A Single Customer View: What It Is & How It Works

Kelly Kirwan on July 29th 2021

In an old Indian parable, several blind men get to touch an elephant. Each man feels a different part of the animal. Afterward, they each describe the elephant, but their accounts vary, depending on what they touched—the tusk, tail, or perhaps a leg. They get confused and angry with each other because of the discrepancies in their description, but eventually learn that the elephant is a large animal with many parts. All their stories are true. Each just forms one piece of the whole.

Departments in many organizations have a similarly fragmented understanding of their customers. Ninety percent of people now travel across different devices and touchpoints to complete a task and generate lots of data along the way. Legacy systems like CRMs often can't process and sync this information in real-time in a central location. So it's as if teams face a herd of elephants and rely on an intermediary to touch one of them. They then need to decipher secondhand stories to figure out what part of which elephant they're dealing with and whether the animal ran off in the meantime.

A single view of the customer resolves this situation. It puts all the different pieces of customer information together into one coherent, up-to-date whole. To show you how to implement such a view within your organization, we'll discuss:

  • What is a single customer view?

  • What are the benefits of having a single customer view?

  • Four obstacles to creating a single customer view

  • How to create a unified customer view

  • What a unified customer view looks like in Segment

  • FAQs about the single customer view

What is a single customer view?

A single customer view means you have one location for every individual you do business with that provides an overview of all the data you’ve collected on them. Usually, this view takes the form of a profile page in a Customer Data Platform (CDP) or customer relationship management (CRM) system.

You need to capture customer data in real time across all your channels and internal systems to create a single customer view. This information can come from sources like your website, in-store sales transactions, marketing tools, social media channels, and customer service interactions. Once collected, you need to clean, synthesize, and store this data in a central location, where every team and tool can instantly access it without the involvement of engineers or analysts.

What are the benefits of having a single customer view?

The single customer view should sit at the heart of your business. It gives all departments valuable information to improve their performance. Executives, for example, have more accurate data to make decisions, marketers to deliver more profitable campaigns, and customer support agents to solve issues faster.

Deliver truly personalized marketing across channels

You can only deliver personalization based on data that's up to date and relevant. If it's not, your message, offer, or recommendation will confuse or annoy your customers (like a discount coupon for a product someone purchased yesterday at full price).

With one accurate view of each customer updated in real time, you can confidently use the data you have about them to tailor your marketing efforts to each individual. It prevents marketers from working with outdated data or different departments working with their own incomplete view of each customer.

By providing the right message at the right time at every stage in the customer journey, you make customers feel like you know and understand them, which leads to higher loyalty and increased lifetime value (LTV).

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Source: 2021 State of Personalization report

Access customer data instantly across the organization

With a unified customer view, everyone in your company knows where to look for and store customer data. This capability eliminates wasted time chasing down and verifying information, making the data more useful for the entire organization.

When, for example, someone in a meeting needs information on a customer to make a point or a decision, they can do so quickly and trust the data they're looking at is correct and up to date.

Understand customers through finer segmentation and analytics

A single view of the customer ensures customers get classified correctly and allows more specific classification over time. Your team knows, for example, "John desktop" is the same person as "John mobile" and can synthesize this data, something that's not possible without a unified customer view.

Imagine segmentation as putting labels on customers—and sometimes removing them—as you get to know them. This process might start with a label for "prospect" when they visit your website for the first time, which gets replaced with one for "customer" once they make a purchase on mobile. Over time, these individuals might get labels for "high-value client," "abandoned a shopping cart," and "interested in sneakers."

Teams across your company use these labels to group people, so they can analyze their behavior, attribute marketing campaigns, and provide tailored communications, offers, services, and recommendations.

Provide first-class customer service

A single view of the customer gives support agents the information they need to quickly or even proactively address customer needs. They can see someone's actions and previous interactions in one place, up to date to the current minute.

Say that a customer reaches out to support through live chat on your website. The unified customer view shows they got stuck filling out a contact form and which products they looked at beforehand. Your agent can use this information to immediately provide a solution or special offer without any additional input from the customer.

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Four obstacles to creating a single customer view

Unifying your customer view across the organization is an endeavor that requires a plan and the involvement of many people to overcome four major obstacles.

Data silos

Remember the parable from the intro? Each team within your organization represents one of the men touching only one part of the elephant. Your analytics team might have a piece of customer info stored in the product database, marketing in your social media management platform, sales in their CRM, and customer service in the support ticketing system.

Every team has its own silo of data and processes it in a unique way. Nobody can see the whole or even agree on who's data is correct. Exchanging information between departments is difficult, time-consuming, and sometimes impossible.

Inaccurate or inconsistent data

With customer information scattered across the organization, several issues arise as data can become:

  • Duplicated: Multiple records for the same customer exist in different departments.

  • Disconnected: Data from different parts of the organization can't be linked and synchronized or only with great effort.

  • Decayed: Information like email addresses, phone numbers, and job titles become outdated if they're not verified and updated often.

  • Distrusted: Not all sources are created equal. An email address that went through a double opt-in procedure is more reliable than one entered manually into a CRM by a salesperson. But how to tell the difference without a single, central synchronization process?

Compliance and privacy concerns

You need to ask yourself whether you're legally allowed to store, process, and use every piece of customer information your company collects. Since both the amount of data and privacy regulations are multiplying, this question becomes even harder to address. In fact, others, like consumers or regulators, now also have the right to ask you questions about your data collection practices.

How can an organization hope to begin answering such requests if their own departments don't know who's collecting what information or which piece of data is the most up to date?

Legacy technical infrastructure

Many companies still rely on equipment and tools that can't deliver a single customer view, even though they collect plenty of data across the organization. These companies' internal systems might not connect to each other, or information is stored in incompatible formats by different teams.

This situation often arises when companies rely on their CRM as the backbone of their customer information. CRMs can’t capture a complete set of data from many channels, keep it up-to-date in real time, and connect it to the tools where employees need it.

A CDP like Segment can resolve this situation. It's built for this central role and can standardize and synthesize data from all corners of the organization. The CRM can still serve its purpose for sales and, sometimes, marketing teams by exchanging its information with the CDP.

How to create a unified customer view

You can build a single customer view using a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to capture customer data across all the platforms, touchpoints, and tools you use. The CDP can clean, standardize, and centralize all this information and make it available across teams (without the help of engineers or analysts).

Collect data from different tools and sources

You can collect the information you need to build a single customer view by connecting data sources to your CDP using Segment Connections. Segment supports hundreds of tools that you can set up with a few clicks. You can link other properties like your website or iOS app by copying and pasting ready-made scripts.

The type of data that makes up a single customer view is different for each organization. The information you collect depends on the channels and tools you use and the available infrastructure and expertise.

Here's a list of typical data companies might feed into a single customer view:

  • Personal details and contact information

  • Website and mobile app activity

  • Product usage data

  • Purchase history

  • CRM data

  • Point of sales (PoS) and transactional data

  • Customer support interactions

  • Demographics

  • Customer preferences

  • Marketing campaign data

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Resolve customer identities using a CDP

You need to combine all the data you collect into one customer profile through identity resolution that compares identifiers like email addresses, login data, and IP numbers. This process helps you reconcile anonymous or ambiguous data with known visitor information to get more complete customer profiles. A CDP like Segment can automatically do most of this work. You can insert it into your existing processes and systems quickly and without much disruption.

Segment also standardizes all the information you collect through automated tracking plans and a privacy portal, so you ensure high-quality data and compliance with privacy regulations. It then uses the Personas feature to present all this information to you in a single customer view.

Make the synthesized data available across the organization

Segment makes it easy for teams to connect Destinations, which are endpoints for the customer data coming out of your CDP. This feature enables anyone to link their favorite tools and platforms or try out new ones.

Destinations also sync back any new information or changes to Segment, ensuring you keep your centralized data—and hence your single view of the customer—up to date across the organization.

FAQs about the single customer view

Here's an overview of the most frequently asked questions about the single customer view.

What does the term single customer view mean?

A single customer view means having one central location for every individual you do business with that provides an overview of all the data you’ve collected on them.

How do you build a single customer view?

You can create a single customer view with a Customer Data Platform (CDP) like Segment, which captures customer data across all your platforms, touchpoints, and tools. The CDP can then clean, standardize, and centralize all this information and make it available to all your teams. They can easily connect to the CDP and use this customer information without the help of engineers or analysts.

Why is it important to implement a single customer view?

A unified customer view enables organizations to deliver truly personalized and effective marketing, plus first-class, proactive customer service. It also provides every team with accessible, fully up-to-date customer information, which facilitates better decision-making and reduces time spent searching for information. Legally, a single customer view has also become a must-have, as complying with privacy regulations is virtually impossible without one.

The State of Personalization 2021

Personalized, 1-to-1 marketing is table stakes for today's digital-first businesses. But as consumers' expectations rise, are they equipped to deliver these experiences?

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