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Single Customer View: a competitive advantage or a company drain?

Author: Stuart Lane
September 19, 2023

The search for the best-in-class recipe to build consumer relationships never stops. 

Businesses are blessed with more touchpoints than ever before. From television and mobile to e-commerce websites and social media - the opportunities to communicate across both online and offline channels are vast.


But the proliferation of these points of contact is a double-edged sword. More channels means less clarity on consumer behaviours and more dispersed data - yet this doesn’t factor into their expectations - 90% of consumers expect seamless experiences irrespective of which touchpoint you reach them.


Now more than ever, businesses need a unified view of their customer and prospect behaviour - as the individual user has greater value. And this is where adopting a single customer view strategy can be the differentiator. 


Single customer view provides a 360-degree overview of customers’ interactions across all touchpoints. These include how they found your brand, contact history, personal details, browsing activity and previous purchase history. Maintaining a comprehensive, consolidated database and shifting away from siloed entities enables all branches of the organisation - such as sales, marketing and customer services - to be more efficient and effective. 


A clear, single view of the customer offers rich possibilities to rescue unconverted sales - as well as cross-sell, upsell and retain. But this isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. And whilst it can be deployed across both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) set-ups, there are benefits and drawbacks that should be considered.


Always look on the bright side - the pros of single customer view

Single customer view, in its purest form, offers a wealth of customer insights. 


Pure digital end-to-end self-service providers such as Amazon, which employ a joined-up approach, already have access to a strong, consolidated view of their customer. Businesses that successfully gain a single customer view across multiple channels - including offline - suddenly achieve a detailed understanding of individual consumer lifecycles. Previous manual data processing exercises that consume data or effort for non-actionable insights, are replaced by recouped time and actionable data. 


For those B2C organisations that already have a single customer view (or are willing to invest), knowing which products and services that customers have purchased - and their status in the sales cycle - allows marketing outreach tailored to groups and individuals with shared characteristics. 


A similar principle applies in the B2B world. Businesses which have a long sales-nurture cycle can utilise SCV to see when high-value clients display unique (and lucrative) behaviours. This also positively impacts marketing campaigns, with efficient lead prioritisation replacing outdated blanket campaigns. 


Single customer view’s ability to provide customer service teams with greater visibility of end-to-end customers is also an enticing prospect. Customer experience (CX) continues to be the difference maker across the business landscape - and duplicated or inappropriate comms is a surefire way to alienate your brand. Similarly, ensuring your already-captured data or commerce baskets transition over from mobile to desktop (and vice versa) can deliver the cohesive purchasing experience customers crave.


Switching to a single customer view strategy can also elevate your AI-based activities. It’s impossible to start an effective (and appropriate) AI journey - particularly one spanning multiple channels - without consolidating your data. 

This investment can be the foundation to seamlessly replicating the full, unique human experience without relying on employees. Your own insight into your customer behaviour is more than just your own data with AI; it can become the most important piece of intellectual property (IP) in your business and a huge part of its market value to investors.


But it isn’t for every business - the cons of single customer view

At a glance, single customer view’s selling points make it hard to dismiss. But this doesn’t mean it’s a winning formula from day one. Premium SCV strategies require investment - both in terms of technology and human resources. 


Shifting from siloed operations probably requires your own ‘data lake’ - and building an extensive database doesn’t automatically make your data actionable. Your digital set-up needs to go beyond marketing - a groundbreaking shift - which could mean developing a bigger team featuring data scientists and new CX-oriented roles. 


A lot of overhead is required to extract your data’s full potential - and just like CRM projects, single customer view strategies can easily become ‘that project’ which costs an arm and a leg yet never sees the light of day. And whilst identifying customers’ unique purchasing behaviours is exciting, this venture is meaningless unless you have the right toolkit to act on it. 


Adopting a single customer view strategy without an appropriate digital technology stack can render your data consolidation a near-pointless exercise. Starting without the tools (or a plan to add them) will leave your data like a shiny pile of treasure…with a dragon sat atop it. And that dragon (likely your board or investors) won’t hesitate to breathe fiery questions. 


“Nice insights - but where’s the financial return?” “Who put their name to this expensive project and all the data governance overhead we now have, when we can’t even send the right emails to our customers at the right time or personalise our website?” “We have a market leading data model - but why don’t we have the volume of prospects and customers in there to make automation worthwhile?” 


Want to avoid this fire-and-brimstone eventuality? Make sure you acquire all the parts of a premium martech stack before embarking on your single customer view project.


But that’s not where the considerations end. Businesses also have to be sensitive to customer perception. Data is their most valued commodity - which is why more than 80% of consumers are worried about how their personal data is used online. You need to be ready to be more transparent about how you’re going to utilise their personal information to gain trust in your audience to even allow the data capture. 


This also means equipping yourself for the data governance that’s required. The more sensitive the data - the more preparation and investment that is needed. If your business is dealing with consumers’ health records or their payment details (or any high priority categories according to GDPR), the onus is on you to demonstrate that you can safeguard with ease and act on the data with the utmost confidence of positive customer outcomes. Getting single customer view wrong in this space could cost your business a lot more than the overhead of asking the same questions again and checking manually in your sales and retention processes.


So is the single customer view jury still ‘out’ for you?

Creating the perfect single customer view strategy comes with challenges. There will be additional expenditure when implementing the framework and conducting the necessary hires.


But that doesn’t mean you should write it off. If you can gain confidence in single customer view’s value - both in terms of the competitive advantage from the granular data insights it provides and the financial rewards - the journey is the most exciting project on your list. And measuring the value is simple: look at your improved customer acquisition, high revenue per customer and improved retention. 


Appius are conducting research with digital marketing leaders on single customer view and Martech maturity models to understand where organisations are prioritising their efforts, and how the challenges of personalisation, systems integration and AI are being approached.


All of the participants will get access to a final report and data so that you can see where your organisation fits versus competitors and peers and benefit from shared learnings. The 10 question survey can be completed online here


Already interested in adopting a single customer view strategy - but want to ensure you unlock all the potential pros whilst navigating the cons? Need help to understand whether single customer view is right for your business at this time? Appius’ expertise can bolster your strategy, planning and piloting efforts in the short-term and train your team to effectively operate with single customer view in the long-term. Make sure to use our website’s contact form to get in touch.

About Author
Stuart Lane
Stuart Lane

Managing Director, Head of Experience & Engagement at Appius


Appius have spent over 20 years transforming digital experiences across multiple sectors.