. We'll update it, we'll see what our data is like. And then we'll come back and we'll fix the data. But if you approach it, and I approach data from the perspective that it's separate. We talk about three pillars within any organization, right? People, process, technology. But if you really separate data out from the technology, then you can really start to get that focus on what's the data. And then the technology becomes more of that enabler. And the data itself becomes that driver on the insights and the campaigns and the prioritization.

So not only marketers, but the entire organization, the entire company needs to be able to access this single trusted source of customer data, and then automate how it's maintained, and how it's published, and how it's shared to all of those downstream systems. That's truly the holy grail of customer data and managing it.

And it's important to begin with a mindset that the entire organization, and marketers, specifically, need to team with IT to get to that point, because they understand what's happening, not only within marketing, but across the board, as well as understand where that data resides. But what's really a hurdle is really getting to that that definition of who is the customer.

Related Article: Customer Data Management Is the Key to Consumer Trust, Profitability

Who Is Your Customer?

Nicastro: Yeah, and that's my next question. Do a lot of organizations have trouble from the get-go establishing "who is our customer?"

Learning Opportunities

Mullen: Yeah, you think it'd be simple. A customer is somebody that buys our product — easy. But what if that customer resides in a household? And somebody does the research and that's who you see, but somebody else actually does the purchase and then somebody else does the usage.

Automotive industry is a great example to use for who is a customer. In automotive, you've got dealers that are the customer, the channel through which automotive manufacturers sell their products. You buy a car from a dealer. But when you buy that car, are you a customer of the dealer, or are you customer of the manufacturer? And when you're a customer of the manufacturer, I know what I'm driving. So I think about any problems with that product goes back to the manufacturer, not to the dealer itself.

But then you also get in a household. You're an owner, you're a driver, you work for a company, you've got fleets. How do you manage all of that? How do you get to that definition of what is truly a customer? And how do you want to interact with that?

So it can be an easy question to answer. But when you get into the details, it's truly difficult. And getting agreement often slows down how you develop a strategy to manage that customer data. Because you have multiple lines of business, maybe they're a prospect in one line of business and a customer in another. You've got different locales where you might have a customer in one place, but not another geography.

And so just understanding how you treat those differences and those nuances. And under what circumstances you want to get to know them. And what do you want to know about them as an organization and getting to that definition? It can be can be a huge challenge. But you don't want to overdo it, right? You don't need to overdo it, either. You can begin with just enough of a definition and then create a data foundation that's flexible. And then as your recognition of who is a customer as it gets more detailed, more precise, you can adjust to current need through that technology to manage the data.

Related Article: Customer Data: 8 Rights Don't Make It Wrong

Customer Experience Trends in 2022

Nicastro: Well, I think you summarized the thesis of your article very, very well. You know, do you truly know who your customers are? What roles can they take? And you have a nice definition, a solid definition of who you're talking to. That's the bottom line.

Looking forward, I mean, you've been with us since 2016, consistently writing about this topic, personalization, customer data. Is there anything our readers can expect going forward? What kind of trends are you watching for the rest of 2022?

Mullen: I'm looking at customer experience in general. And just where is it headed? Where is it going? How are people thinking about it? There's a human element and an individual element that's coming in. And that's where I'd like to focus my articles and my writing — to bring in the human element.

Right now I'm seeing trends around the employee-customer relationship, and how employee experience really builds on customer experience. And so much of that is providing the right tools to employees so that they can make the right decisions, empower the employees so they don't get burned out. Because, you know, we've all been living under two years of restrictions. And tempers are short, and a lot of people are dealing with a lot of issues. 

Nicastro: So true. And like you wonder, it's a great point about the connection between CX and EX because you wonder a great company that does great CX like Netflix, Amazon ... you wonder from the inside, what is that employee experience like? Are they truly adapting that great CX playbook for their employees? Are they offering great experiences for them? So I'm looking forward to seeing that more connections EX and CX and how they truly connect and provide ROI. That's what I'm looking forward to seeing — a lot of data on that for sure.

Mullen: And from a data perspective, how are you empowering those employees by giving them the right information so that they can feel like they're making the right decision for the customer? As well as for the employer, for the company itself?