person filling up coffee cup that has the word "ugh" written on the side
PHOTO: Nathan Dumlao

“Account number, please.” Three simple words that tell me I am about to have a less than optimal customer experience.

It’s an all too familiar scenario: I call up a company, and the phone system asks me to punch in my account number to verify who I am. And then every time I get passed on to another step in the process, I am asked over and over to give my account number and verify my name.

Derailed by Data Silos

It’s an obvious tell that the company I’m calling has its customer data siloed in systems that don’t talk to each other. Once I punch my account number into a supposedly automated system, that data, and the customer profile associated with it, should travel with me on every subsequent interaction, no matter who is handling my call at the moment or which department they work in.

Isn’t that the promise that customer data platforms (CDP) are supposed to deliver? After all, CDP technology is designed to provide a persistent, unified customer database to other systems across the enterprise. But is that really what’s happening? 

CDPs are generally seen as marketing tools, and as a consequence many companies that have adopted CDPs are still siloing those systems within specific marketing-driven operational functions.

Related Article: Old MacDonald Met a Data Silo, E-I-E-I-O

Look at Your Company the Way Customers Do

CDPs are being used to drive marketing campaigns, not to improve the customer experience. When marketers talk about the ominchannel experience, they tend to be referring to the various channels through which they can deliver their messages: websites, social media, email, etc. It’s an inside-out viewpoint built around a broadcast model. They are failing to look at their company the same way their customers do — as a single entity.

When customers engage with you, they don’t do so because they are anxious to consume your latest marketing message, they do so because they want a question answered. They don’t want to passively consume, they want to engage in some sort of conversational relationship that will provide value and help them. More to the point, they don’t care which functional group or department the information they need is coming from. They don’t know your business unit structure, or your operational hierarchy. To them, your company is a single entity, and every interaction with that entity is a reflection of your brand experience.

Asking a customer to supply the same information again and again is a bad brand experience.

If a CDP remains a siloed enabler of marketing campaigns, then it is failing.

Related Article: Customer Data Platforms: A Contrarian's View

Remember What the 'C' in CDP Stands For

The information contained in a CDP is of value to employees in multiple roles throughout the company, not just marketing. For example, support desk or customer service personnel would probably find it useful to have a record of the pages a customer has visited on the company’s website. And sales and support professionals would benefit from knowing which industry segment a customer belongs to.

Putting all of the information in the CDP into the hands of people throughout the company will improve your relationship with your customers. If customers feel you know who they are, what industry they are in, and even which of your products they already own, then you have a relationship and a basis for an ongoing conversation.

If you want your CDP to provide real value, the clue is right there in the name. Stop thinking of it as a “marketing-based management platform” (to quote the Wikipedia definition); start thinking of it as a customer experience enabler.