Using data to put a face to customers

In a fast-paced digital world, customers expect businesses to be able to interact with them whenever and wherever they want, using any device at their disposal.

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They want a more personalised service that’s built around their individual preferences and one that is consistent across devices.

Businesses are increasingly more aware of this and recognise the link between data and the ability to reach, serve and retain customers across channels.

A recent Experian survey found that, over the next 5 years, 90% of businesses felt data management would evolve to use real-time analytics to help inform decisions.

This suggests that organisations are increasingly looking to their data to help them live up to customer expectations. Rich, accurate data can be the key link in putting a human face to customers. It’s the detail that joins up the dots, to help understand and reach customers, and follow them across different channels.

Focusing on the customer is a growing priority for organisations across all industries. This is supported by a recent report from leading analyst firm Gartner, which looks at where businesses are focusing their budget this year. In the report, an analyst said: “Technologies that help understand customers better, improve engagement through multichannel experience and facilitate the buying process are high-priority areas.”[i]

Inaccurate data causes missed opportunities
While organisations recognise the potential of their data, realising it is another matter completely. As the research suggests, the majority are still struggling to get the most out of the data they collect, or use it to enhance their customer experience.

Two findings that highlight the scale of the missed opportunities include the fact that over three quarters (76%) of companies think inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer service, while businesses believe they could increase their sales by 29% if this was solved.

Moving towards a Single Customer View
To move ahead, businesses need to be able to humanise their data so that it allows them to uniquely identify and know their customers better, in order to seize the opportunities and eliminate costly errors.

Central to achieving this is the creation of a Single Customer View (SCV), the process of identifying each individual customer and associating all the data you have about them to give a clear, joined-up picture of who they are. 97% of the organisations we surveyed are looking to achieve a SCV, which suggests that the majority of businesses aren’t there yet despite the clear understanding of the benefit.

The latest Forrester Wave™: Data Quality Solutions, Q4 2015 report, predicts that organisations that don’t know their customers are at risk of losing business and falling behind their competitors: “As customers are increasingly independent and informed about their product and service choices, organizations that are unable to recognize their customers, understand their needs and intents, and serve them beyond their shopping cart purchases will become irrelevant to customers and the market overall.”[ii]

Generating real-time insight
Customers increasingly expect businesses to respond to their demands in real time. By matching and linking all their data together to generate a SCV, organisations will have a way of accessing the right information at the right time to make real-time decisions unique to the customers’ requirements.

Although this requires businesses to tie information together from multiple sources, a SCV does not mean consolidating all data for one customer into a single physical database, and this is especially true when real-time capabilities are needed because the sheer data volumes involved mean you won’t have time to move it all.

What is holding businesses back?
A large majority of organisations believe inaccurate data is undermining their ability to provide an excellent customer experience. In the research respondents cited incomplete or missing data (60%), out-dated information (54%) and duplicates (51%) are the most common errors. What this suggests is that people are still struggling with some of the basic elements of data quality.

Data volumes are also a problem. One prominent finding from this year’s research is that 55% of businesses had more than 11 databases. This has risen dramatically from just 17% in 2014, compounding the difficulty of identifying unique customers and linking their data.

As the amount of data is predicted to grow exponentially, the challenge of maintaining accurate data, and making full use of it, increases too.

Having accurate, quality data will be vital to support customer strategy in 2016. With such a wide variety of challenges faced by organisations it can seem to some as if this ideal is getting further and further away.

However, this research does highlight that organisations are on their way to turning their data into a key strategic asset. By unlocking the potential of data, humanising it and putting a face to customers, companies build strong, lasting relationships with them and retain their business.

By Derek Munro, head of product strategy at Experian Data Quality

[i] Gartner press release, Gartner Says Worldwide IT Spending Across Verticals Industries to Decline 3.5 Percent in 2015, http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3135718 (23rd September 2015)

[ii] The Forrester Wave™: Data Quality Solutions, Q4 2015, The 13 Providers That Matter Most And How They Stack Up, http://www.forrester.com/pimages/rws/reprints/document/119981/oid/1-WIX4BF (14th December 2015)