Attorneys can raise an objection if opposing counsel brings up a piece of information that is not known to all parties. He or she can stand up in court and say, “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence!” Imagine if customer service representatives (CSRs) had the same right. When a customer calls and starts talking about a problem that isn’t visible on existing customer service tools, the CSR could leap to his feet and say, “Objection! Assumes customer data not in evidence!” Well, of course they can’t do that. But what if they had what is known as a “Customer 360 view”—with easy access to virtually any information about the customer? That would certainly make everyone’s life a lot easier.
The notion of a 360 degree customer view is not new, but its attainment has proved elusive. In theory, customer 360 implies having the tools that deliver a complete understanding of the customer—a 360 degree view of any relevant transactions, issues, conversations, financial matters and so forth. The idea represents the ultimate in the ethos of “know your customer.”
When an organization has a customer 360 capability, any employee can instantly access whatever information they need to get as full a picture of the customer’s situation as possible. Benefits abound. Even in the simplest customer interactions, it’s very useful for a CSR to be able to see contracts, warranties, invoices and the like in real time.
A customer 360 view is helpful throughout the entire business, however. For instance, if a customer wants an increased credit limit, the person handling the inquiry should be able to make the decision in consideration of the full array of facts. It might turn out that the customer has lodged a complaint in the customer service department that suggest that he will actually soon default on payments—making a credit line increase unwise.
At an aggregate level, having a full understanding of all customers makes possible a range of customer data analytics processes. Senior management can correlate and visualize customer data from around the company, including unstructured data such as email messages and documents. The result is a 360 degree view of all customers in total, or by segment.
Account-Based Marketing (ABM) efforts also potentially benefit from a 360 degree understanding of the customer. With ABM, sales teams gain an advantage with target accounts if they can achieve a firm understanding of who is who, and who does what, inside a client organization. A customer 360 capability furthers this objective.
Operationally, customer 360 should positively affect the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) managers use to measure performance of customer support teams. These include metrics like “first call resolution” and “average handle time.” Given that any customer interaction starts a ticking clock of labor cost, the faster a customer issue can be resolved, the more cost effective the CSR function will be. Customer 360 speeds up customer support. This assumes, of course, that customer satisfaction, another important KPI, does not fall as issue resolution time shrinks. The KPI of agent turnover is also a metric that Customer 360 can bolster. CSR work can be stressful if the agent is unable to help the customer. This leads to morale problems and burnout. With Customer 360, CSRs can feel as if they are making a difference and helping to solve problems.
While most people understand the value of a Customer 360 capability, data and organizational limitations have made the idea difficult to realize. Regarding data, the information required to support a 360 degree view of the customer has traditionally been stored in heterogeneous formats. Even when customer data is available in standard row and column relational database management systems (RDBMSs), it may not have been normalized.
When customer data is non-normalized and formatted differently across databases, it can be challenging to pull together unified, complete customer records. For example, is Jayne Smyth at Acme Corp, located at 10 Route 9, Seattle, WA the same person as Jane Smith at Acme, Inc., located at Ten Route Nine in Seattle, Wash.? To the human eye, the answer is obvious. For data correlation, it may be a little trickier to connect the dots. You can easily miss an opportunity for a more complete customer view in the process.
Customer data in unstructured data presents a more serious challenge to Customer 360. When customer information is contained in PDF documents, spreadsheets and email messages, it can be hard to find. More significantly, even if it can be found, customer information in unstructured data formats maybe difficult to pull together and present in a meaningful way.
Organizational barriers further block the achievement of a customer 360 view. Various departments of a business collect and store their own customer data sets. Sales has the account data. Marketing keeps track of customer interactions with marketing campaigns. Operations has customer order information. The warehouse has logistics information by customer. Accounting has customer billing and payment records. Legal has contracts, and so forth. In systemic terms, customer data can exist in warehouse operations management systems, sales operations software, email systems, document repositories, accounting apps and more.
Each department and its respective system represent a data silo. In many organizations, these siloes act as impermeable boundaries to data access. The figure below offers a visual representation of the data silo issue. While some businesses might consider data in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to be a 360 degree view of the customer, it is really only a fraction of the total. In reality, customer data sits in multiple places inside an organization.
Indeed, Salesforce.com has a feature they call Customer 360, but it relies on assigning a customer a unique identifier that will flag any relevant information about that customer across multiple systems. However, true customer 360 should be possible without such an identifier. In fact, if an identifier is required, then it’s likely that some customer data will get missed.
360 customer care is a friction-inducing exercise. Even with the best of intentions, departmental siloes can prevent interested parties from finding all the information about a customer. Plus, implementing the systemic integration necessary to pull customer data from all those siloed systems would be an expensive undertaking. Few organizations even try.
Enterprise search technology enables a viable customer 360 experience. By indexing data, structured and unstructured, contained in all corporate systems, enterprise search cuts across organizational silos. An enterprise search solution makes virtually any piece of customer information discoverable in an instant search engine user experience. It doesn’t matter if the data is in an RDBMS, an accounting system or a Word document. Sinequa’s enterprise search platform, for instance, connects with and understands data in any system, format, location or language.
Equipped with an enterprise search solution, a CSR can now look up a customer’s complete data set in real time. This way, if a customer calls with an issue, the CSR can immediately see any and all relevant issues that might affect the customer’s experience and relationship with the business. The search interface can show the CSR the customer’s complete record, including pending sales opportunities, accounts receivable balances, service issues, legal contract terms and the like.
With enterprise search enabling Customer 360, companies are likely to see improvements across customer support KPIs such as first call resolution and average handle time. The CSR will no longer be wishing he or she could shout “Objection! Assumes facts not in evidence.” The facts will be in evidence, ready for use in delivering 360 customer care.
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