Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Every customer is a unique individual. So why do so many companies struggle to see them that way?
Having a ‘single view of customer’ has become the nirvana state for many marketers, as it leads to consistency of communication and the ability to create a narrative flow for marketing messages. It also reduces wastage by ensuring customers are not seeing the same messages repeated through multiple channels.
But the frustrating truth is that in an omnichannel and multi-device world, customers simply don’t present themselves as one identifiable, easily trackable unit.
For some organisations, the situation is further exacerbated by siloed internal systems - often the result of acquisitions or simply poor planning - that see customer records fragmented across different functions or service offerings. This limits their ability to see opportunities to cross sell different services to the same customer.
The desire to unify its approach to customers has been a factor driving behind work to unite customer records at consumer comparison service, iSelect. Its head of customer activation, Anthony D’Abaco, says call centres have traditionally been very specific to the vertical they service.
“As the business has grown, we have had multiple CRMS, which has meant historically there have been duplicate customer records,” D’Abaco says. “There is a lot of work at our end to get a consolidated view, and work to producing that single customer view, and that is happening at a rapid rate.
“Like a lot of businesses, we are trying to understand and crystallise that single customer view.”
The goal for iSelect is to understand from a specific interaction what other services might be appropriate to a customer. For instance, someone inquiring to compare electricity plans might be doing so because they are moving house. That could also be a trigger for a conversation about broadband or car insurance.
“We know what they are interested in, and we can start to understand them and their life,” D’Abaco says. “And from what we have understood from their previous behaviour, we may then have a good sense of what they may be interested in and present that to them.”
The company has undertaken a project to unify records, including using Oracle’s Marketing Cloud for email campaigns. This is enabling iSelect to start to identify patterns of behaviour with particular segments and develop strategies accordingly.
“It is a continual process of trying to merge and consolidate that into a single view,” D’Abaco says.
Working in the company’s favour is its ability to identify customers across different media, as well as visitors to its website by capturing unique identifiers early in the interaction. This enables call centre agents to better understand who they are talking to.
“There is integration between the site and the call centre so we can see what a customer has seen on the website and then take the conversation from there,” D’Abaco says. “We can start a conversation referencing what they are looking at, and then go from there, talking through what’s important to them.”
It is a capability many brand marketers right now can only dream of. Being able to identify and track specific individuals across different media or devices has enabled Facebook and Google, in particular, to sew up such a large proportion of the online advertising market.
According to managing director at audience targeting specialists Audience360, Damian Cook, having a single view of customer is essential to advertisers that want to reduce wastage.
“We could be marketing to people across five different devices, so we want to know that they are the same person so we can reduce reach and frequency wastage,” he says.
However, Cook says many brands and publishers simply haven’t had a business requirement to authenticate users, and have failed to capture identifying data as a result.
More sophisticated online services companies, such as Carsales.com.au and REA Group, have been offering additional functionality to users who will share their identity. Cook says interest is also coming from larger brands, such as car manufacturers, which have data that resides across a range of services including finance and dealerships, as well as their own visitor data.
“If you can’t authenticate a user, you are not going to be able to get that hashed ID you need to develop a single view of a customer, so there are very few that have authenticated users on mass,” Cook says. “There is a real want to start linking all of these siloed data assets, and also across affiliates and dealer networks to get that single view of a customer.
“But having hundreds of people authenticated is not going to help you – you need hundreds of thousands to make this start to work.”
Cook says Audience360 has created a publisher coop model to help build scale.
“From a publisher perspective, we can start seeing what someone is doing across multiple touchpoints, and that is where it gets realty cool,” he says. “We are cookie matching across those different assets to get an idea of where someone sits in a sales funnel, or what their patterns have been, to look at propensity to buy.
“Facebook and Google have done this for years, so it is not like it is new. It’s giving advertisers and publishers a bit more autonomy to be able to own some of this tech, rather than rely on the walled gardens. We believe that the advertiser/publisher should be able to own their own destination here and not rely on someone else.”
Numerous technology vendors have stepped in with solutions that purport to identify individuals across different properties, such as Signal. Another tool that is generating interest is Liveramp from Acxiom, which pulls in data from multiple sources, such as Web, CRM and transactional data, and relates that to an email address.
Managing director at Acxiom for Australia and New Zealand, Dean Capobianco, says in its simplest sense, Liveramp connects online and offline data.
“Since the launch of Facebook custom audiences and Google audience segmentation, we have all of a sudden seen a huge demand from publishers in how they can bridge that gap themselves,” Capobianco says. “The reality is in Australia, outside of Facebook and Google, not many publishers possess the same scale. If you are an advertiser, you don’t want to spend all your money with Facebook. You want to spread things and measure you campaigns across a whole bunch of publishers.
“There is clearly a huge demand on the advertisers’ side, because Liveramp allows you to target your audience across your network and off your network. Now you can connect offline data with online data. That starts to take measurability to a whole new level and allow you to start doing multi-channel campaigning.”
In one example with a major retailer, Capobianco says use of Liveramp resulted in a 62 per cent uplift in conversion rates.
Skills and education gap
But while the technology now exists to start drawing disparate platforms and data sources together, the industry itself still has some catching up to do in order to be able to bring single a view of customer to fruition.
“The market has to be somewhat ready, and to be frank there is still a fairly large skill gap,” Capobianco says. “That skill gap is tied to the fact that a lot of marketers don’t actually know how to use their offline data in the online environment.”
Cook agrees that for Australian marketers today, the barrier right now is education.
“There are vendors that can do this stuff but most people don’t know they exist, or can’t comprehend how to join the dots,” he claims. “But this stuff is still relatively new – it is from the last 12 to 24 months.
“There is a massive aspiration to want to become a data-driven marketer, and be able to unlock all of these different assets and reduce wastage and be smarter with sequential messaging.”