Customer data without integration is hardly data at all

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Understanding customers has long been the Holy Grail for businesses leaders across industries. The unrelenting quest to know what they want, how they want it, and even when they might want it promises untold selling and marketing power.

We live in the powerful age of big data, where predictive analytics and all their spoils drive modern business and IT investment. Companies look to rip pages from Facebook (“People you may know”), Amazon (“Customers who bought this item also bought”), and Netflix (“You might also like”) in an attempt to understand (and successfully predict) customers’ wants and needs even before they do.

B2B companies also want in on these types of insights, and it’s why quality customer data integration, the process of consolidating and managing customer information from all available sources showing promise in consumer-facing industries, is picking up steam as businesses across industries strive to offer world-class customer experiences.

The key component of all this is visibility, and in its simplest form, improved data quality for downstream reporting. Clearer visibility into customer information across the entire enterprise means organizations can better serve those customers and grow their business.

But if obtaining such transparency were easy, organizations wouldn’t constantly strive to achieve it.

Integration is complex

An integrated data-driven view of a customer base, critical for companies’ growth, is the key to unlocking this value, but customer data can be a challenge to collect and integrate into a usable asset in today’s multi-enterprise ecosystem.

Customer contact data, sales history, and marketing-generated interactions, such as survey responses, website visits, and social media engagements, help comprise that view. But the disparate, silo-ed applications, departments, and people that collect and store these interactions have kept organizations’ best integration efforts at bay.

Consider all the places a B2B company, whose customers are essentially other companies, might have to mine for so-called customer data. These include:

  • Cloud-based CRMs such as Salesforce that manage the customer lifecycle.
  • Reports and logs of structured data from EDI applications, such as purchase orders, invoices, and other documentation, and other back-end applications (SAP, Oracle, etc.)
  • Case management systems that house support tickets, including every customer and company interaction through ticket resolution
  • Billing and shipping departments for fulfillment details
  • Unstructured emails and social media inquiries to team members across departments and job function
  • Terabytes and petabytes of historical customer information in a data warehouse or other repository

All of these tools are inherently dissociative and don’t naturally communicate with one another. Enterprises have previously relied on point integration technology for specific use cases, but that’s a tough sell today as organizations look to eliminate single points of failure from their architectures.

Plus, the number of these “one to one” integration connections might work when there are minimal systems to integrate, but what happens when the organization grows? As business requirements change and the enterprise must deploy more applications to keep up, point integration solutions become difficult to manage, prone to failure, and impossible to scale.

Savvy companies seek technologies that promote IT agility. Such solutions centrally manage the integration of multiple systems, applications, and clouds to automate and accelerate the transformation, orchestration, and secure movement of customer data flowing throughout the organization.

What good integration looks like

Thus, the modern enterprise hosts countless records that provide a wealth of insights when properly managed. Properly managing such massive volumes of digital data requires a modern integration solution, one that leverages traditional technologies, including B2B and managed file transfer (MFT) capabilities, as well as modern cloud- and API-based technologies.

To envision what this might look like, consider some of the desired outcomes and go from there. You know your business will require:

  • Scalability to grow with your business without interrupting daily workflows
  • Agility to keep critical customer information up to date across data sources
  • Interoperability to meld legacy, back-end, and cloud applications, as well as homegrown scripts
  • Automation that eliminates painstaking manual file transfer processes

Thus, an enterprise platform that enables holistic customer data integration should support:

  • All flavors of integration, including application, B2B, big data, and cloud integration
  • Advanced encryption for data in transit and at rest
  • MFT-based content routing for automation and any-to-any data transformation for seamless communication
  • An API-powered self-service portal for customer and partner networks
  • Central control for multi-enterprise data governance, visibility, and administration

A technology solution that delivers successful customer data integration enables businesses to grow revenues, meet customer SLAs and compliance mandates, and offer a repeatable customer-care experience.

The customer experience strategy

Ultimately, the goal of customer data integration in an ultra-competitive business landscape is to provide better value to the customer, and that could spell a world of differentiation for the organization that can better market, sell, and support current and future customers.

But the efficient aggregation of valuable customer information will evolve. Technology needs will continue to grow as markets change, business goals shift, and target customer profiles expand. It’s critically important, then, to not underestimate your current or future requirements (much like companies did in adopting point solutions).

Premium customer experience requires an enterprise-wide strategy, especially given how fickle and fleeting customer bases can be. Implementing a robust yet agile integration platform might be a critical first step, but companies must also align the lines of business that will access and act on these newfound insights.

Only then can enterprises fully capitalize on their customer data integration investment and deliver a differentiating customer experience.

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