A spate of new releases from big companies doesn’t meet all (or any) of the needs for this critical area
For those of us who have been in the trenches of data collation and analytics for all this time, the current buzz over new attempts at Customer 360 is truly gratifying… and odd. Can something that’s been a vital goal for so long suddenly be a fad?
It sure sounds like it. Here’s just a topline recap of recent events: In late September, a trio of major corporations — think Adobe, Microsoft and SAP — came together to launch the Open Data Initiative (ODI), which targets nothing less than “reimagining customer experience management (CXM) by empowering companies to derive more value from their data and deliver world-class customer experiences in real-time.” Just a day later, we got Salesforce Customer 360, billed as a “new way for companies to connect Salesforce apps and deliver unified cross-channel customer experiences.”
And a few weeks after that, we were treated to Oracle CX Unity, a customer data platform that comes pre-integrated with the Oracle Customer Experience (UX) Cloud, and seeks to tie marketers’ first-party data to anonymous third-party offline and online data.
To be clear, C360 is not a new thing. In the digital era, the idea is aggregating data from all different touch points to build a comprehensive view of customer behaviors is both irresistible and elusive. In an operating environment that encompasses everything from mobile devices and social media to online communities and crowdsourcing, this level of detail is pure gold.
In the ideal scenario, C360 initiatives mine both structured and unstructured data and leverage big data analytics to guide marketing campaigns, boost upsell opportunities, enhance customer satisfaction and drive brand loyalty
So what’s the problem?
First, the 360 metaphor is easy to grasp but a tad misleading. Customer behaviors don’t follow an aesthetic circularity — it’s more of a journey with multiple detours, and the purchase is only the final leg. Meanwhile, the data capturing each contact and other form of eventual influence is trapped in different silos, different functions and different clouds.
In sum, the complexities associated with creating and maintaining what we might see as a data-driven source of analytical truth across vast amounts of data is already difficult and becoming more so.
If it’s metaphors we’re going for, let’s move past the perfect circle of a 360 and consider instead a purchase funnel with multiple layers. Here’s how that might shake out: Awareness, where we start with a search; consideration, when we seek out options online; preference, when we go to the retailer’s website or social media home; and purchase.
This is often a tortuous and rambling process, but there’s intelligence to be gleaned with each step. Unfortunately, most companies focus their energies on the bottom of the funnel, neglecting all of the prior actions that influenced the final transaction.
So where is all that other data, and how can we capture, analyze and use it?
In this context, it’s good to have offerings from all these conglomerates in the mix — they bring a new level of legitimacy and competition to this vital field. However, it’s far from clear whether they truly make previously hidden data more accessible, or simply create new data silos residing inside their own tools and apps.
In fact, from what we see so far, these are new twists on very familiar tales: Technologies from companies like Adobe, Microsoft Salesforce and Oracle are decidedly not open to the full spectrum of devices and applications that most companies have in-house and are widely used by employees. Even off-the-shelf releases can be incompatible; a custom dashboard, apps specific to particular industries or internal functions, and plug-ins or Point-of-Sale tools are even more difficult to integrate.
So, looking at ODI for example, does the basic value proposition still resonate without Adobe’s front-end tools or Microsoft Azure? Does the Salesforce effort pull in relevant data from non-Salesforce platforms or apps? How united is Oracle CX Unity with rival databases?
Again, the goal of a comprehensive view of customer interactions is both noble and necessary. It’s almost embarrassing that so many years into the digital era, we’re still talking about how data remains trapped in silos, clouds and proprietary systems devices. It’s amazing that companies must still navigate such a wide gulf between 1st party and 3rd party data, even with their own data.
Getting back to the original label, a true vision of Customer 360 mandates that every customer data platform is open and pluggable at every layer. Rather than big companies generously offering their branded and proprietary software, they should provide the functionality needed for partners to build their own applications, services, and APIs — in essence, sponsoring a ‘Bring Your Apps’ philosophy all the way. And underneath it all, the data should be maintained in its source form.
The fact that there’s so much data available (somewhere) to guide every marketing initiative is indeed a great thing. Finding it isn’t easy, and proprietary solutions designed to draw customers toward one vendor-specific set of solutions, then upgrading whenever that vendor wants to, is less than ideal. An open and extensible approach is a much better way to go.