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Who Owns the Customer? Part 1

  • April 01 2001, 1:00am EST
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One of the main reasons singular database, all-encompassing data warehousing efforts have had challenges is their demand that each dimension, such as customer, have a singular representation. This goes beyond compiling all the attributes that are needed by each business unit for customer. The granularity of customer, the identification of customer and the cleansing rules for customer can all be subject to debate between sales, marketing, manufacturing, call center and other business units.

The merit of having a view of the customer with widespread agreement is obvious – efficiencies of operation and improved time-to-market achieved by bypassing the onerous step of reconciling numerous customer lists into one.

However, the means to deal with the challenge of attaining such a view can be completely foreign to the team building a data warehouse. This is especially true in organizations where the data warehouse project needs to get business units to talk to each other in depth – in many cases, for the first time. If only someone in the business with political credibility and a grievous point of business pain to be solved through data warehousing could step forward and break ties, you could go a long way toward building the multiuse customer dimension.

With this challenge as a backdrop, this month and next I explore the issue of customer ownership and its cousin – customer data stewardship.

Customer Ownership

Most of the readers of this publication have been, to some degree, exposed to the issue of customer ownership. There are, to say the least, differing points of view. Debates may surface, but these debates are based on an invalid premise that a single business unit can actually own a shared asset such as customer.

The nature of effective customer relationships dictates flexibility and sharing across business units. The misunderstanding of this salient point can prevent a true customer focus from developing. However, a cursory view of the business goals on the lobby wall of many companies often reveals a goal with language similar to "We will be a customer-focused organization."

Customer Focus

Unfortunately, this can be where the true customer focus starts and stops. Actions to bring about a true customer focus in an organization mean changes for many companies – changes that have inherent risk and pain. Additionally, as I write this, there is the possibility that the U.S. economy will rebound, and things will be normal again. Further-more, isn't all this customer focus simply the latest business school jargon?

A look at the larger issues facing companies reveals that this customer-first focus is not merely herd mentality, but sensible and necessary for survival. New customers are costlier to recruit. Customer wallet and mind share remain unchanged from years ago, and customer loyalty is fleeting with the advent of new competition.

The most successful organizations will take the customer point of view and build products and services to meet customer need when and where the customer requires it. But taking the customer perspective is not an easy change – which brings us back to customer ownership.

Customer Ownership is Shared

Customer challenges are addressed by every link in the chain, extending from supplier to sales. The customers' needs are dynamic and do not follow a linear progression through an organization. All touchpoints are relevant to capture. The customer dimension alone is unable to support robust targeted marketing. It must be linked to sales, contact calls and promotions. The customer dimension needs to be built to support all of its interfaces. If all are to meet the common goal of a thriving business, the idea of customer ownership by a single business unit must be discarded.

Building the Customer Dimension

Resolving the issue of single business-unit customer ownership should not be a prerequisite to building the CRM-ready data warehouse. Rather, all need to agree to principles that will govern a shared relationship with the customer that recognizes each business unit's individual contribution to the customer relationship.

This carries over directly into the building of any subject area that is of high interest to multiple business units and/or those subject areas that may have conflicting views as to its build (such as customer). These tend to be the most important subject areas for the success of an overall data warehouse program.

While no one business unit may "own" the customer, we still have a shared customer dimension to build and maintain for the organization's CRM-ready data warehouse. The answer is data stewardship, a role I will explore in depth next month.

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