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Why you don't want a 360-degree on the customer

Everyone (and their dog) tells you that you need a 360-degree view on your customer, right?

According to Techtarget, the “360-degree customer view is the idea, sometimes considered unattainable, that companies can get a complete view of customers by aggregating data from the various touch points that a customer may use to contact a company to purchase products and receive service and support.”

And you are fully sold to this famed concept and term.

In this case, I am sorry for spoiling your day. You in all likelihood do not have it, you do not need it, and here’s the kicker: You do not want it. The 360-degree view on the customer is just another case of too many people using too many too big words.

You are asking why? Let me explain.

I fully get it. The customer is your North Star, the guiding light, the one reason for your company to exist. Your company is customer centric, you are looking outside-in. Your company’s purpose includes to help your customers fulfilling their needs and desires, thereby making a profit. And you are successful doing this.

No doubt, you are on the right way.

And indeed. What is needed to follow this way in reality involves collecting data about your customers. A lot of data. Master data, transactional data, behavioral data, consent data, structured and unstructured; you name it. Over time, this becomes a veritable treasure trove, if collected and used correctly.

Even if not.

When doing it right, you have already broken down many, ideally all, of the data and organizational silos that prevent you from communicating with your customers effectively and offering them the information and solutions that they want, the way they want it.

Don’t get me wrong: This is commendable, the right thing to do if done with the customers’ interest at heart (apart from being within the limits of what is legal and not creepy, while also keeping own commercial interests in mind), and a precondition for what you really want.

But then, what you have implemented until here is something akin to what big data was. A data lake. Yet another concept of earlier days. This is not helpful. What this result resembles is the big box of unsorted Lego blocks that my kids have in their playroom – yours likely, too.

It is an unsorted collection of data, maybe even all data about the customer that there is. Some of it is valuable, some of it is not. Some of it loses value over time. Some of it is valuable only in some situations.

And here we are touching the crux of the matter. This data is valuable only if it is applied to a situation and with a purpose.

Of which there are mainly the following four:

  • The customer’s current situation or position in her particular journey
  • The customer’s objective: the job she wants to achieve at this very moment, along with her state of mind
  • Your current situation and ability to support the customer’s journey
  • Your objective: providing the best possible solution for the customer first in this step of her journey, then for her destination

Combined, these four points make up the main part of the context of the interaction. And this context is crucial for meaningful interactions that potentially need to happen in real time or near real time. All the more if the interactions shall happen in an automated way and/or at scale.

What you really want

Let me exemplify this with two analogies.

What you want to achieve is similar to navigation. Just, for the sake of the example, let’s simplify navigation a little as it is quite a science.

The customer is your North Star. The North Star provides you with all the data that you need. The customer’s and your current situations give the current or starting position, your respective objectives provide the destination. In between lies the customer journey. In order to get from the current position to the destination you need to keep the North Star visible, not obscured and at a constant angle. In other words: You need to have a certain view on it.

Another way to explain is an analogy used by Nicole France in a conversation that we recently had: What an ER doctor needs to know about a patient is different to what a GP needs to know. The purposes of the visits and what needs to be done are totally different. Still, to make good decisions, both doctors need to have a good base of customer data.

What you therefore really want and need, is not a 360-degree view, but a contextually relevant and actionable view on the customer. At any given relevant point in time, via any channel, whether the customer initiates an interaction or whether you initiate it. At any given point in the customer journey.

Jon Reed, co-founder of diginomica finds that a 360-degree view is aspirational, we “at best can try to anticipate what they are looking for in a focused moment” and that ”opt-in data, earned over time reduces the need obsess about fully understanding the customer every moment” He continues with the question “Which contexts can we help them with?

The goal is contributing to the fulfilment of the customer’s job to be done.

This requires having a comprehensive and accurate view on the customer as a precondition. It is therefore also important that the customer voluntarily and explicitly provides information to reduce the guesswork that algorithms need to do and to increase the accuracy of your actions and replies.

You see? You do not want a 360-degree-view on the customer, but something far better.

What do you think? Ask me! 


  1. For the lunatic fringe that wants to read my entire response to your (terrific) post, here it is;

    My problem with the 360 degree view of the customer is that it’s aspirational. At best it’s a multi-year data initiative and our customer will be long gone by then – and we might be too. We will never understand a customer’s shifting priorities as they move from CRM software evaluation to text messages from their kids to loading up their shopping cart. At best we can try to anticipate what they are looking for in a focused moment, and/or support them with knowledge, recommendations (by machine or not), and even, god forbid, human contact.

    Some customers buy one-off purchases. But even in most B2C cases, the customer is not a one-off. We can earn trust (and data) via well-considered apps and loyalty programs. B2B customers give us even more opportunities to earn trust and relevance though content, advisory, and FAQs as they work their way through project and buying dilemmas.

    Sometimes you can serve a customer better with just monitoring the clickstream data and shopping cart – no 360 view needed. Other times it’s an industry they care about that you specialize in (example: ski equipment). Opt-in data, earned over time, reduces the need to obsess about fully understanding the customer every moment. Which contexts can we help them with? Where is the most impact on revenue or repeat business? Focused projects beat customer 360 fantasies every time. The only thing I like about the phrase is that it compels us to think how we stack projects together over time, to get to a more integrated set of customer data. And yes, the more of that data we have, the more AI/ML can actually be useful and not just a vendor hype festival.


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