Who Is Your Customer?

Mar 21, 2022 |
Monica Mullen

Principal Solutions Marketing Manager, Customer 360

A version of this blog originally appeared on CMSWire: https://www.cmswire.com/customer-experience/do-you-really-know-who-your-customers-are/

It frequently happens. I buy a gift for someone online: a friend, my husband, my newborn niece. That baby blanket purchased 5 years ago has been attached to my profile ever since. I know this because I still get catalogs for baby furniture even though today I have no need to buy baby items.

My husband is doing a bit of research online. He’s not sure if what he’s researching is something he’d like to buy or if he can live without it. He’s not a big shopper, and I always know when this is happening because the retargeting shows up in my web pages. A guitar. An amp. New shoes.

Like me, maybe you’ve lived in your house for 10 years and are receiving letters and catalogs addressed to the prior owner with the option of the mail pieces being delivered to the “current resident.” I have yet to buy anything from one of those items.

You’ve no doubt had these experiences happen to you. These are the prevalent, ongoing examples that are easy to find when companies use their data to create interactions that aren’t helpful. According to Smart Insights, 63% of consumers will stop buying from brands that use poor personalization tactics. Personalization is a tricky business and it’s getting trickier all of the time.

Have you disrupted your status quo?

With two thirds of customers feeling that they’re generally being treated like numbers, how do you tailor an experience to an individual? To stand apart, companies need to move beyond ho-hum experiences. They need to disrupt the status quo and connect with their customers in a differentiated way.

We inherently understand the value of data when connecting with customers. Ninety percent of global executives who use data analytics report that they improved their ability to deliver a great customer experience. Like dollars, data points need to be actively managed to deliver the most value and highest return.

With that strong of an impact, 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.

How intentionally are you managing your customer data?

Customer data — the data that’s used in personalization — offers some of the highest return when managed with intention. It drives loyalty, grows revenue, improves productivity, accelerates business processes, helps make M&A successful. This is true for both B2B and B2C companies. But customer data is also some of the trickiest. That’s because customer data changes frequently. Its dynamic nature means that what was true yesterday, or just 5 minutes ago, may not be true right now.

With customer data, you have to manage changes in names, phone numbers, addresses and titles. There are also the misspellings, multiple spellings, shortened names and nicknames. Customers have marriages, divorces, deaths, births, promotions, firings and hirings. And within all of that, there are the relationships, households, buying teams, influencers, decision makers and naysayers to keep track of. Look at your data: if you’re not managing it actively, you’ll see that it’s most likely incomplete, inaccurate and inconsistent.

It’s a lot to keep track of when you’re dealing with just the contact list in your iPhone. When you’re a business trying to tailor an experience for millions of customers and differentiate on customer experience (CX), it can be daunting. But it also can be the difference between success and revenue growth or lackluster performance.

Who is a customer?

To define a customer and differentiate on CX requires identifying what’s important to your business. One company began by collecting 200 attributes about their customers but ended up with a subset of that as they better understood what was needed to run the business, improve customer experience, and realized the value of which attributes contributed to their success. For a marketing nurture campaign, many companies start by addressing these questions:

  1. Is it a customer?
  2. Is it a former customer?
  3. Is it a known prospect?
  4. Is it a new prospect?

These seem easy to answer, but are they? And are they enough? To excel in customer experience, every organization should be able to confidently and consistently answer this question: who is a customer? This seems simple enough — but getting agreement on that question has delayed many data management efforts right from the start. So if you’re planning to start on a customer data management effort, you’ll need to answer that question: who is a customer?

What should you know?

But the good news is that the definition doesn’t need to be perfect or comprehensive to get started. You can begin with getting agreement on a minimal viable description of a customer. And for that, you’ll need to consider how the various stakeholders throughout your company consider the following:

  1. Are there multiple roles a customer can take across your organization? In healthcare for example, an individual can be a patient, provider, caregiver, volunteer or other. How would you treat the individuals in these various roles differently? Should you?
  2. When was the last activity? For some industries such as retail, the more recent or frequent the activity, the more likely that they’re a customer; for other segments such as automotive, a customer may be a customer for 10+ years without a subsequent purchase. Who is more valuable?
  3. Customer data includes more data fields than other data domains. For example, there may be multiple addresses for a customer: sales, shipping and billing addresses, and also primary and secondary addresses for locations such as offices or warehouses. What do you want to track and what’s the impact on business processes?
  4. Inorganic growth is an opportunity to stand apart with a large group of customers. Have you acquired a customer through a merger or acquisition? If so, then what do you know about them already? How do you connect what you already know with what you’ve gained from the new data sources? What information is missing? And, importantly, does the acquired company have a different definition of a customer?
  5. White space opportunity is low-hanging fruit when looking to grow a customer. Is there a line of business within your organization that a customer does business with, and another they didn’t buy from? Does that make them a prospect or a customer? How would you treat them differently and what should you know about them?
  6. Consider that customer data exists in your applications and systems more than any other data domain – but your applications and systems are typically built for purpose to support a business process. What data is needed to make that process work across applications and functions? And is it consistent and complete? For example, can you take an order, but maybe not generate an invoice without manual intervention? Does the data needed to make a process work vary by locale?
  7. Many customer data initiatives are funded by compliance or risk initiatives. What customer data do you need to manage or consolidate for internal, external or compliance reporting? Or to manage risk? Do you need to understand relationships such as subsidiaries or households and potential exposure to your business? How much effort would be required to use this data for other activities?

The top 3 things that are important to customers are (1) value, (2) customer service, and (3) trust. The examples of how companies personalize offers or communications can be construed as small inconveniences in the grand scheme of things. After all, the delete button is easy to use when an outdated profile leads to irrelevant offers.

But as marketers and customer experience professionals, we need to pause and continually ask ourselves a series of further questions before we hit send: what are we training our customers to do — delete our messages? Do our customers feel like just a number or like an individual? And, perhaps more importantly, what are we teaching the customer about our company if we send irrelevant and frequent offers?

By managing customers’ data, you can build relationships that deliver on value, customer service and trust. With an emphasis on customer experience, it’s time to stop and think about how you define your customer and how can you better manage your customer data.