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A Single View of a Customer: The Business Case

  • October 01 2007, 1:00am EDT
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Companies seeking to better understand their customers are driving toward customer-centricity and new ways of improving visibility of customer data. Customer information is often widely distributed in various front-office and back-office systems. It is not uniform across sources, and some of it is outdated.

One approach to addressing these problems is to implement systems and processes that provide representatives with access to a "single view of the customer" - a database incoprorating all available information about customers, their policies and their relationships with other covered individuals. Creating such a solution requires a solid business case and organizational support - and funding - for the intitative.

Here is a seven-step action plan for building a business case and support for an integrated, enterprise-wide approach to customer information.

Step 1: Identify and leverage projects already approved or funded.

For many large enterprise-wide initiatives, funding is clearly defined and the project is driven by the IT organization or a call from the top. That's not typically the case for a single-view approach that crosses multiple business lines, so you'll need to identify creative ways to secure funding. Learn about other customer-related projects approved for implementation or that are already funded. Customer relationship management and customer data integration strategies or projects merit special attention. Also look for data quality, data mining or data warehousing opportunities. Consider any efforts that assign customer scores to provide different service levels.

Step 2: Explore options to expand opportunities across lines of business.

Once you've identified opportunities in Step 1, explore their applicability and benefits across business lines and functions. Can the initiative meet the needs of auto as well as homeowner lines? Can it benefit underwriters as well as billing and remittance teams? For example, consider these scenarios:

Scenario 1: A customer calls a customer service representative regarding an auto policy but has additional questions about a homeowner policy. A single view of a customer solution could provide the needed information to answer these questions.

Scenario 2: An underwriter needs additional information regarding the risk profile of a location and its occupants. To get a complete view, he or she can perform additional analysis on the address or policy household (all parties linked to the customer via address or policy).

Scenario 3: The claims department is preparing to pay a personal auto claim. A database search for workers' compensation claims reveals that a payout for physical disability prevents the customer from driving an automobile. This case can now be escalated to the special investigations unit for further processing.

Step 3: Compile a high-level summary of solution benefits.

Identify the benefits a single view of a customer solution brings to each part of your company and get stakeholder feedback. Stakeholders include any person or group in your company that relies on customer data, as well as anyone who'll be involved in solution implementation or can influence the decision-making process.

Involving stakeholders can help uncover additional opportunities and performance issues that can be resolved with a single view of a customer approach.

Step 4: Identify champions.

In concert with Step 3, identify solution champions. Typically, these employees adapt quickly to new, worthwhile initiatives. They often lead informal communication networks and are popular among peers. Once the project is funded, be sure to involve them as part-time project members or in the communications and change-management streams.

Step 5: Conduct analysis to understand the quality of customer data across business lines.

Highlight data inconsistencies between systems and sources, and identify improvement opportunities. Start with the stakeholders identified in Step 3. Some of their pain points will involve duplicate, invalid, conflicting and untrustworthy customer data - customers with conflicting genders or social security numbers, for instance. Review all data sources to provide concrete examples of discrepancies and duplications.

Step 6: Build a business case and a technical and functional roadmap.

The business case incorporates all information gathered in the previously listed steps and provides a clear-cut picture of the solution benefits. It should highlight savings opportunities, including metrics for reducing processing time.

Although you may have difficulty demonstrating your solution's direct impact on top-line growth, include such information in a qualitative rather than quantitative discussion. Overall, your business plan and roadmap should show that the deliverables provide value in the short term and clear business benefits.

Step 7: Lock in the long-term commitment and the budget.

The business plan and roadmap are the primary tools for securing solution support and a multiyear budget. In seeking approval and funding, use prototypes to help familiarize stakeholders and decision-makers with the concept and show that requirements and scope are under control. These prototypes can be as simple as whiteboard drawings or as complex as a small-scale working application.

During the process, periodically review your organization's fundamental business objectives to be sure they haven't changed. Check with stakeholders along the way, keeping them informed and aligned with the initiative's overall direction. Once you've locked in project funding, continue to identify additional opportunities to expand the solution.

As companies learn how new approaches to data management can benefit their businesses, they may welcome a single view of a customer solution. Following these seven steps to gain organizational support, build a business case and secure funding can lay the groundwork for success and help the drive toward customer-centricity. 

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